Missteps of College Presidents:  Eleven Case Studies!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has compiled case studies of eleven college presidents whose tenures foundered.  At 32 pages, it is a quick read that demonstrates how failure to respond adequately to complaints of racism or sexual assault on a campus, conflicts with the Board of Trustees, incautious remarks about getting rid of underperforming students, poor management, and, in one outlying example, the theft of college funds, can bring a president down. Below is an outline of the presidents and institutions described in the case studies.  



Kelli Ward Should Apologize for Calling on Senator John McCain to Resign!

Dear Commons Community,

US Senate candidate Kelli Ward, who is challenging Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in the state’s 2018 Republican primary, commented last week that she hopes Sen. John McCain will step aside as quickly as possible following the news this week of his brain cancer diagnosis. Ward, who failed in her effort to unseat McCain during last year’s primary, also suggested that she should be appointed to McCain’s seat should he resign.  As reported by CNN and other media.

“I hope that Senator McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible,” she said on Indiana radio WOWO 1190 AM. “So that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward.”

McCain, 80, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. The news of his diagnosis, revealed on Wednesday, was met with an outpouring of sympathy from members of both parties. Ward tweeted on Wednesday after the diagnosis was revealed that she wished him and his family “comfort and peace.”

In Thursday’s interview, she said President Donald Trump agenda “can’t be at a standstill while we wait for John McCain to determine what he’s going to do.”

“Because you probably realize that with John McCain out of commission we don’t have 51 votes on the Republican side,” she said, though McCain’s absence does still leave Republicans with 51 votes in the Senate. “That can’t stand. We can’t have until the 2018 election, waiting around to accomplish the Trump agenda, to secure the border and stop illegal immigration and repeal Obamacare and fix the economy and fix the veterans administration, all those things need to be done and we can’t be at a standstill while we wait for John McCain to determine what he’s going to do.”

Ward, an osteopathic physician and former Arizona state senator, told CNN on Monday that she has talked to White House officials about her run against the incumbent Flake, who, along with McCain, has been one of Trump’s staunchest Republican critics. Flake called on Trump to withdraw from the presidential race after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, which showed Trump making lewd comments about women.

She speculated in Thursday’s radio interview that it was unlikely that he would be able to return to the Senate “at full force.”

“I would never presume to say what someone’s prognosis is without having exams,” she said. “As a Christian, I know there can always be miracles. But the likelihood that John McCain is going to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low. That likelihood is low. So in our state, we don’t have a quick special election or anything if someone retires or resigns or steps away from their position.”

She added that if McCain steps down she hopes Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey considers appointing her to his seat until an election takes place in 2018 to decide who would fill it for the remainder of his term.

“Well, you know, I certainly hope so,” she said. “Because I have a proven track record of years in the state senate of being extremely effective and of listening to the voice of the people that I represent. And you know, I made an extremely good showing against Senator McCain against all odds. You know, he outspent me nearly 10 to 1. He has a super PAC called Grassroots Action PAC that spent over 10 million dollars seeking to destroy my character, my reputation, and my political future.”

She continued, “However, I have emerged from those ashes much stronger and really I am beating the pants off of Jeff Flake already. And you know, some people told me that Jeff Flake would do well to encourage the governor to appoint me because that would take the pressure off of him.”

In a statement to CNN, Flake said, “John McCain is a fighter and an American hero. I fully expect to see him back in the senate soon. I’m dumbstruck by Kelli Ward’s comments.”

A McCain spokesperson declined to comment.”

Ward’s remarks are crass and opportunistic.  John McCain has served our country his entire adult life.  It is his and his family’s decision to do what they think is best.  We wish him a full recovery. 


Maureen Dowd on Scaramucci and Trump or The Mooch and the Mogul!

Dear Commons Community,

The major news story this weekend was Sean Spicer’s resignation on Friday followed by the announcement that Anthony Scaramucci would be his replacement as White House communications director.  Maureen Dowd analyzes this latest White House development in a piece titled, The Mooch and the Mogul.  In her usual take no prisoners approach, she characterizes Scaramucci as “a wealthy mini-me Manhattan bro with wolfy smile and slick coif who will say anything and flip any position. A self-promoter extraordinaire and master salesman who doesn’t mind pushing a bad product — and probably sees it as more fun.”  She elaborates as follows;

“The Mogul and the Mooch is a tender love story with dramatic implications for the imploding White House.

