Unethical Quote of the Week: University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen

"Oh, HELP me, University administrators! A poster says that a fictional space cowboy from a TV series that isn't on anymore might kill me, or someone, under certain conditions!"

“UW-Stout administrators believe strongly in the right of all students, faculty and staff to express themselves freely about issues on campus and off.  This freedom is fundamental on a public university campus. However, we also have the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind—both direct and implied. It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence.  That is why they were removed. This was not an act of censorship.  This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.”


, one featuring a humorous quote from a cult TV science fiction series, the other a satiric poster opposing fascism, as in cases where speech-censoring university administrators remove harmless pop culture references they don’t understand. Continue reading

A Word to the Wise-asses

Dear Wise-Ass,

I know that the fact you know I am a Boston Red Sox fan presents an irresistible opportunity for you to taunt, mock and tease me about the catastrophic choke-job my team just displayed to the world. To give you the benefit of the doubt, I am assuming that you are not a devoted and loyal fan of a sports team yourself, and thus think baseball is “just a game.”  If that is the case, I forgive you for your supposedly humorous comments, which have approximately the same level of sensitivity and kindness in my current state as the following:

  • “So I hear your mother kicked off! Aren’t you a little old to be an orphan? “
  • “Lost your house, did you? Hey, I have a big cardboard box you can have!”
  • “Still unemployed? I know: why don’t you start a career as a professional loser?”

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t say any of these things (unless you’re a Yankee fan, in which case your whole moral compass is suspect), and I wonder if you understand that picking at the raw and bloody wound that is a beloved team’s tragedy is every bit as cruel and hurtful as such cracks would be. Incomprehensible as it may be to you, this was and is very important to me. My devotion to the Sox began when I was 12, and the team has given me more pleasure, grounding and wisdom than 99% of the people I have met in my life. Irrational though my emotional reaction may be, I’m in pain, and you shouldn’t have to empathize with the source of the pain to know that intentionally prolonging or magnifying that pain isn’t a very nice thing to do, and is nowhere near as funny as you seem to think its is.

I just thought you should know.


Terry Francona, Accountability, and Moral Luck

Good job, Terry. 'Bye.

Barack Obama, and indeed all leaders, current and future, have reason to heed the results of meeting to be held today between the ownership of the Boston Red Sox and the traumatized team’s manager of eight years, Terry Francona. Francona will learn whether his tenure—he is beyond question the most successful manager in the team’s century-plus existence—will end as a consequence of his squad’s historic and inexplicable collapse, robbing it of the play-off spot that seemed guaranteed less than a month ago. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Yankees Manager Joe Girardi

I don't believe I'm posting this.

It has come down to the final day of the season, with the (or as they are known in these parts, MY) Boston Red Sox tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the final spot in the American League playoffs. The Yankees have been dominated by the Red Sox, their long-time rivals, most of the season, while the Rays have been easier pickings. Lo and behold, it is the Yankees playing the Rays, in a game that could determine who will be the Yankees’ opponents in the League Championship series.

The game is otherwise meaningless to New York, which has already clinched a play-off berth. At this point, a play-off bound manager’s job is to decide which marginal players will be on the post-season roster, to line up his pitching, and to steer clear of injury. Asked if he was bothered that Yankee manager Joe Girardi was surely not going to oppose the Rays with his best team, Boston Manager Terry Francona shrugged. He had earned the right to use the game to prepare for the play-offs, Francona answered.

Yet here was Girardi, starting a team made up of most of his regulars, replacing his pitchers as soon as they were in peril, and generally managing the game against the Rays as if it were the final game of the World Series. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The University of Wisconsin’s Lesson: Ignorance + Political Correctness = Repression”

Michael posted the Comment of the Day (though I am posting it here a day late), discussing the plight of the U. of Wisconsin professor whose “Firefly” poster was deemed to create an unacceptable risk of violence. Here is his perceptive addendum to  The University of Wisconsin’s Lesson: Ignorance + Political Correctness = Repression:

“I think you are missing another force at work here: the bureaucracy . They have gladly embraced the political correctness of the liberal majority on campus, not because they necessarily believe in it, but because it lets them have power. There is a wonderful quote from P.J. O’Rourke on this, “bureaucracy is attractive because it gives every piss-ant an anthill to piss from”. Chief Walker got to exercise arbitrary and petty authority in tearing down the posters. People who enjoy the exercise of unrestrained power over people are attracted to such positions. By challenging her, Miller was challenging the entire bureaucratic ruling class of the university, and that couldn’t be allowed. From that moment on, he was going to be picked on and subject to unreasonable scrutiny, subjected to endless requests to comply with the most outrageous interpretations of every University regulation. He will be subjected to endless meetings to explain and justify every time he goes to the bathroom before a “Hearing consisting of both faculty and administrators”:

“Section IV, paragraph 5 of the faculty clearly state that “when not teaching, faculty should be available to students”. By using the men’s room, you were unavailable to female students. This was a blatantly sexist act of your part and under my authority as gender relations officer are ordering you to attend sensitivity training.”

