A Tale of Two Outrages

The drumbeat of bad news continues at Virginia Commonwealth University. The latest is that four top officials have resigned as part of the controversy over former Richmond Police Chief Rodney D. Monroe’s improperly awarded VCU undergraduate degree.

According to news accounts, one of the reasons for one of the resignations was that when VCU officials investigated the Monroe degree, threats may have been made that tenured professors might lose their tenure.

Wow, that’s pretty strong stuff that stabs at the heart of academic freedom.

But I can believe it. When I spoke with dozens folks in the VCU community for my reporting on another scandal, the erroneously secretive research contracts VCU entered into with Philip Morris USA, I constantly heard of the neo-Stalinist atmosphere at VCU. Faculty were afraid their e-mails were monitored and used their cell phones, instead of university lines, to communicate. After all the contracts that VCU’s vice president for research now says are flawed stipulated that any discussion or inquiry of the two research deals had to be reported to Philip Morris (Big Brother) immediately.

So, I keep asking myself, where’s the outrage? At least the outrage on my outrage-meter that goes as high as that involving Gene R. Nichol, the former president of another state school, William & Mary, who ran afoul of Virginia’s right wing thought police and was hounded out of office.

Nichol was a highly regarded legal scholar who had taught at law schools in Colorado and North Carolina. He also was a liberal and an activist with the American Civil Liberties Union. Nichol did a lot of good at W&M by upgrading the school’s financial aid program to reach more minority and poor students and had to deal with demands by the NCAA that W&M drop the feathers from its logo because they might offend Native Americans.

Then, Nichol really stepped in it by having a cross removed from W&M’s chapel with orders to display it when Christian-related activities were taking place in the structure. That set off howls of rage from the “Christians” in Virginia’s right wing community even though there are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., who attend the state-funded school and might find the implied religious bias of the crucifix offensive. (And please, dear readers don’t come after me for not understanding your version of “Christianity.” I am a former altar boy who had it all drilled into him by the Jesuits and whose greatly-respected uncle was a Catholic priest who spent his life working with the poor.)

The cross thing really brought out the yahoos. One was Jim McGlothlin, an alumnus who made his zillions ripping coal out of the ground. Miffed at Nichol, he withdrew a $12 million donation.

Now back in my day, my school would have told McGlothlin where to stick it. But not W&M. They whimpered and scampered and howled. The right wing thought police went on alert and the ouster began. It wasn’t helped when Nichol, correctly pointing to academic freedom, did not force out a sex worker exhibit at the school. After all, this isn’t Liberty University or even Georgetown where one might not expect such as show.

It was enough, however, to do Nichol, in. He resigned and left, leaving W&M for the worse.

Move on over to VCU. Now there you have a far more serious situation where academic freedom seems to be getting trampled again and again. Rules were bent to allow Police Chief Monroe to win a degree in ways not permitted to your ordinary 21-year-old. But then, Monroe was tight with Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder and, by extension, with VCU President Eugene Trani. Ditto tobacco research. After weeks of dodging the issue, abetted by Richmond’s local rag of a newspaper, Trani’s junta finally admitted that the secrecy aspects the tobacco contracts were wrong.

What about this reign of fear that wafts over VCU’s two campuses? There’s an awful lot of smoke. And this is serious stuff, not some parlor debate about a crucifix in a public school. But then, Nichol had “liberal” tendencies and he had to be targeted and smeared and ousted as if it were the days of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.

Peter Galuszka

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  1. J. Tyler Ballance Avatar
    J. Tyler Ballance

    National faculty surveys indicate that college faculty are 90% or more comprised of Leftist/”liberals.”

    It is no secret that many of our formerly great universities have ceased seeking TRUTH and are nothing but centers for Leftist political indoctrination.

    Locally, the University of Richmond has become a national embarrassment, where students are forced to attend a long parade indoctrination speeches from Communist, Socialist, and just about anyone of notoriety who wants to paint America, past and present, as the bastion of evil White Men.

    We need a national awakening about this insidious political correctness worship on our campus and the associated assault on freedom of both faculty and students by administrations, as described in the prior post.

    Specifically for VCU, I have no objection to them accepting research money from the Cancer Merchants; perhaps some good may come from the work that will help save our nicotine addicted citizens from their inevitable death by cancer and/or heart disease.

    However, especially at out public universities, there should be no secret contracts, with the exception of unique events, such as the Manhattan Project that was crucial during WWII.