They have so much in common beyond an addiction to hair product. Both enjoy stirring the pot and shifting political loyalties. (Both had high praise for Hillary.) They savor counterpunching, especially in donnybrooks with CNN. Trump was taken with Scaramucci’s win in getting CNN to retract a story linking him to a Russian investment fund supposedly under Senate investigation, a debacle that ended in three reporters losing their jobs.

The Mogul and the Mooch have the same fluid relationship with the truth and the same definition of loyalty.

Donald Trump made it clear in an interview with Michael Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker in The Times on Wednesday that he was hurt that Jeff Sessions essentially put the Constitution over him, calling his attorney general’s decision to recuse himself on the Russia investigation “very unfair to the president.”

And Politico reported about Scaramucci: “A few years ago, while interviewing PR firms, he was blunt about what he was looking for, according to one person present for the meeting. During the 90-minute meeting, Scaramucci told this person: ‘I need someone who’s prepared to go to the mat and lie for me.’”

Sean Spicer had the impossible task of defending a president who didn’t believe in telling the truth to a press fixated on the president’s lying…

…in his first turn at the White House podium Friday, the natty Scaramucci easily outdid Spicer, who in his first outing had upset the president by wearing a suit that was too big.

The Mooch instantly showed he knew the point of his job was not communicating with the reporters assembled before him. The point was communicating with the needy egomaniac in the Oval Office.

“But here’s what I tell you about the president,” Scaramucci said. “He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met. O.K. — I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, he’s standing in the key and he’s hitting foul shots and he’s swishing them, O.K.? He sinks three-foot putts.”

And not only that.

“The president has really good karma, O.K.?”

Scaramucci used big brush strokes to paint a portrait of his skyscraper-high regard for Trump, even though it was a mere two years ago that he was dismissing Trump on Fox News as a “hack politician” with “crazy rhetoric” that was “anti-American” and “very, very divisive.”

The Daily Beast reported that, hours after he got the White House job, Scaramucci deleted his old tweets praising Hillary, calling her “the real deal.”

On Friday, it was all Trump love.

First, he instructed about the “disconnect between the way we see the president and how much we love the president and the way some of you perhaps see the president.”

Then he just spit it out: “I love the president.”

Then he added: “But I love the president and I’m very, very loyal to the president. And I love the mission that the president has.” And then he added, “I love the president.” Then: “But here’s what I will tell you, O.K.? I love the president.”

I am glad that love is in the air.  I hope that the mooch doesn’t turn into a mook (a disparaging term for a foolish, contemptible person).



Summer Movie:  “Dunkirk”!

Dear Commons Community,

I saw Dunkirk last night and was not disappointed although it surely is a different type of war movie.  Under Christopher Nolan’s direction, this movie emphasizes the fears and experiences of the common soldiers not on the generals or strategists. While well-known in the United Kingdom, the story is less well-known here in the States. 

In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk on the French coast. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. During the evacuation, thousands of allied soldiers were killed by German planes dropping bombs on British rescue ships and machine-gunning the beaches.  At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.  What makes the Dunkirk story so spectacular is that many of the survivors were brought to safety by everyday citizens who used their own boats and vessels (some 1,200 of them) to rescue the soldiers and bring them to Britain.   A New York Times reviewer commented: 

“One of the most indelible images in Dunkirk is of a British plane in flames. The movie recounts an early, harrowing campaign in World War II that took place months after Germany invaded Poland and weeks after Hitler’s forces started rolling into the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. The plane, having glided to a stop, has been defiantly set ablaze by the pilot to avoid its being captured. It’s an image of unambiguous defeat but also an emblem of resistance and a portent of the ghastly conflagrations still to come…

…Mr. Nolan’s unyielding emphasis on the soldiers — and on war as it is experienced rather than on how it is strategized — blurs history even as it brings the present and its wars startlingly into view.  Dunkirk is a tour de force of cinematic craft and technique, but one that is unambiguously in the service of a sober, sincere, profoundly moral story that closes the distance between yesterday’s fights and today’s. Mr. Nolan closes that distance cinematically with visual sweep and emotional intimacy, with images of warfare and huddled, frightened survivors that together with Hans Zimmer’s score reverberate through your body. By the time that plane is burning — and a young man is looking searchingly into the future — you are reminded that the fight against fascism continues.”

