Saturday, March 15, 2014

How Many Fred Fishers Will There Be?

In the academic world being labeled racist or homophobic ends a career. It does not have to be true -- the label is enough. It is ususally expressed like this: "He is insensitive to racial issues." or "He did not reach out to the LGBT community." Most of the time no facts are presented. Correct thinking people do not question these allegation once made. It is an non falsifiable allegation. 

Many years ago at UF, during a dean search, a promising candidate was nailed with the "insensitive to African Americans" label. He was stopped dead in his tracks. Further research revealed that some semester in the past at the school where is was already dean he had denied a summer grant to an unproductive faculty member. It was not an uncommon event but this time the person denied was African American and the rumor started that ended his candidacy and perhaps his administrative career.

In the latest dean search, comparable allegations were made about one of the finalists. The accusers, who police these things with great dedication,  did not have or could not present any facts but evidently they just knew. Often their faith matches  that of the fundamentalists they ridicule. I do not know if the accusations played any role in UFs decision to scuttle the search but I doubt it. Nevertheless, the cruelty of people who accuse but  have nothing else to say always amazes and saddens me. They brand people and the brand, like that on a steer, stays. (A friend likens the law school to the missing airplane and these people are the ones who broke into the cockpit. They set the agenda by virtue of the fear they generate.)

It reminds me of Fred Fisher. Most readers will not know who he is. In the McCarthy era he was a young attorney working for the firm that represented the Army in the McCarthy hearings. It was discovered that he had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild and that was all Joe McCarthy needed to label him a Communist. In response, Fisher's boss, Joe Welch spoke up with this:

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me."

 The cruelty I see by those attaching labels to people today is just as reckless and irresponsible. But there are no Joe Welches on law faculties, not a single one.  

No comments: