(Seventh in a series; 9,900 views as of 4/14/24)

Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend. (Proverbs 27:10)

The deeper you drill down into the Report Wheaton College’s president and trustees issued to justify their denunciation of former Wheaton president, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., the more it becomes clear this Report itself is the real scandal. Not former President Buswell.

At 122 pages and 421 small-type footnotes, Ryken and his trustees make a great show of careful scholarship, but what they produced is a compendium of historical source material held together by equivocal verbiage assembled to provide the authors plausible deniability should any better scholarship come along later, exposing their Report as the tendentious1 history it is.

Here’s a list and frequency of some of their hedge or weasel words2/roots and phrases:

  • may; “may suggest,” “such documentation may have existed,” “subsequent research may nuance some of the following findings,” etc.
  • would; “would be hard-pressed to prove,” would be expected,” would be an oversimplification,” “would be natural to assume,” etc.
  • might; “Buswell might well have made good on this recommendation,” “might suggest,” “might give the impression,” etc.
  • seems; seems likely”
  • assume; “it would be natural to assume
  • perhaps; “interracial relationships were… perhaps discouraged,” “perhaps prompted by”
  • indicate; “the Record indicates that,” “our records… indicate that,” “one response indicated that,” etc.
  • unlikely; “it unlikely [sic] that undergraduates of non-European descent ever comprised as much as 2 percent of undergraduates,” “it is highly unlikely that”
  • possible; “it would be impossible to determine,” “as meticulously as possible,” “exactly when he did so is impossible to determine,” “makes it impossible… to effectively evaluate race relations,” “it is impossible to confirm,” etc.
  • suggest (23); “a single source with no corroborating or clarifying details… suggests an incident of race-based discrimination supported by the College’s President,” “may suggest,” “evidence suggests that,” “HRTF research suggests that,” “In sum, the evidence suggests that no black students were enrolled at Wheaton College between the departure of Clarence Morris in 1929 and the matriculation of Lewis McGee in 1940,” etc.

Such equivocations are spread across the Report.

Some might judge hedge words and phrases to be a sign of careful scholarship: the Trustees’ writers were simply making a good effort to avoid overstatement as they built their case against President Buswell.

But no. This project is not a scholarly disquisition on the words and actions of Wheaton’s presidents in betrayal or support of various minorities across a century and a half.

This project was to search and put together evidence for the prosecution of J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., as a racist.

The trial would have no courtroom presided over by any judge whose rulings and verdict would be subject to appeal and review by any higher judicatory.

Wheaton is not accountable to any higher authority.

Wheaton is accountable to no one other than their own Board of Trustees, and that board served well as the kangaroo court that received their own staff prosecutors’ evidence, then pronounced the verdict.

The Trustees of Wheaton College found their former president, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., guilty of racism, then sentenced him to public shaming.

What else could these women and men do? Finances had grown tight the past couple of years, and where would they be if Wheaton lost applications as a result of young kids labelling them neanderthal or antediluvian or dinosaurs. Flood-geology creationists. Ossified, dowdy, fuddy-duddy Tories.

The Trustees saw the rising specter of horrors and appointed their task force to assemble something that would mollify, that would appease, the young men and women humiliating them in Edman Chapel. It was so very embarrassing. Something had to be done.

The evidence presented in their “Report” indicates their thinking and conversations went something like this:

It’s just a kangaroo court, so don’t worry about objectivity. You needn’t fear objections to hearsay by any counsel for the defense. We ourselves are judge and jury. We’ve barred the defendant and his counsel from our courtroom and no discovery will be allowed, nor standards of evidence applied. Undocumented fourth-hand testimony is fine.

And go ahead and use all the hedge words and phrases you need to signal your scholarly colleagues you know how distasteful the project was, and how craven you look. Our Wheaton groupies will love you for it and your colleagues know who’s paying the piper and what tune they’re demanding.

You’ll get us seven years of peace and we’ll leave the consequences to our sons and daughters for cleanup.

It’s no high hurdle to convict a dead man in the court of public opinion.

The accused wasn’t allowed to defend himself. He was entirely absent. The accused wasn’t allowed to have an attorney for his defense. The accused wasn’t allowed to provide any evidence—only the prosecution had the privilege of presenting evidence. The accused had no relatives sitting in the courtroom to encourage, support, or defend him.

Rather, thirty of his descendants joined the mob, sending out a press release in which they stated for the record:

While we believe that Dr. Buswell did much which positively impacted the college in his tenure, we also recognize that he participated in a mindset and culture that has harmed so many Black people historically, and still does today. For that reason we who have signed this letter would like to express …our sorrow and deep regret over (Dr. Buswell’s) words and attitudes….

Would it surprise you to learn there were a significant number of students of color on the campus during the presidency of J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.—including Blacks?

If so, keep your eye out for our next article in this series.

“But surely Wheaton’s president and trustees wouldn’t lie about that!” you respond.

Why would you deny Christians, too, lie when there’s a lot of prestige and money at stake? Have you lost the doctrine of the Fall? Original sin? Indwelling sin?

From the beginning of this “findings,” “celebrations,” “laments,” and “repentances” charade, President Phil Ryken and his Board of Trustees banned the rule of law. Their charges against President Buswell, exhibits of evidence, verdict that he was a racist, and sentence of public shaming was submitted to no authority but their own. They themselves say so. And that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is that.

Of course, they knew their mob would approve. They also knew their friends and family would understand why it was best for the sake of the people for one man to die.

(Seventh in a series; 9,900 views as of 4/14/24)


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References
1Biased, one-sided, prejudiced.
2”Why, weasel words are words that suck all the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks an egg and leaves the shell. If you heft the egg afterward it’s as light as a feather, and not very filling when you’re hungry; but a basketful of them would make quite a show, and would bamboozle the unwary.” (Charlie Chaplin, “The Stained-Glass Political Platform.”)

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