Incompetent Elected Official of the Month: North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue

Gov, Beverly Perdue: Aspiring dictator? Ultra-Dry comedian? Doorstop?

As the United States struggles to solve a myriad of entrenched systemic problems—the list, according to NYT columnist David Brooks: “the lack of consumer demand, the credit crunch, the continuing slide in housing prices, the freeze in business investment, the still hefty consumer debt levels and the skills mismatch,not to mention regulatory burdens, the business class’s utter lack of confidence in the White House, the looming explosion of entitlement costs, the public’s lack of confidence in institutions across the board”…he may have missed one or two—it is alarming how many prominent individuals have announced their readiness to abandon representative democracy or part of it. Even the President himself has wistfully said that he wishes he could bypass Congress. His former budget director, Peter Orszag, has an essay in the current New Republic is which he calls for “less democracy.” Hollywood liberals have been quick to follow this theme; Woody Allen told an overseas journalist that the United States would be better off if Obama could be a benevolent dictator.

I think this is playing with fire and  irresponsible in the extreme, particularly given the last item in Brooks’s list. This position is especially irresponsible when it comes from elected officials in high offices, and thus it isn’t surprising that when Nouth Carolina’s Democratic governor, Beverly Perdue, told a rotary club event in Cary, N.C. … Continue reading

Last Meal Ethics

Sure, the dinner was great, but the after-dinner entertainment was terrible...

The dragging-death killer of James Byrd, Lawrence Russell Brewer, went to his Texas execution last week after ordering up a true pig-out for his last meal: two chicken fried steaks smothered in gravy with sliced onions; a triple meat bacon cheeseburger with fixings on the side; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos; a large bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecue with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas with fixings; a Meat Lovers pizza; three root beers; one pint of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream; and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. When it arrived, he didn’t eat any of it. Texas authorities were annoyed, or insulted (“I make you a delicious meal, your favorite, and this is the gratitude I get?”), or something. Brewer’s wasteful order caused the state  to re-consider the appropriateness of the tradition of the last meal accommodation for the condemned, and legislators decided to eliminate it entirely. Other states have begun to debate doing the same thing.

It’s time for the question that needs to start most ethics discussions: “What’s going on here?” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Author Karen Hunter

In a jaw-dropping example of naked bias, dishonesty, and Bizarro World journalistic ethics, African-American author Karen Hunter complained on MSNBC that the Associated Press was racist by transcribing President Obama’s speech to the Congressional Black Caucus without restoring his intentionally dropped dropped G’s, as other services—unethically—did.

Here’s part of the AP version:

“Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said, his voice rising as applause and cheers mounted. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.”

Hunter said the AP’s version was “inherently racist.” Continue reading

President Obama’s Integrity Collapse

It is one of the Ethics Alarms truths that “When the going gets tough, the tough get unethical.” That is not universally true, however, for there are individuals, in public and private life, who manage to maintain their ethical values even under pressure, even when unethical tactics appear to be an inviting way out of peril, even when maintaining ethical integrity can lead to failure and defeat.

I once thought Sen. John McCain was such a man, but I was proven wrong when he defeated a conservative rival for his Senate seat by embracing unethical policies and positions that he had once decried. I once thought that Barack Obama, despite his other deficiencies as a leader, had a strong claim to being more honest and ethical than his likely Republican rivals. He is now proving me wrong again. Continue reading

The University of Wisconsin’s Lesson: Ignorance + Political Correctness = Repression

Why does a defunct cult TV space Western threaten the University of Wisconsin? Good Question!

As in the disturbing incident at Widener Law School, in which a professor has been persecuted and punished for the imagined sexist and racist implications in his  fanciful classroom hypothetical, a theater professor at the University of Wisconsin in Stout, is now being subjected to full-fledged censorship by the university’s administration because of a pop culture reference that it finds “threatening.”

And also as in the Widener situation, one wonders if the school’s faculty cares enough about academic freedom and free speech to support their colleague. So far, they have not.

Prof. James Miller is, like me, a fan of “Firefly,”  Joss Whedon’s late, lamented science fiction TV series. He mounted a poster on his door that shows actor Nathan Fillion as Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, captain of the spaceship that cruised through the series.  The poster includes a famous line (well, famous with fans of the show, at least) by Reynolds in the first episode,  delivered in response to a passenger who asked if he was in danger of being murdered while he slept. “You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once,” Fillion’s character said. “If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.”

Lisa Walter, the university’s chief of police, took down the poster, stating that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.” Walter said that the poster was not covered by the First Amendment:

“ We were notified of the existence of the posting, reviewed it and believe that the wording on the poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed. This posting can cause others to fear for their safety, thus it was removed.”

Absurd. Ignorant. Offensive.  And an abuse of power. Continue reading