As the founder and sole member of the Sheldon Award Society, I am dedicated to identifying the worst college president of each academic year. So far the presidents or chancellors of Berkeley, Georgetown, DePaul, and countless other universities have copped the Sheldon. Somewhat mysteriously, none offered to resign.
The award is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except the Oscar features a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way.
The award is named for Sheldon “Water Buffalo” Hackney, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania and the Babe Ruth of modern Sheldonism.
The president of Tufts University, Lawrence Bacow, looked the other way when a student-faculty committee put a conservative Tufts publication on trial for publishing two parodies. One was a mock Christmas carol making fun of racial preferences in college admissions, the other a satire on Islamic Awareness week.
The publication, The Primary Source, was convicted of harassment for what would pass as free speech on most other campuses. The committee ordered the publication not to run any unsigned articles in the future, a rule not applied to other campus publications. The committee also hinted that funding would be cut if other controversial articles were published.
Mr. Bacow or his staff apparently snookered the Tufts commencement speaker, Mayor Bloomberg. The mayor’s speech mistakenly praised the campus for respecting free speech in the controversy, although a harassment verdict had already been announced.
Another perennial Sheldon candidate, Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, had a notable year. In October, rioters prevented speeches by two Minutemen, members of a volunteer group that patrols the Mexican border reporting illegal immigrants.
Mr. Bollinger, a first amendment scholar, might have shown a commitment to free speech by inviting the men back, introducing them himself and providing enough security to prevent more censorship by riot. But he didn’t.
Instead, he let months go by before imposing a mild non-punishment on the unnamed perpetrators. The punishment “seems to have no more meaning than O.J. Simpson’s quest to find the real killers,” according to an article featured on the Web site of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech watchdog group.
The last of our three finalists is president of Duke, Richard Brodhead. Because Michael Nifong made himself such a spectacular villain in the lacrosse case, Mr. Brodhead escaped without much criticism. But here is what Mr. Brodhead did: On hearing the first reports, he abruptly canceled the lacrosse season, suspended the two players named in the case, and fired the lacrosse coach of 16 years, giving him less than a day to get out.
This helped create the impression that the players were guilty. His long letter to the campus on April 20 did the same thing. He didn’t say the boys were guilty, but he talked passionately about the coercion and assault of women, the legacy of racism, and privilege and inequality—all of which fed the anger aimed at the lacrosse team.
Mr. Brodhead did nothing to deter the tsunami whipped up against the players by some students and the Group of 88, an alliance of mostly radical race and gender professors. One of the looniest of the 88, Houston Baker, answered a polite and worried letter from one of the lacrosse moms by calling her “the mother of a farm animal.”
Without any comment from Mr. Brodhead, the protesters issued death threats, carried banners that said “castrate,” featured photos of lacrosse players on “Wanted” fliers, and banged pots outside the boys’ residences in the early morning hours to disturb their sleep. A word from the president about leaving the boys alone and guaranteeing them a fair trial would have been nice.
Like Mr. Brodhead, the Group of 88 did not quite call the players guilty, but praised the campus protestors for “shouting and whispering about what happened to this young woman.” No comment about that from Mr. Brodhead and no comment from him on Mr. Nifong for nine months. An engineering professor at Duke said, “There never was a clear sense that the students were innocent until proven guilty.”
Congratulations Richard Brodhead, Sheldon laureate 2007. And you should resign.