Ethics Messes are situations too chaotic and ugly to qualify as Ethics Train Wrecks. This is an Ethics Mess. Think of it as a runaway Ethics Train Wreck that hit a nitro-glycerine factory and was then stomped by Godzilla. All we can do is sift through the gore.
California State University, Sacramento associate professor Tim Ford and his wife had a confrontation with their neighbors during which Ford’s wife, who was intoxicated, called one of the neighbors a “nigger” several times as well as a “bitch.” The target of her abuse, Mikaela Cobb, videoed the exchange and posted it on Facebook. The professor’s conduct was far from civil as well, as he is caught shouting, “I’m a professor at Sac State, dude. I have a Ph.D. I don’t need to be dealing with shit like this!” He can also be seen tossing a can of some beverage at the neighbor’s window.
Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen said last week that he had recently received and watched the “very disturbing video” that showed the professor and his wife in “an ugly verbal dispute with their neighbors.” Even though the couple’s neighbors are not Sac State students, Nelsen said, he still regarded the situation as serious and a school matter, and he said that the video had a harmful impact on the campus community.
“I am deeply offended by the language in the video,” Nelsen said in a statement on the school’s Facebook page. “Racial epithets are repulsive and unacceptable….we absolutely do not condone this sort of language or behavior.”
Nelsen said the university would not again address this “unfortunate and unacceptable incident” which he said the school considers a personnel matter, publicly. He also said that he hopes the video doesn’t diminish the campus commitment to making Sac State an inclusive and equitable community, adding, “We must embrace and honor our diversity. We must be strong together. We must continue to be a caring university, committed to eradicating bigotry, racism, and intolerance.”
For his part, Ford released written statement after the president’s, saying that the past few days have been “a trying time” for him and his wife. “While we’ve had difficulties with this neighbor, this particular confrontation got out of hand,” said Ford, a professor in the Sac State economics department, adding, “My wife used some language that was unacceptable, and does not represent my way of thinking.” He apologized to everyone at Sac State, his friends and family and the surrounding community, promising “that something like this will never happen again.” Ford said his wife “recognizes the hurt and anger that she has caused and regrets it…Today, she is seeking help and has checked herself into a hospital for alcohol and drug abuse.”
Ford also apologized to his neighbor, Cobb, and said he hopes she will accept his apology.
Along with the video, Cobb wrote on Facebook that the Fords were her upstairs neighbors in an apartment complex. She said the couple fights every day and their arguments had recently been happening downstairs. She did not specify what the exact trigger for the confrontation on the video was.
1. Yecchh. I don’t like any of these people.
2. This should not be a university matter. Cobb’s conduct in taking a video of a private argument and making it public so that it was bound to reach her neighbor’s employer is unethical: vicious, unjustified, unfair and a Golden Rule breach. The practice of using videos to intimidate and punish by enraging the social media Furies and inviting cancel culture destruction is a terrible trend. The Fords didn’t engage in a crime, unless Cobb wanted to report a beer can assault on her window. Fight your own battles.
3. Once it is “going viral” on campus, however, the episode unavoidably became a university matter, although a limited one. Still, this was private conduct, and the main object of controversy wasn’t even Ford, but his wife. His wife is not a university employee, nor is her conduct and choice of words any of the school’s business. Nelsen should have said that the school would have no public comment on the video, as it was not related to the school in any way.
4. Instead, he indulged in gratuitous virtue-signaling and grandstanding. How does a professor’s wife’s drunken rant at their place of residence pose any threat to the campus embracing diversity or “eradicating bigotry, racism, and intolerance”?
It is administrators like this who are sitting ducks for activist extortion.
5. As for Ford—well, anyone who, drunk or not, says something like “I’m a professor at Sac State, dude. I have a Ph.D. I don’t need to be dealing with shit like this’ is on my black list. I don’t want anyone who thinks like that teaching my kid. What an entitled, arrogant, pompous jerk. You’re a professor at Sac State? Big deal. I can sing the Major General’s Song! You have a Ph.D? So what? I know a lot of idiots who have Ph.D’s; am I supposed to kiss your feet? If one isn’t a professor, does that mean one has to deal with “shit like this?” Why? Is that typical of your logic in your dissertation?
And don’t call me “dude,” asshole.
6. What is “My wife used some language that was unacceptable, and does not represent my way of thinking,” a Pazuzu by Proxy? The old “it’s the fault of demon rum!” excuse didn’t work for Mel Gibson, and it’s a craven excuse for Ford’s wife here. People who aren’t racists don’t call African-Americans “niggers” when they are sober, drunk, under hypnosis, or in the heat of battle. Ford can apologize for his own conduct, more than that is deceitful. Mrs. Ford isn’t his dog; she can apologize for herself, or not. Besides, his wife has no obligation to the campus at all: the school has no right to dictate her conduct.
7. Ford can’t promise “that something like this will never happen again.” How can he ensure what his wife is going to do? That’s a transparently false promise, unless he’s planning on having her lobotomized or shot.
8. Mrs. Ford appears to have a problem, and it’s a clinical and tragic one. The problem doesn’t excuse racial epithets,but again, she’s not an employee of the university. Yes, family members have an ethical obligation not to embarrass their spouses with their employers, George Conway notwithstanding. However, the university president’s criticism and grandstanding targeted her, and she is sick. Prof. Ford is dealing with a terrible situation. He didn’t handle this episode well, but believe me in this, he is dealing with a terrible situation, and anyone who hasn’t been in his position or close to someone who has should show some compassion.
An Ethics Mess indeed.