Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Prickly administrators 

In my opinion there are two essential qualities for a new administrator in academia: Find out who are your friends and who are not; and have a thick skin. As Critical Mass tells us today, some administrators are just plain cantankerous.
Timothy Sullivan, president of William & Mary, apparently sees things differently. William & Mary administrators shut down an anti-affirmative action bake sale held by a libertarian student organization, Sons of Liberty, last fall. ... [noting public reports of the incident...] Predictably, the public exposure of William & Mary's indefensible actions drew criticism. Less predictably, and quite disturbingly, the college's president has responded to that criticism not with an apology, or a reasoned defense of the school's actions, or even with a polite canned noncommittal response, but with open contempt for his critics.

FIRE, who are pursuing the case, continues
On Saturday, December 13, Curtis Crawford, a resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, wrote President Sullivan an e-mail that, while polite, was critical of W&M's actions (you will find this e-mail exchange attached). President Sullivan responded:
Dear Mr. Crawford, Some fool has sent me an e-mail and signed your name to it. You should do what you can to discover the identity of the person. He or she is doing real harm to your reputation. I will help you if I can. Tim Sullivan

According to Mr. Crawford, he wrote back to President Sullivan asking if he stood by this comment, to which Sullivan responded, "You can quote me." Two days later, Sullivan sent a very similar e-mail to another person who had expressed criticism of W&M's handling of the protest; this time he asserted that, "Some damned fool is sending e-mail messages and signing your name. I will try to help you if I can."
I was googling around for something pithy here, but I found instead Sullivan's own words, from his 2001 convocation address:
The third challenge is the challenge of humility. ... I have spoken truthfully about your great talents. The College to which you come is likewise accustomed to the rewards which attend high achievements and high standards. But the habit of success-just like the habit of command-can breed at first an unthinking arrogance-and later-a self-consciously inflated view of how great we are and how important is the work we do.

It is better to remember that however much we know-what we don't know is probably more important than what we do. It is better to understand that while we have done much, there are millions who have done more. It is important, too, to remember that the life of the mind is not the whole of life-and that intellectual distinction-without character-without heart-is really no great thing. And never forget that the talents with which you are blessed were not a reward for peculiar virtue-but the result of God's grace-if you are religiously inclined-and the accidental blessing of random chance-if you are not. Finally there is practical value to humility. For humility far more than arrogance is likely to inspire genuine greatness. This is so because to be truly humble requires a resilient sense of humor and a durable sense of proportion-without which I do not believe it possible to live a good and happy life. [emphasis added]
So, President Sullivan, you have the answer to whom the damned fool is, inside you.