“I’m Mad, Too, Eddie”

Written a decade ago, current events suggest a second look is valuable and is presented here slightly modified.

Communities of every type, near and far — social, geographic, political and professional — have legitimate expectations about the universities they are married to. Hold on, you may not like much of this.

When I arrived in College Station, Texas, as an assistant professor in the early 1980s, there was a bumper sticker that read, “I’m Mad, Too, Eddie!” I thought, “What is this?” It turns out it was a response to a radio show in Fort Worth hosted by a guy named Eddie Chiles, an oil wildcatter who, at the time, owned the Texas Rangers. He was a little different; some thought nutty… and angry about a lot of stuff. One root of his irritation was that we, as a society, did too much for too many who did too little. Whether he was right or wrong will be adjudicated by history, but I sense some of that same frustration in university communities with the behavior of institutions and the citizens who populate them. Here’s why.

One: Crime seems rampant. A student of mine was beaten senseless by some creeps for sixty bucks. It’s hard to get reporting on this crime; few facts are known, but it happened: near my campus, to my student, and in my community. If it were an isolated case, it would be one thing. It’s not. Look at the University of Virginia and what happens to its students, in their community, at their university. Too many say too often, “These perpetrators are not our students.” Maybe, but guess what? They live in a community and a culture that is created and dominated by the university and the people who inhabit it. And Eddie, this upsets me.

Two: University leadership appears to operate without a moral compass. Everything is okay, and they lead by example. How many presidents, chancellors, boards and trustees have vested interests in contracts on campus, in scholarships doled out to families, friends, sons, daughters and grandchildren, offices of counsel’s general who find loopholes, nooks, crannies and exceptions for behavior intolerable in any other setting? According to MIT Sloan Management Review, values are the core of leadership. Values absence oozes into led and surrounding communities like a ruptured abscess. Watch the news. Everyone is Eddie. It hurts everyone.

Three: Athletics programs intended to serve student populations have become corporate circuses. Star athletes are given a wide berth to beat people up and down, act out sexually, wantonly consume alcohol and drugs, pilfer, con, misuse their star power, and all the while will be excused. “He is an honest kid; he has his heart in the right place…,” is a frequent refrain. The malfeasance isn’t quarantined to student-athletes, coaches and athletic directors as university leadership of every stripe overlook crimes, major and minor, because they want to win at all costs. As will be borne out at the University of Michigan, leadership is willing to sacrifice student safety on the altar of “success.” This is not sports; it’s stupidity. It really makes me mad, Eddie.

Four: Admissions offices accept students without basic skills or diminish standards and dole out scholarships to enhance enrollment. Do people from disadvantaged backgrounds who previously performed poorly deserve a chance? You better believe it. And they should go to community college and get it. That’s a primary function of community colleges. A university accepting unprepared and unmotivated students, no matter the impetus of leadership, is wrong. And that’s the upside as it assumes a pandering, twisted notion of good-will. The downside: some universities knowingly accept unprepared students because they have loan money that boosts tuition revenue. This level of dishonesty from either perspective burns me up, Eddie.

Five: Institutions have become bastions of entitlement. People keep jobs when they lie, cheat and steal. Students are allowed to re-enroll when they owe too much money, have failed academically or have committed “minor” violations of law, not to soothe the broken heart of leadership or to generate income for the institution but, seemingly because people deserve opportunity no matter what they do to destroy it. Presidents deserve their position for political potency rather than achievement or despite abjectly poor performance. And everybody looks the other way. And Eddie, I have to tell you, this cooks my grits.

Six: Minority points of view are swept under the rug and labeled as intolerant. Intellectual freedom extends to every corner of the universe as long as a committee decides it is an appropriate perspective. Such action undermines every fiber of occasionally uncomfortable intellectual, moral and academic freedom. And don’t be tripped up by we-know-best institutional arrogance. The people in the community who pump the gas, mow the lawns and sell insurance are “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers” — providing every good and service imaginable to meet the community’s needs — and are not mindless slugs who don’t understand right from wrong. Arrogance coupled with entitlement is the ultimate transgression of university leadership that believes people are too stupid to “get it.” They get it. And, they vote with their feet. Eddie, I’m fuming.

Any one of these inequities is hurtful. In some settings, it’s not one but all, rotting institutional quality and moral force from the inside out. It’s a cultural disaster that universities help create.

Is this shrill, Eddie? I don’t think so, and it really makes me mad.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.