Legacy of Integrity?

January 14, 2012

With the change of leadership at UW, I have been imagining a new leader and style of leadership that reverses the downward spiral of the past several years.  Perhaps the clearest, but not only, sign that the trend is not good is a recent letter to all hands dated January 3, 2012.

Our new President, Michael Young, set a piece of context that was striking:

Persons entrusted with academic, administrative, and athletic responsibilities at institutions of higher education have been found to have actively betrayed that trust — or to have stood by passively allowing the destructive behavior to continue.

Then he continued:

In contrast, it is clear to me that the University of Washington’s century and a half of success has been built on a strong foundation of integrity. When problems have been discovered, they have been dealt with promptly and appropriately, as one would hope. Overall, the UW has nurtured a culture of responsible conduct, which has sustained our perennial success in attracting scholars and administrators who share a visceral inclination to act honorably.

And began his conclusion by exhorting:

Having inherited such values, one of our duties is to periodically renew our commitment to maintain these high expectations of ourselves and of one another.

—–

Excuse me, but what part of UW legacy does he imagine demonstrates anything resembling values that are any better than those elsewhere including the cheap shot he takes obliquely at Penn State and for that matter many other top private or publics? A litany of UW wrongs, not dealt with promptly and appropriately, come to mind.  In athletics, just read Scoreboard Baby and then explain both actions taken then and thereafter in the ensuing women’s softball drug scandal and the  men’s basketball date rapes.  In the medical school, the billing scandal and the action that brought the serious sanctions: coverup.  At the heart of the university, total disrespect for shared governance exemplified by a multi-million dollar class action settlement for faculty and exacerbated by unilateral retreat from a salary policy supposedly designed for good times and bad.  Compounded by a narcissistic, sociopathic Provost, left to her own devices, now gone but leaving a wake of dysfunction and lack of trust.  Integrity requires accountability.

David Brewster writes thoughtfully in Crosscut about the challenges that President Young faces, and I agree with much of what he says.  But the last sentence (which I am partially taking out of context) speaks to the concerns expressed here:

The risk is that time is running out, morale is sinking at the university, and Young loses the momentum of his honeymoon year.

It is true for the political arena of which Brewster writes and it is equally true in restoring integrity.  Take off the blinders.