Spam From The Bosses

As near as I can tell from my mile-off-campus cubicle, the University Near Here has been blessedly free from the turmoil besetting other schools over the past few months. Nevertheless, the UNH community was spammed last week with an e-mail missive from "senior leaders": twenty-eight administrative officials, from President Mark Huddleston down to various Vice Presidents, Deans, Directors, Chiefs, Chairs, and …

Whoa, UNH has five different flavors of Provost: Interim, Acting Vice, Senior Vice, Interim Senior, and Associate. Think that's enough?

Thought I might share my comments on the message with the Whole Wide World. What's the worst that could happen? The original (here) is reproduced below in full, on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

Dear Fellow Wildcats:

These have been difficult months. From Ferguson and Charleston to Paris and San Bernardino, our world has been shaken.

What do those cities have in common, other than being the sites of horrible news events that made us feel bad? Nothing really.

They're diverse, though, and "diversity" is an Official University Value, so maybe that's enough.

Still, having a short attention span is no virtue. Why not go back to 2001 and toss New York, Arlington, and Stonycreek Township in there too?

Anger, frustration and anxiety are in the air, fueled both by real events and by political leaders who seem either feckless or intent on appealing to the basest of human instincts. I would wager that Pun Salad has a lower opinion of political leaders than do the 28 signees. But… feckless? Is that really the best word here? Admittedly, some find it apt. But can't 28 (presumably sober) UNH administrators do better than drunk Hillary?

Dishonest. Corrupt. Hypocritical. Arrogant. Narcissistic. Incompetent. Demagogic. Untrustworthy. All more specific (and more accurate) than the weak "feckless".

It's understandable, but disappointing, that the signees would prefer not to name the pols who are "intent on appealing to the basest of human instincts". But we all know who they're talking about, right?

Yup, you read my mind: clearly they're talking about Bernie Sanders with his encouragement of envy, resentment, and hate.

What? You think they're referring to some other blowhard? Well, maybe.

We wish that the University of New Hampshire were somehow immune from these forces. Such is not the case, however. UNH is part of the broader world. Sadly, we have even had incidents on our own campuses that have seen members of our community treated with disrespect, or worse. With respect to "or worse", it's worth pointing out that a UNH student was raped and murdered back in 2012 (albeit not on campus). So, yes, things get much worse than "disrespect".

But our correspondents aren't really talking about that sort of thing. The real threat is… well, read on.

In these uncertain times, it is important for our community to stand together and recommit ourselves to the bedrock principles that make us a strong and caring Wildcat family. Calling the 20,000-plus students, faculty, and staff of the University Near Here a "family" just might be straining a metaphor way too far.

Anyway, what about those "bedrock principles"? Turns out there's only one that matters right now:

The first of these principles is and must always be that we embrace, respect and care for one another, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. "Is and must always be."

This is offered in the same spirit as: "As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen." I.e., we're talking about the University's Official Religion here, and you best not be revealed as an Unbeliever or Heretic, lest you be cast into the darkness.

(I should point out that the "regardless of" list is almost certainly fluid and somewhat arbitrary. Harvard, for example, would add creed, (plain old) sex, ancestry, veteran status, disability unrelated to job requirements, genetic information, military service, and (the catch-all) "other protected status.")

Finally, note that "embrace" should not be taken literally. Because if you go around embracing your "Wildcat family" members indiscriminately, you might find yourself in big trouble. That's what I've heard anyway. Haven't tried it myself.

This is our responsibility not only as individuals, in the way we conduct our particular lives, but also, perhaps even most importantly, as educators—and we are all educators, students, faculty and staff alike—in the messages we send, in what we tolerate in others, in our refusal to look away when members of our community need our help. And if we are all educators, are we also not—in a very real sense, and even more ultra-importantly—all students as well? For do we not all have something to learn, as well as something to teach?

As long as it's not quantum mechanics. That shit is difficult.

We say this, by the way, as university leaders who not only believe this, but who literally embody this principle. I am working very hard to think what the senders could possibly mean by claiming they "literally embody this principle". Literally. Hm.

Does Mark Huddleston have the "embrace, respect and care for" language above tattooed somewhere discreet on his person? Maybe this happens as an initiation ritual?

As we prepare to head off to join friends and family for the holidays, let us use this season of peace as a time of restorative reflection. Let us come back together in the new year stronger, more resilient and even more resolved in our commitments to one another and to the great work of the University of New Hampshire.

[Signer list elided]

"More resilient": that would be nice. Because this letter seems like it springs from the brittleness of the easily offended.

But—geez—couldn't they just have quoted Abraham Lincoln?: "Be excellent to each other. And... PARTY ON, DUDES!"

The letter could have been a lot shorter.

Somewhat more seriously, it's been only a few months since President Huddleston forthrightly proclaimed that the "only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses." What happens when that policy conflicts with the "embrace, respect and care for one another" principle articulated now? Especially when the most sensitive among us decide that they've been insufficiently embraced, respected, or cared for?

(Today's case in point: New Yorker headline Shutting Down Conversations About Rape at Harvard Law.)

Examining that issue would be useful and interesting. Instead, the University hopes to ignore it with sappy feel-good sentiment.

Finally: I'm getting a little old to be nagged about "being a nice person" by my employers. Folks, I am a nice person, despite my multiple dissents from politically correct dogma. If you need to hector bigots, fine, but do so more selectively and accurately.