Sunday, February 20, 2011

The President Who Would Be King

Editor's note: The following article was submitted to the Idaho State Journal by an emeritus professor, and my friend, Leonard Hitchcock. I am told that it was rejected by the newspaper and I am happy to offer it here for my readers and any who come here looking for a succinct depiction of what has occurred at Idaho State University last week. He has generously given his permission for me to do so.

At long last, President Vailas has achieved his goal. By persuading the State Board of Education (SBOE) to disband the ISU Faculty Senate, he has managed to acquire absolute and unchallenged authority over the university. No more shall his sovereign will be thwarted by the opposition of ill-tempered and presumptuous faculty; no more shall those hired simply to teach and conduct research dare to claim a role in governing the institution. He may now gather about him those whose fealty is unquestioned – vice-presidents, provosts, deans – and rule with the assurance that it is by divine (i.e. the SBOE’s) authority that he does so, and that it is he alone who is empowered to bring to reality his glorious vision of what ISU should be.

I hesitate to introduce a discordant note into this triumphant chorus of “Long Live the King,” but I cannot refrain from suggesting that the President might profitably spend a few quiet moments reviewing the history of another illustrious monarch, Charles I of England. It is perhaps inopportune for me to mention it, but Charles was rather an unimpressive figure, a diminutive man who, “in spite of his intelligence and cultivation… was curiously inept in his contacts with human beings. Socially, he was tactless and diffident, and … in public he was seldom able to make a happy impression." (R. Dutton. English Court Life: From Henry VII to George II) Dr. Vailas may well feel some kinship with Charles in this regard, as well as sympathy for his conviction that “Kings are not bound to give an account of their actions but to God [i.e. the SBOE] alone,” and that his subjects (in this case, the faculty), delude themselves if they desire to have, as Charles put it, a “share in government… [for] that is nothing pertaining to them; a subject and a sovereign are clear[ly] different things.”

Those remarks of the King regarding his subjects’ mistaken belief in their right to share in governance were, I regret to say, among his last. They were uttered during the few moments that immediately preceded his beheading. Sad to say, over the preceding years, the King had managed to earn the hearty ill-will of the public by his persistent and unyielding quarrels with his parliaments, who refused to provide him with funding for his overseas’ adventures. He thrice called and dissolved parliaments that displeased him and finally chose to rule without any parliament for eleven years. Lacking the support of parliament, the king simply forewent its consent and invented new taxes to raise money. The public soon realized that not only the members of parliament were destined to suffer from the king’s displeasure for they, too, found their rights and property violated. Eventually their patience grew short and they rose against their arrogant, self-righteous and unyielding king. They defeated him in the civil war that ensued, imprisoned and deposed him, and then took the unprecedented and surprising step of executing him.

The consequences of President Vailas’s triumph over the faculty are only just beginning to be realized. The faculties of the other Idaho universities will undoubtedly feel threatened by the ease with which ISU’s president acquired the SBOE’s backing for the forced dissolution of a legally-constituted representative faculty body and will register their alarm. As news of this event spreads (it has already reached the Chronicle of Higher Education), it is not unlikely that the American Association of University Professors will choose to stigmatize ISU for its egregious violation of the principles of academic freedom. It is also not unlikely that ISU’s faculty will refuse to respond with supine obedience to this new autocratic order of things. The Faculty Senate was not, in truth, some clique of malcontents, as the President asserts, nor was it, as the President’s court fool, Mark Levine, alleges, bent upon engineering a union takeover of the university; it was no more or less than the faculty’s duly elected instrument of faculty governance. Perhaps there are faculty who will consider acts of resistance an appropriate response to this blatant demonstration of administrative hubris. Perhaps there are even deans who do not wish to be a part of this disenfranchisement of the faculty and will be willing to say so.

King Arthur may soon discover just how uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. He and his minions cannot keep the university functioning by themselves. If the faculty chooses to resist, the entire enterprise will grind to a halt. It’s conceivable that even the public will find the joint administrative strategy of the President and the SBOE intolerable. Is it astute management, when a group of respected, accomplished and productive public employees have a dispute with management, to simply gag them and give unfettered authority to their employer? Many public employees in Idaho will regard this as an all too familiar reminder of just how inconsequential they are in the eyes of their state’s administration.

1 comment :

Jessica said...

Love this!