Well, the Board of Governors thinks everything was hunky-dory with our UCF president search, and so the person who we first heard existed one week ago, was hired 5 days ago, is now officially the president of UCF, as of April 13. We don’t mess around here.
Here’s how you can tell it will be business as usual: ““Melinda and I are extremely excited to be moving to Florida and become part of the UCF family.” – Alexander Cartwright, UCF president”.
Let’s parse this. Every president, it seems, comes as a heteronormative couple (even, BTW, if they happened to be gay, but that’s another issue). Each of them is presented as not one but two people. Which two people? It’s obvious: Dad and Mom. They even say right there, that they’re joining the “UCF family”.
So, there’s a word for that: paternalism. And it might seem innocuous, but it’s pervasive and deadening to an institutional culture. If these people are Dad and Mom, what does that entail? Well, that they’re here to look after us kids (and, it should be said, in their eyes we are a handful, and ungrateful at that). That we should trust them without them ever having earned that trust. That there are implicit habits and values that they are supposed to model and we are supposed to emulate.
It’s interesting to see where this happens and where it doesn’t happen. Have you ever heard a professor on the first day of class say “Melinda and I welcome you to class today.” No? Of course not. How about a department chair, or a dean? Almost unheard of. Staff person? Even a vice-president or provost? No. That’s not where the paternalism needs to come from. It exists everywhere of course, but it exists everywhere because it exists here first.
This always happens – the leader of a large institution upholds the paternalistic model. What’s the alternative? Well, we could think of each other as professional colleagues. But that doesn’t implicitly support the moral hierarchy that the family structure does. And that’s really what most administrations want – the implicit trust that comes from a family metaphor. It’s way easier than having to defend and justify policies or really involve people on campus in decisions (as opposed to thinking of them as “stakeholders” or kids who can’t possibly understand the complexities of the decisions that have to be made).
So, we have a new Dad and Mom. Ok. Let’s see if he leans in to this metaphor, or sees it as a necessary fiction in the modern university and in fact deals with people on campus as real adults rather than newly adopted kids.