Arizona State University rescinded its offer to Sonya Forte Duhé be its new dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and CEO of Arizona PBS. Her un-appointment was based on less than two dozen past students’ complaints that she frequently encouraged them to, among other things, dress appropriately, wear conservative hair styles, use makeup while on the air, and use using standard broadcast speech. Duhé, a communications professor at Loyola University New Orleans who was set to take over as dean on July 1, also came under fire last week for tweeting a photo of black and white hands intertwined along with the message “For the family of George Floyd, the good police officers who keep us safe, my students, faculty and staff. Praying for peace on this #BlackOutTuesday.”
Oooh, “good police officers.” Can’t have that. She took down the tweet after it was attacked by a Twitter mob, but to no avail, and it was the catalyst for a petition to have her rejected as dean.
Another letter signed by about two dozen members of the school’s faculty relied on the Loyola students’ (unverified) claims, saying that Cronkite students are “rightly questioning” their “safety” and whether they would “have a voice” if Duhé became dean. Her alleged behavior “flies in the face” of the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, they wrote, and would “cost the students, faculty and staff and reputational damage.”
The faculty letter claims “several key donors” have told faculty members they were “questioning their commitment to the school” because of the concerns raised by students and the publicity around them.
Sounds like “anonymous sources” to me. Are rumors and innuendo as important to journalism and verified facts?
I can’t believe I just wrote that….
It also sounds like the school barely investigated the new accusations against Duhé, which all coincidentally arrived after her politically incorrect tweet, pandering grovel that it was. Mark Searle, university provost, wrote to the campus that the school’s administration had felt confident about their initial hiring choice, but subsequent “issues and concerns have arisen and additional information has come to light.”
For “issues and concerns have arisen and additional information,” read late hits, and unsubstantiated smears with a racial tinge that the school didn’t have the guts to oppose.
“I now find that the future of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and our public television station will be better served by not advancing with Dr. Duhé as their leader,” states the memo. “This development regarding the Cronkite Dean is most unfortunate but we now must turn our attention to meeting that challenge and ensuring we offer the highest level of journalism education.”
The Arizona State student newspaper interviewed the students who complained about Duhé. In a very thorough story, what seems clear is that the “good police” tweet triggered the sudden objections to Duhé, and that her appointment was derailed by the school’s blind acceptance of a series of “microaggression” accusations from a tiny minority of her students, as well as unsubstantiated claims of bias based on her advice to certain students that accurately reflected the professional standards of the broadcast journalism profession. Telling a woman that she needs to dress professionally and look as attractive as possible on camera, or a gay man that he can’t read the news like Nathan Lane in “The Bird Cage,” is a duty, not an insult, in Duhe’s field.
Her fate gave me that oogy feeling of narrowly missing being hit by a bus. I mentored a lot of young professional women in my management days. Having to explain to a woman that her personal demeanor and appearance was a career handicap was always a tough conversation, but I did it, and the women were grateful. now realize that I was lucky none of my employees ever decided to use those meetings to try to harm my career. I also have had frank discussions with gay actors that unless they wanted to restrict themselves to a very limited range of parts, they needed to learn to “butch it up.” That’s not homophobia; that’s the reality of appearing on stage or camera.
It appears that the fate of Ms. Duhé indicates that the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s primary purpose is not teaching competent journalism and effective communication, but rather soothing tuition-paying students by reinforcing their delusions. It also suggests that for the foreseeable future, any white individual who is hired to lead any educational organization will begin with the presumption of racism. That should make it easy for school leadership to do the smart thing, and only hire non-whites for such jobs. The Cronkite School’s final four candidates for dean all had that evil white skin, and I wonder if any of them would have survived the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck.
Arizona State won’t make that mistake again.