Staff are now testifying that the now-former president did indeed know more about the budget scandal than he let on. That the 4 people who were fired a few months ago were possibly fired to divert attention from people higher up the chain. Others described the former president, Hitt, as more disengaged in his last years as president than he had been before, and so Whittaker would have been the one to know what was going on with funding.
The stories will now circulate. Fingers will be pointed. It remains to be seen whether the upper administration will figure out how to actually earn trust rather than just claiming it. Everyone, without exception, claims complete integrity for themselves.
This reminds me a bit of toxic white masculinity. Ok, a lateral move, but hear me out. In toxic white masculinity, everyone assumes and argues for complete integrity and virtue for themselves. Any problems come from other bad actors. The goal of any crisis is to reestablish the presumption of virtue, rather than examine oneself and determine whether there is more going on. One’s own intentions are all that matter, not one’s unthinking or rote obedience to a structure or presumption of virtue as a class. And, this presumption of virtue means that trust does not have to be earned from others, but is expected and it is an affront when it is not freely given. Some of this is reinforced by higher paychecks among most of these administrators, which is interpreted among those in this class of administrators as evidence of greater knowledge, higher quality, greater insight, and so forth.
What I hope for is some self-reflection not just on each person’s own intentions and actions, but on how actions were reinforced by others in the administrative class, undermined by privilege and the presumption of virtue. I hope that the finger-pointing stops, and that they consider the possibility that good people can nevertheless fall into patterns of privilege, reinforced by power and money. I see this as continuous with the general contempt for faculty, the paternalism that is rampant among administrators, the inability to understand that the frustration that they regularly feel from faculty might have some basis in the general loss of faculty governance and input, and the substitution of a corporate-style structure and a neo-liberal economic structure with the university that alienates just about everyone who isn’t in the privileged group.
So the toxic white masculinity analogy, while maybe something of a stretch, does I think have some merit. I know as a white male that I’m hardly the one to speak about what it feels like to be subjected to that kind of privilege, but I’ve observed enough, read enough, and paid enough attention to know that these structures don’t necessarily have to take literal racialized or gendered lines to be replicated within an institution.
The university was always supposed to be a unique institution in society. Its self-governance, its space of inquiry and pursuit of sometimes unpopular or impractical ideas just to see where they’ll go, is essential. And the more that an increasingly large administrative class turn it into something else, the more these internal tensions are going to show themselves. We’re not a corporation, we’re not a public entity like an NGO that has a specific mission that can be easily assessed. Or, the more we’re like that, the less we’re a university.