Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lowering the bar... Yeehaw!

Years ago, when I was trying to get up my nerve to submit my first big dissertation research article to a professional journal, I happened across what may have been one of the worst articles I have ever read, published in the same impressive journal where I was planning to send my article. It was a good moment, because I thought, "Hell, if this piece of crap can get published, surely my article might make it in?!" That thought gave me the impetus and confidence to submit the article, which was accepted. (Of course, the unfortunate implication might be raised that my article may have been just as bad as the other I mention, but I have received enough positive feedback on it that I don't believe that is true.)

A recent blog article about the search to fill the Presidency of the New Mexico state system provided a similar feeling, as it explained that both James Oblinger, the disgraced former Chancellor of North Carolina State, and Richard Herman, the vilified former Chancellor of the University of Illinois, are among the finalists for the position. While I can make MANY jokes about the possible interview questions (e.g., when the Governor's daughter's best friend gets rejected for admission to the university and the Governor calls to complain, what will you do? What if, while he has you on the phone, he tells you that his wife needs a job?), it reassures me that the bar for senior leaders is actually a little lower than I would have thought.

Now, my feminist sister-outlaw would say that I shouldn't get too carried away, and that the lowness of the bar is actually just the setting for white guys, not for the rest of us.

But all one has to do is check out the professional rebound of former University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman, who saw so many scandals in her time at CU that it is hard to list them all:

  • a nationally watched football recruiting scandal that culminated in a
    federal lawsuit filed by three women who claimed the university athletics
    department knowingly allowed sexual assaults by CU football players or recruits
  • CU Professor Ward Churchill calling Sept. 11th victims “little Eichmanns”
  • the drinking death of an 18-year old fraternity pledge
  • a student riot on Halloween
  • Hoffman's embarassing state legislative testimony where she explained that the term "cunt" could be used as a "term of endearment"
So, where did Dr. Hoffman end up after she was fired? Well, as the Provost at Iowa State University! So, while the boys may move laterally or even move up, looks like the women might have to take a little step down. Nonetheless, one step back is pretty good, considering.

So, former Iowa Central Community College President Robert Paxton--oh, he of the "shirtless beer bong with young coeds" pic that went viral and cost him his job--should take heart! While he may have lost his lawsuit against the community college for sacking him accepting his resignation, he made off with a dismissal package of $400,000 and he has the potential for another presidency or chancellorship any day now!

Yep, in some cynical way, I am encouraged by the lower bar these stories suggest. It becomes a little more feasible for me to become a President or Chancellor. Obviously, I would aim to be better than these feckless few, but it is good to know a mistake or two wouldn't cost me a future in academic leadership. And thanks to these stories, I know behaviors I want to avoid: covering up rape on campus, boozing with students, setting up patronage jobs for politicos, and helping their friends get into our institutions. Yeah, I think I can manage that.


womenwithpants said...

What is it with universities that no matter how bad a president is, or what they're caught doing, they're far more likely to be promoted than punished? Surely we're not that bereft of candidates?

NMSU's last president, Mike Martin, left after he told a newspaper that the opinion of students didn't matter, that one could 'get six thousand signatures on a petition to turn the library into a bar.' This was after protests over the firing of two well-liked faculty members who claimed they'd been subject to racial and sexual harassment.

He, of course, left to become president somewhere else.

Dean Dad said...


And that's all I'll say about that.

Bittersweet Girl said...

Wow. I had somehow remained oblivious about most of these stories.

Now I'm royally depressed.

Anonymous said...


This totally gives me permission to become a slacker a$$hole in my work life.


btw, I accepted the offer to become interim chair. I'll let you know how this introvert does at it.

Dean Dad said...

The 26-year-old President of the Governing Board of the Maricopa County system just pulled a doozy. Check out her mugshot:

The Gold Digger said...

I remember thinking something similar at my old job as I watched the female VP of my department, who struck me (and many others) as completely incompetent. I realized women had finally arrived in the manufacturing industry if we could have screwups like Carol at that level just like we could have male idiots.