British troops would not return to France until four years later on D-Day on June 6, 1944. 

Give it a try!




Democrats New Policy Message: “Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.”

Dear Commons Community,

The Democratic National Committee is getting  set to roll out a new slogan next week that is aimed at drawing attention to the party’s economic message.  Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that congressional Democrats will release a de facto 2018 campaign platform focused on highlighting their positions on economic issues, under the slogan “Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.”

According to the Post, the platform will highlight Democrats’ policy goals, including “tax increases on the rich, affordable college, infrastructure spending, higher wages, job training, paid family leave.”

This is a good move by the Democrats in that they need to have a message that will appeal to voters across the political spectrum and that goes beyond Trump-bashing.


Donald Trump in NY Times Interview Attacks Sessions, Mueller, Comey, and Rosenstein!

Dear Commons Community,

In a New York Times interview yesterday, President Trump attacks Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller, James Comey and Rod Rosenstein.  Here is a summry:

Trump said that he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions attorney general had he known the former senator would recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election.

He added: “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Trump, who has repeatedly described the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” fueled by the “fake news” media, also claimed in the interview that Mueller’s probe was rife with conflicts of interest, saying Mueller had interviewed to replace Comey prior to his appointment as special counsel. Trump also warned federal investigators against looking into his family’s financial interests beyond those tied to Russia.

“I think that’s a violation,” he said. “Look, this is about Russia.” 

He took several jabs at Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who penned the May memo recommending Trump fire Comey. The president specifically criticized Rosenstein for appointing Mueller as special prosecutor, and took an odd swipe at Rosenstein’s hometown, Baltimore. 

“There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” Trump said

Trump repeated his claim that Comey lied during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and said he believes the then-FBI director informed him about a dossier of salacious allegations against Trump as a way to gain leverage. 

“In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump said.

It appears that the President is obsessing with the investigation into his ties with the Russian government.  


HBCUs in Need of Assistance!

Dear Commons Community,

Richard D. Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and Alvin J. Schexnider, former chancellor at Winston-Salem State University, have an opinion piece in today’s online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, focusing on the current plight of many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).   They specifically identify a number of issues that are pushing many of these institutions “to the brink.”  They identify a number of reasons for this state of affairs including:

  • Declining enrollment
  • Underperforming institutional and board leadership
  • Sharp reductions in state funding
  • Obsolete business models
  • Uncertain federal funding
  • A dearth of future leadership talent
  • Inadequate financial support from alumni
  • Intercollegiate athletics scandals

Legon and Schexnider specifically expand on the following:

“It is clear that state disinvestment in public higher education has had a more significant impact on HBCUs than on other public colleges and universities. It is also clear (and perhaps counterintuitive) that enrollment declines among these institutions are in part driven by their own historic success and societal progress. But outmoded business models, antiquated implementation of technology in administrative processes and academic-program delivery, and difficulties in recruiting and retaining talented faculty are putting some of our most important institutions at the greatest risk.”

They conclude:

“Black colleges and universities, despite their challenges, are indispensable to shaping and contributing to our nation’s potential. HBCUs deserve to thrive and not simply survive. Regrettably, some may be at heightened risk, but where possible we must make every effort to help those that seek meaningful change to chart a new path toward sustainability. We can do no less to honor the women and men who established these institutions. And we must do more to preserve opportunities for future generation.”

  1. The HBCUs deserve better and it would be helpful if the states and President Trump as he promised during his election campaigning, step up and do something for these venerable institutions.



Trouble in Fox News Land:  Shepard Smith v. Sean Hannity!

Dear Commons Community,

Two of the biggest celebrities on Fox News are feuding over remarks made by Shepard Smith about President Donald Trump being a liar.  Smith broke with network orthodoxy last Friday, issuing a sharp denunciation of the Trump administration’s handling of investigations into its links with Russia.  Smith described White House “deception” as “mind-boggling”.

“Why all these lies?” he asked fellow anchor Chris Wallace. “Why is it lie after lie after lie?”

