The Worst College President In America

Up to now, the coveted title of “Worst College President in America” belonged without question to George Bridges of Evergreen State College in Washington, as we noted here back in 2018. But a new challenger has arisen, and has wrested the title from Bridges: Kathleen McCartney of Smith College.

We wrote here last week (in “The Disgrace of Smith College“) about the case of Jodi Shaw, the Smith College staff member hounded out of Smith because she dared to challenge the blatantly racist so-called ideology of “anti-racism” that is rampant on campuses everywhere. McCartney responded with a public letter disputing Shaw, but without rebutting any of the substantive claims Shaw made—a classic “non-denial-denial.”

Today the New York Times reported at length on the Smith controversy, and the portrait it offers of McCartney and Smith College is devastating. It’s quite a long story and worth reading all the way through if you have access to the Times, but here are some highlights, beginning with the story of a Black student in 2018 who brought charges of racism against several Smith staff members that a subsequent investigation by an outside law firm Smith hired concluded were unfounded.

But no matter to McCartney and the race mongers of Smith, who used the incident to launch on an ongoing Maoist struggle session with the campus, as well as ruining the lives of working class Smith employees who were improvidently branded as racists:

In midsummer of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black student at Smith College, recounted a distressing American tale: She was eating lunch in a dorm lounge when a janitor and a campus police officer walked over and asked her what she was doing there.

The officer, who could have been carrying a “lethal weapon,” left her near “meltdown,” Ms. Kanoute wrote on Facebook, saying that this encounter continued a yearlong pattern of harassment at Smith.

“All I did was be Black,” Ms. Kanoute wrote. “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.”

The college’s president, Kathleen McCartney, offered profuse apologies and put the janitor on paid leave. “This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias,” the president wrote, “in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.”

The investigation, by the way, found that the Smith security officer was unarmed.

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there.

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

But they did not offer any public apology or amends to the workers whose lives were gravely disrupted by the student’s accusation.

This last sentence is a key detail, as it shows that the concern for rich elite whites like McCartney doesn’t extend to working class people of modest means, like dining hall worker Jackie Blair:

Student workers [like Ms. Kanoute] were not supposed to use the Tyler cafeteria, which was reserved for a summer camp program for young children. Jackie Blair, a veteran cafeteria employee, mentioned that to Ms. Kanoute when she saw her getting lunch there and then decided to drop it. Staff members dance carefully around rule enforcement for fear students will lodge complaints.

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone,” said Mark Patenaude, a janitor.

Ms. Kanoute took her food and then walked through a set of French doors, crossed a foyer and reclined in the shadowed lounge of a dormitory closed for the summer, where she scrolled the web as she ate.

And you’ll never guess what happened next!

In an interview, [President McCartney] said that Ms. Kanoute deserved an apology and swift action, even before the investigation was undertaken. “It was appropriate to apologize,” Ms. McCartney said. “She is living in a context of ‘living while Black’ incidents.”

The school’s workers felt scapegoated. “It is safe to say race is discussed far more often than class at Smith,” said Prof. Marc Lendler, who teaches American government at the college. “It’s a feature of elite academic institutions that faculty and students don’t recognize what it means to be elite.”

The repercussions spread. Three weeks after the incident at Tyler House, Ms. Blair, the cafeteria worker, received an email from a reporter at The Boston Globe asking her to comment on why she called security on Ms. Kanoute for “eating while Black.” That puzzled her; what did she have to do with this?

“This is the racist person,” Ms. Kanoute wrote of Ms. Blair, adding that Mr. Patenaude [a janitor] too was guilty. (He in fact worked an early shift that day and had already gone home at the time of the incident.) Ms. Kanoute also lashed the Smith administration. “They’re essentially enabling racist, cowardly acts.” . . .

Ms. Blair was born and raised and lives in Northampton with her husband, a mechanic, and makes about $40,000 a year. Within days of being accused by Ms. Kanoute, she said she found notes in her mailbox and taped to her car window. “RACIST” read one. People called her at home. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” a caller said. “You don’t deserve to live,” said another.

Pretty clear from all of this (and other details in the article) that the truly hateful people on the Smith campus are the so-called “anti-racists.”

Then there’s this detail:

Anti-bias training began in earnest in the fall. Ms. Blair and other cafeteria and grounds workers found themselves being asked by consultants hired by Smith about their childhood and family assumptions about race, which many viewed as psychologically intrusive. Ms. Blair recalled growing silent and wanting to crawl inside herself.

The faculty are not required to undergo such training.

Of course not. You can’t expect elite professors to have to go through such a thing.

A few professors have advised Ms. McCartney to stand up more forcefully for line workers lest she lose their loyalty.

Asked in the interview about employees who found the training intrusive, the president responded: “Good training is never about making people too uncomfortable or to feel ashamed or anything. I think our staff is content and are embracing it.”

That’s seals it: George Bridges is demoted to the second worst college president in America.

Postscript:

As for Ms. Blair, the cafeteria worker, stress exacerbated her lupus and she checked into the hospital last year. Then George Floyd, a Black man, died at the hands of the Minneapolis police last spring, and protests fired up across the nation and in Northampton, and angry notes and accusations of racism were again left in her mailbox and by visitors on Smith College’s official Facebook page.

This past autumn the university furloughed her and other workers, citing the coronavirus and the empty dorms. Ms. Blair applied for an hourly job with a local restaurant. The manager set up a Zoom interview, she said, and asked her: “Aren’t you the one involved in that incident?’”

“I was pissed,” she said. “I told her I didn’t do anything wrong, nothing. And she said, ‘Well, we’re all set.’”

This is what passes for “social justice” at Smith College. (And also amazing that this is reported so well in the New York Times.)

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