When bad things happen, when should a public figure “step down” or resign?
Well, not when their service to society would be lost—irrelevantly. Not when we ineptly confuse personal and societal issues. And especially (as here now) when dismissal is totally irrelevant to the bad-thing issue at hand.
Former Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Earl Butz, who served in the Nixon Administration, allegedly told a racist joke. For this, he had to step down. But wasn’t he doing a difficult job well? Was the ensuing disorganization worth it?
Retired baseball star John Rocker allegedly talked trash about NYC subway riders (“a queer with AIDS…welfare mothers…foreigners”). But did this spewing disqualify his undoubted social contribution? Can he play ball and thus entertain thousands?
Professional perfection serves society. Personal purity is unrelated to that. Who’s perfect in all elements? No one below heaven, I’d say.
But right now, behold, it’s a step further. Someone has requested that a successful leader of a quality public university step down. But in what part of her job did she fail? No part. A bad thing happened nearby her, and that has what to do with her social value? Merely a sort of guilt by association?
Consider the social upset and waste in replacing Chancellor Kopper because of exactly what? This emotional approach nears magical thinking.
Thinking lesson for today: Beware when a good idea such as justice balloons up and over-reaches on its own. Keep steady. A final example to end on: Currently, medicine seems to increasingly emphasize patient privacy, but in a straight-jacket style. It’s good to a point indeed, but good grief, is friend Harriet or Henry in which hospital? And so forth.
–Brian Kevin Beck
UW-W Assoc. Prof. (Ret.)