The outburst came after it was reported that more people attended a meeting between Donald Trump Jr and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York in June 2016 than had previously been disclosed.

Yesterday, as reported by The Huffington Post,  Sean Hannity used his radio show to blow back Shepard Smith. 

Shep is a friend. I like him,” Hannity said, according to The Hill. “But he’s so anti-Trump. I mean, he went off on a rant last week.”

According to CNN, Hannity said at another point in his show: 

“I’ll say this about the Fox News Channel, there are voices on Fox that drive me nuts. Like, Shep and I been friends for years. We just respect we don’t agree. And the media was praising Shep, and he’s not the biggest fan of Trump. Fine! We don’t talk politics when we hang out. When I see him we have the best time, and we just have this mutual respect.”

Smith fired back at Hannity later in the day. 

Sometimes facts are displeasing,” he told Mediaite. “Journalists report them without fear or favor.”

Smith may have been channeling former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who made headlines when she appeared to throw a barb at Hannity last year with the j-word. 

We’ve got Trump speaking to our own Sean Hannity,” she said after a debate in September. “We’ll see whether he speaks to the journalists in this room after that interview.”

Hannity, however, has said he is not a journalist.

Several other Fox News personalities including Chris Wallace, Chris Stirewalt and Charles Krauthammer have lambasted Trump for his handling of the Don Jr. controversy.


Senator Patty Murray Calls for Betsy DeVos to Remove Candice Jackson as USDOE Top Civil-Rights Official!

Dear Commons Community,

Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Republican on the Senate Education Committee, is calling on Secretary Betsy Devos to remove Candice E. Jackson as the top civil-rights official in the Education Department after her “callous” comments on campus sexual assault made in an interview with the New York TimesAs reported by several media:

“In an interview with The New York Times, published last Wednesday, Ms. Jackson said campus sexual-assault investigations have not been fair to both parties involved. Most cases, she added, lack “even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.”

“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Ms. Jackson said.

Ms. Jackson apologized for her remarks in a statement issued Wednesday evening. “My words in The New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. What I said was flippant, and I am sorry,” she said.

But the apology is no salve, Senator Patty Murray said.

“Ms. Jackson’s callous, insensitive, and egregious comments regarding sexual assault on college campuses crossed a serious line,” Ms. Murray continued. This, she added, was the “final straw.”

In a written statement released late Monday, Ms. DeVos said that Ms. Jackson had apologized for her comments, which “reflect neither my position nor the position of the department.”

“They also did not reflect Candice’s position and values,” the statement continued. “Candice is a valuable part of the administration and an unwavering advocate for the civil rights of all students.”


Elon Musk:  Artificial Intelligence Can Pose “the Greatest Risk We Face as a Civilization”

Dear Commons Community,

Elon Musk, co-founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, Inc., over the weekend at a meeting of the nation’s governors called upon them to be proactive in regulating the artificial intelligence industry. He warned that “the hyper-competitiveness of the tech industry could push developers to work on A.I. before their competitors. And if that happens without any kind of oversight, Musk says it could pose “the greatest risk we face as a civilization.”  Here is a recap of his comments courtesy of newsy:  

“… he encouraged U.S. governors to get out in front of the [A.I.] industry and do some proactive regulating.

Musk met with state governors at the National Governors Association to talk about different kinds of emerging technology. In addition to A.I., Musk talked about solar energy, space travel and self-driving cars.

“AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not,” Musk said.

But his feelings towards A.I. aren’t anything new.

I mean, with artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” Musk said at a 2014 event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Musk warned that the hyper-competitiveness of the tech industry could push developers to work on A.I. before their competitors. And if that happens without any kind of oversight, Musk says it could pose “the greatest risk we face as a civilization.”

Back in 2015, Musk helped fund OpenAI, a nonprofit tasked with researching “digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity.”

And Musk isn’t the only prominent techno-wiz to warn us about A.I. Stephen Hawking has said he believes artificial intelligence could “spell the end of the human race.”

A critical aspect of Musk’s comments is that the nature of the tech industry is such that there will be unbridled investment in getting the upper hand on the competition and there will be no holding back what they will try to accomplish.  He is right to warn all of us of this danger to our civilization.