Letter to the Linfield Community

Grant Cates, Guest Contributor

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To the Students, Faculty, Staff, Administration, and Board of Trustees of Linfield College:

My name is Grant Cates, and I graduated from Linfield in 2017 with degrees in Physics and Mathematics, before moving to Germany with my new husband to complete a Fulbright Research Fellowship, a Max Planck Research Fellowship, and earn my Master’s in Physics. The handful of years prior to coming to Linfield, I was experiencing homelessness—sleeping primarily on friend’s couches and in my car—and staring down a life of minimum wage jobs and all of the hardship that comes therein. Had you asked me then if the trajectory of life could change so dramatically by attending a small liberal arts college in McMinnville, Oregon, I likely would have scoffed at the mere suggestion.

I provide this mini-autobiography not to boast, elicit praise, or anything of the sort. Rather, I offer it up as a succinct narrative-explanation for the profound gratitude, and the source of the obligation, I feel to Linfield College; but also to highlight why I am deeply disturbed and disappointed by the actions taken thus far by the administration and board of trustees to dismantle the very institutions and virtues that give this small college so much power to change and better the lives of those who live, study, and work here.

When I heard about the de facto ultimatum that the administration gave faculty to either turn on their own or risk their own livelihood based upon the justification of “academic prioritization”, I was, frankly, appalled on many levels. First and foremost, the lack of transparency and simple premise of reducing the academic diversity offered to student for the purposes of budgetary reasons or perceived recruitment benefits are antithetical to the very virtues that Linfield instilled in me. What happened to the importance of leaning into difficult conversations? What happened to the importance of the free exchange of ideas and information? What happened to the shared understanding that exposure to multiple modes of inquiry—specifically within the humanities—is vital to the development of productive, open-minded, consequential members of society?

On a more personal level, I was—and still am—concerned about the message that this broadcasts to prospective and current students. You can hide behind whatever euphemisms you want, but from my conversations with students and faculty, and the actions taken by those institutions who have previously invoked “academic prioritization” nationally, it is lost on no one that the humanities are on the chopping block. This is primarily troublesome, because in doing so, Linfield is effectively saying that these modes of inquiry are not as important and are expendable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only antidote for students like me, who come to Linfield wrapped in their cynicism and with their world view firmly cemented, is exposure to these very disciplines.

The most consequential choices I made at Linfield were those to participate in an interdisciplinary, student-faculty discussion group (a.k.a. What’s the Big Idea?), further my training as a classical vocalists, and expand my cultural horizons by studying the German language and culture. Notably, none of these thing have anything to do with science, technology, engineering, math, or business. These were the things, though, that taught me that my lens is not the only lens through which the world can be viewed. These were the things that helped me experience the importance of work-life balance, and the transformational role that the arts play in surviving the human experience. These were the things that unlocked a world of potential to me. These things are also not budget line items, and it appears they are therefore not being taken into account by those making the decisions, whoever they may be.

Look, I get it. As someone hoping to pursue a career in academia, I have conflicting opinions about tenure as an institution. I understand that the board of trustees and the administration have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the college remains solvent for future generations of students. I also understand that the opposite of change and growth is stagnation and death. But most importantly, I understand that these ideas warrant a discussion both at Linfield, and more broadly as a nation, in a transparent, respectful manner. What is happening now is not who we are as Wildcats.

We can do better. We should do better. We are better than this.

To the students, I encourage you to engage with both faculty and the administration. Ask questions. Demand answers. Share your opinions. Fight for your education and for those who have devoted themselves to give it to you. Do not sit by idly as people make decisions that will directly impact your life.

To the faculty, I am not only eternally grateful and indebted to you for how you changed my life, but I am also sorry for the turmoil that you are experiencing due to the actions of the administration. Hold your ground. Stand with your fellow faculty. Do not allow the administration to instill chaos or stoke fear.

To the administration and board of trustees, I offer you the reminder that you are not what makes Linfield College Linfield College—the students and the faculty are—and you have an obligation to include them in an equal capacity in any decision that foundationally changes the College. Stop hiding behind vague phrases and an opaque process. It is, quite literally, the least you could do.


Grant Cates ‘17