An Open Letter to the Signatories of the Petition to Rethink Attorney General William Barr’s Status as a Distinguished Alumnus of Horace Mann
September 8, 2020
To the 8,791 signatories of the petition to Rethink Attorney General William Barr’s Status as a Distinguished Alumnus of Horace Mann,
We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. From our coalition of current students, alumni, faculty, and concerned citizens, we have found a great community of support within our signatories and are deeply appreciative of that.
We write to you in disappointment, as the Alumni Council has yet to come to a decision and our communication with the Alumni Council remains scarce. We started this petition in early June following Attorney General William Barr’s violations of the United States Constitution and the Horace Mann School’s Core Values and Mission Statement by ordering the forceful removal of peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square. All 8,806 of us agree that his actions were not that of a “Distinguished” Alumnus, and you signed the petition we made to the Horace Mann School’s Alumni Council — who distributes the Distinguished Achievement Award — to reconsider AG Barr’s worthiness of this prestigious award. We asked the Alumni Council two questions: 1. Would we still offer the Distinguished Alumni Award to Attorney General William Barr ’67 if the decision was made today, given all we know of his current misconduct? and 2. Is there any act, so heinous or antithetical to our school’s values, that would cause us to rescind a previously granted award?
We, as many of you do, personally believe that AG Barr’s immoral actions warrant the revocation of his award. However, we never demanded this: our petition is entitled Rethink Attorney General William Barr’s Status as a Distinguished Alumnus of Horace Mann. We did this with purpose, because we did not want an adversarial relationship with the Alumni Council. That was not our goal. We believed the Alumni Council, whose purpose is to represent the voices of the alumni of the Horace Mann School, was responsible enough to properly investigate this issue and release to the public their deliberations.
However, this did not happen. The Alumni Council has made little effort to seriously reconsider their conferring of the Distinguished Achievement Award on AG Barr. They have been conspicuously slow walking our petition since its inception. After we attempted to contact them on multiple occasions, the Alumni Council finally made an attempt to appease us: on July 16th, we had a meeting with the subcommittee the Council formed to specifically address this issue. During our meeting, we reiterated our petition goals: to have them reconsider the status of AG Barr’s award and release a public document explaining how their rationale fits in line with the Horace Mann School’s values. We additionally asked them to be transparent, as they had yet to release a public statement then since June 6th. Immediately following our meeting, they released a pre-written statement on the Alumni News page. That is the last time both the public and we heard from them.
While we remained optimistic that the Alumni Council was listening to us and would become more transparent, we were still anxious that we would have to write this letter to you today. Prior to our July 16 Zoom meeting, we asked the Council a number of questions to ensure we were prepared. We asked for their foundational papers and criteria for awarding the Distinguished Alumni Award, among important, relevant documents and questions. But, in their first response to our request, they couldn’t even provide the names of the Council members who were to be in attendance of our Zoom call. We wrote to them:
“To the Alumni Council,
Over six weeks ago, we started a petition respectfully requesting that the Alumni Council rethink its granting of the Horace Mann Distinguished Alumnus Award to William Barr ’67 in 2011. Our petition was in light of Attorney General Barr’s unconstitutional actions in violently clearing Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment Rights. Since then, nearly 9,000 people have signed this petition including current students, faculty, parents, and alumni.
We have been waiting patiently for the Alumni Council’s response. As of July 14th, it has been 40 days since the petition has been public and 36 days since we first emailed the Council. We were pleased that finally the Council would be willing to meet with us this Thursday to discuss the petition on behalf of our signatories. In preparation for this meeting and to ensure transparency, we asked for information prior to the meeting. All of the items we asked for are reasonable and appropriate. Your response of July 14, however, is very troubling because it speaks to the Council’s lack of seriousness and candor about this matter. The Council did not answer the majority of our questions, and even the material you did provide is incomplete. For example, we had asked for “any rules relating to the selection, determination, or awarding of the Distinguished Alumni Award or to the rescinding of this award.” You provided a bullet list of the “current criteria” but did not tell us where these criteria were established. We asked for the “names of the members of the subcommittee” and “who will be attending the meeting.” The Council answered by telling us that there are “currently 34 members” of the Alumni Council.
If the Council is serious about this issue and not just dragging their feet and hoping it will go away, please answer the questions we asked in our July 10 correspondence. Otherwise, we have no reason to think our meeting with the Council is anything other than a charade.
