21 June 2009

TAMU Presidents and Identity Politics

I've been reading in the Austin-American Statesman about the resignation of A&M's president, Dr. Elsa Murano. Dr. Murano was A&M's Latina president in a string of (predictably) mostly white men. She lasted for a year, when a controversy broke out from a terrible review of her performance by Chancellor McKinney. That article has a link to the actual evaluation and Murano's response. One of the most interesting parts in Murano's letter is this bit:
During the review, Dr. McKinney pointed out that I am very inclusive as a leader, stating this as a fault, which in his opinion causes one to make decisions too slowly.
Chancellor McKinney thinks, apparently, that leaving people out for expedience (in both senses of the word) is a good idea. After all, then you can pick and choose to whom you have to listen, and cite "efficiency" as your reason. Everybody wins!

Frankly, the whole affair just looks like a grudge match. Murano, like many faculty members, was concerned that the affairs of TAMU were overlooked too closely by Rick Perry, who appointed everyone on the board of regents and picked (or was close to) several other "system and campus officials," including Chancellor McKinney, who was Perry's former chief of staff (Austin-American Statesman, June 15). And the Rick Perry appointees most likely thought she was too female, foreign, and liberal; instead of keeping those opinions to himself, McKinney chose to lash out in an unfair and insulting performance review, opening up the ugly politics of A&M to public attention, which forced Murano to resign. Which was exactly what McKinney wanted in the first place.

Anyway, I thought I'd wander off to the website of TAMU's newspaper, The Battalion, to see what people thought there. I found this interesting article, which quoted some Facebook reactions to Murano's resignation, all of which expressed dismay that she was pushed out. One of the comments to the article really stood out for its class:
I welcome Rick Perry to come back to A & M. Murano was too liberal for our great university. I do not wish anything but good for her in the future, but she was not a good choice for our president. People who want to change A & M in that direction, the left, need to go to Austin. WE ARE A CONSERVATIVE UNIVERSITY. Deal with it or go somewhere else.
I felt like this one spoke to me, honestly, and it made me angry. TAMU is a public university. I would never argue that a university can exist without politics. Obviously, it cannot, because it is run by people with individual life experiences which prevent them from being unbiased. And universities, particularly public ones, should recognize this fact and work from there. But, as a public university, TAMU should not make any students, no matter their background, feel unwelcome or unsafe. Their students should not be saying things like "If you aren't conservative, leave." That is entirely inappropriate. And I can't blame A&M entirely for one asshole on the internet. But I wonder how A&M has addressed this issue with their students, whether they have made any concerted efforts to remind their students that not everyone who attends A&M is conservative, and that all political views are welcome on campus. I seriously doubt that this has or will happen in the near future. But A&M should use this controversial resignation to do so, since the general view of the students seems to be that Murano was "too liberal" for A&M anyway, so good riddance. This should be an opportunity to remind their students that the sort of diversity A&M wants is not token diversity, but a space in which everyone can feel welcome, including liberals and non-white students.

Of course, that won't happen. TAMU's regents and school officials seem untroubled by their reputation as a university where liberals should feel unwelcome. In fact, the next article I looked at, announcing some old white guy (R. Bowen Loftin) to replace Murano as interim president, quoted Texas A&M Galveston regents English professor Stephen Curley, who said
"The main campus needs that kind of a leader, especially now. He brings no hidden political agenda to the position of interim president."
And we all know what that means. Hispanic women have "identity politics" and "hidden political agendas" and white men have a monopoly on unbiased reality. Their life experiences, unlike those of minorities, are not only the standard, but don't affect how they interact with the world or make decisions. Nope, not at all.


Elizabeth Green Musselman said...

Thanks for letting me know about your blog, Courtney - it's great to see a new blog that has both a real perspective and a smart voice.

The part of this whole story that bothered me the most was the last bit where the English professor lauded the new interim president for his lack of a hidden agenda. It's one thing for an undergrad or two to spout off about "this great conservative university" on Facebook, where the opinions fly faster than the brains that purportedly composed them, but it's quite another for a faculty member to make a public statement as ignorant as that.

I suppose you have to take heart in the fact that most students were dismayed by Murano's dismissal.

Courtney said...

You are absolutely right--a professor should know better. But I'm not too surprised, since the assumption that white men live a politically neutral existence is not exactly limited to non-academics and stupid people. Privilege is not something to which the ivory tower is immune. It was particularly disappointing, however, to note that he is a professor in the humanities. For shame.

Ryan said...

After having read through the evaluations, comments and letters, I'm sad to say that traditionalist politics are alive and well in the state of Texas.