    Dr. Trani and his leadership team need to be replaced. Governor Kaine MUST step in and ensure that VCU and the rest of our public universities return to their mission of seeking TRUTH and that faculty and students will again have all of the freedom that God has granted all men on the Earth.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    PG: I am the only non-William and Mary grad member of the Wren Cross Society – yahoo in your terms.

    The two controversies are apples and oranges.

    The only connection is that both issues take place on Virginia public higher education campuses and involve the Presidents.

    Outrage and activism in one case have nothing to do with the other.
    Except to excite some hyperbole in writing.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Ballance, I really doubt that 90 percent of campus folk are the lefties you suggest. However, even I protested the left dogma from the early 1970s when I was in schoo, believe it or not.

    Mr. J.A.B., please don't take my use of "yahoo" seriously. But I do disagree that VCU and W&M are apples and oranges. Like you, I have no tie to W&M but I could not understand what the hullabaloo was about involving Nichol. I think VCU faces very serious callenges, on the other hand.

    Peter Galuszka

  4. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    PG: I agree that both situations are serious. I don’t see the connection between the two – whatsoever.

    I’ve been called a lot worse than “Yahoo”.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I see comparisons between these two and while you're at it, throw in University of Richmond and that creature Bill Cooper. In each case top administrators (and others in the case of VCU) lacked respect for the institution. Tradition, history, graduates, current students, degree requirements for example were all unimportant to those in decision making positions. In the case of University of Richmond, the governing body was so out of touch and "in bed" with the president that they continually turned a blind eye to the problems including a mass exodus of stellar employees. At least with W&M and now apparently with VCU, the governing board is on top of the situation. I commend them for acting quickly and decisively.

    I agree with the call to Governor Kaine – this is a state school. You need to pay attention and step in to stand up for the tens of thousands of your citizens who have been screwed with the Monroe degree debacle.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Apparently, Galuzska doesn't know the whole story at W&M. Nichol wreaked so much havoc on the school's alumni, endowment, faculty and reputation that it is going to take a decade to recover. These three wasted years under the Nichol regime put the school at a severe disadvantage to its peers. His Gateway Program for disadvantaged students almost bankrupted the school because it was almost completely unfunded. The BOV ultimately realized their mistake but it looks like they haven't learned much because they recently elected Colin Campbell to the Board. Campbell is the guy who almost bankrupted Colonial Williamsburg.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    No, I don't know the story that you claim happened. Please elaborate. How did Nichol do so much damage that it will take W&M decades to recover? How did Gateway nearly bankrupt the school? Can you provide any numbers or facts and not just conjecture?

    Thank you.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m not sure why so many people are surprised over the Monroe thing; in all honesty, as discouraging as it is, the practice is undoubtedly widespread and probably ethically fuzzy at worst. I haven’t been too intimately involved in most of the inRich or Bacon’s discussions, but I’ve seen the practice of credit-requirement smudging in a number of higher ed institutions, justified by a variety of reasons – some bad, some good – but almost always at the discretion of one or two unaccountable department heads or deans. With such a system in place, it’s not beyond belief that someone with even nominal personal ties would be able to leverage credit-waiving favors; and in all probability, the justifications offered may have passed muster, unnoticed, if Monroe didn’t have a high profile, subject to greater public scrutiny. Call it the Michael Vick effect.

    I’m not saying what happened was good or tenable (it’s not), but that the situation is a lot grayer, by definition, than most people would expect. And it’s not a VCU problem: it’s a higher ed problem. It’s systemic. The prevailing governance model gleefully distributes unaccountable powers to all sorts of middling joints and cogs, inevitably producing the requisite climate for abuse, even if the questionable actions may be unintentional or perhaps even justifiable in some way.

    This shouldn’t be taken as an opportunity to bash VCU (but do bashers even need one?); I’m a VCU grad and I’m proud of my time there, the education I received, and where it’s taken me today. Were serious mistakes made? Yes. But are they VCU-specific? It seems to me that the dogs have been licking their chops for Trani’s throat for quite some time and that these conditions are just right for them to pounce. The man is controversial, make no mistake, but he’s also re-branded VCU into something very real and far more impressive than it ever had been.

    Dog bites man. Give it a few years and I’m sure Paul Trible down at CNU will befall a similar fate.


  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Paul Trible has done wonders for Christopher Newport which up until the last couple of years was a major joke. Before recent years, anyone, and I mean anyone breathing could get into that school. Was it even accredited? Sure Trani has generated some controversy but all leaders who challenge the status quo end up stirring up the establishment.

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