We fully recognize that the Alumni Council is a group of volunteers who are dedicated to Horace Mann. So are we. We have a strong desire to uphold the principles of Horace Mann and its reputation. As two of the school’s youngest Alumni, we have the most equity in the brand and reputation of Horace Mann. It is our goal to maintain and enhance that reputation and brand.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible. If it is necessary to postpone the meeting until next week in order to provide us with these answers, we completely understand.
Jessica Rosberger and Kiara Royer”
It is with disappointment to say we aren’t surprised that it is September 8th, over two months since the creation of our petition and over one month since our meeting, and we have received no final decision from the Alumni Council.
To avoid the present situation, we sent the Alumni Council the following email on July 27th:
“To the members of the Alumni Council’s subcommittee,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all on behalf of the over 8,700 signatories on our petition. We believe that our discussion was a necessary first step to addressing this matter and appreciate the Council taking the time to converse with us.
We have seen your update on the Alumni News site and on the Facebook group, and we are grateful that you have provided it. However, 40 days have passed between your two updates, and the Subcommittee has to do more. The update on July 16 was definitely a start, but the Subcommittee must do more in order to be transparent between the Council and the alumni they represent. Moreover, the Subcommittee’s continued lack of communication and transparency signals to us and the nearly 9,000 signatories that you are not taking our concerns seriously. It is our hope that the Subcommittee understood the message we conveyed in our meeting: we and our nearly 9,000 signatories are asking you, the Alumni Council and the Alumni Council Subcommittee, to reconsider your conferring of Attorney General Barr’s Distinguished Achievement Award and provide a written statement of your deliberations. While we understand that these deliberations take time, it has nearly been two months. Without proper transparency and updates to the Alumni Community, it, if not already, will soon be interpreted that the Council and Subcommittee are attempting to slowly let this issue dissipate.
We advise you to take our advice in earnest. We expect that the Council or Subcommittee will provide a final, written decision before August 15th with an announcement to the Horace Mann Community explaining whatever decision you make. It would be a shame if past winners started returning their awards and future candidates refused to accept them.
Please don’t mistake our politeness, deference, and patience to be an indicator of our lack of resolve. We take this matter exceedingly seriously and expect you will as well. By August 15th, it will be two and a half months since we raised this issue. By any measure, that is sufficient for the Alumni Council to come to a decision.
Jessica Rosberger and Kiara Royer”
We never received a response from the Council. We’ve continued to attempt to contact them since with no luck. It is now September 8th, and, quite honestly, their inaction has made us question the authenticity and even the purpose of the Alumni Council. For an organization founded with the intent to represent the voices of Horace Mann alumni, they have done nothing of the sort. It is, to say the least, deeply concerning and troubling.
Their continued disinterest in the voices of 8,806 people — most of whom have a direct connection to the school — not only diminishes the respect we see for the Alumni Council but also sullies the pride the alumni community finds in the award. If the Alumni Council remains silent about this issue, we as members of the Horace Mann community should seriously consider encouraging previous Distinguished Achievement Award recipients to return their awards. Additionally, we should discourage future nominees from accepting the award, for the recent actions of the Alumni Council diminishes, if not renders meaningless, the very value of the prestigious award the community once regarded so greatly. Moreover, their negligence of this issue should make us question what the purpose of the Alumni Council is if they are not fulfilling their charter and actively neglecting it. Perhaps we should even encourage the Horace Mann School’s Administration and Board of Trustees to reconsider the legitimacy of the Alumni Council.
We, as the Horace Mann community, should reconsider the aforementioned should the Alumni Council continue to fail to recognize the significance of this issue and produce a final decision. That said, it is not too late. We are still asking for the same thing: we are asking the Horace Mann Alumni Council to rethink their conferring on the Attorney General William Barr the Distinguished Achievement Award. We are asking that after they conclude their deliberations they release a public written explanation of their decision with an explanation on how their conclusion remains in line with the Horace Mann School’s Core Values and Mission Statement. That is all we are asking and that is all we’ve been asking for over the past two months.
It is still not too late to do the right thing and the responsibility still remains in the hands of the Horace Mann School’s Alumni Council. It is our hope, though, that they take action, for we believe they are more than capable of renewing our trust. That is, of course, if they act soon. This issue will not dissipate from the public consciousness no matter how much the Alumni Council avoids it. For every offense of office that Attorney General William Barr commits we will remember the Alumni Council’s inaction, and every time a future award winner is nominated for this honor, we will remember the Alumni Council’s disregard of our Alumni Community. They can still change this and we sincerely hope they do.
Thank you again to the signatories. It’s our hope the next time we are in contact we will have better news.
Jessica Rosberger and Kiara Royer