I considered several of the Ethics Alarms movie clips for this one, finally settling on the standard “The Bridge Over The River Kwai” moment above. I easily could have chosen this one…
or even this one…
…but “Madness!” won out.
The College Fix reports that Paducah Superintendent of Schools Donald Shively has been suspended by the School Board for 40 days without pay because an 18-year-old photo of him in blackface at a Halloween party came to public attention. Shively will spend his exile “engaging in additional education, training and community involvement.”
It would have made sense, at least by the Naked Teacher Principle logic, to fire Shively. That would be based on a straightforward calculation that students could not ever come to trust an administrator who had engaged in conduct many (erroneously) believe is always indicative of racist views and intent, just as, in the cases involving teachers who allowed themselves to be photographed naked or in otherwise sexually provocative poses and the photos that have been discovered on the web by students, what has been seen cannot be unseen. If there is a judgment made that such photos permanently undermine the ability of a teacher to do her job, then she (or he, in a few cases) must be fired.
Similarly, firing may be the only remedy, by that reasoning, for a superintendent haunted by photographic evidence that he engaged in conduct now viewed as per se taboo, unless the former blackface virtuoso is the Democratic Governor of Virginia, a strange exception but a real one.
Suspension, however, is not the same as firing for cause, which solves a problem. Suspension, in contrast, is punishment, and it is designed to send the message that recent workplace conduct is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It means, “Don’t do this again.” But an employer cannot ethically punish an employee for conduct that occurred long ago, before the employee was hired. The employee-to-be was not violating any rules he was subject to at the time.
Where would such measures stop? No employers have the right or authority to say to me that they disapprove of something I said or did years ago that had no connection to my current job, and thus they are going to punish me as if I had engaged in the conduct while employed by them. Did anyone suggest that Barack Obama should be sanctioned while President because he was an admitted pothead as a student? A pothead President would be a legitimate problem, but the suggestion that Obama should be punished while President for what he did before becoming President would make no sense. (This principle also has an exception: President Trump.)
What is particularly crazy/stupid/moronic about the Shively suspension is that it doesn’t solve the problem. In 40 days, Paducah will still have a school superintendent who has photos of himself in blackface circulating online his schools’ students to see.
Now, if Shively had hidden the fact of his Al Jolson proclivities, that might also justify firing. But he didn’t hide it, at least not after he realized that blackface was now considered cancel-worthy by the woke and social media mobs. He brought his use of a politically incorrect Halloween costume to the School Board’s attention himself earlier this year, well before the incident became public in Paducah. The school board admits it decided to take no action then, so why now?
The password is groveling. Once the photo was revealed, the Paducah-McCracken County chapter of the NAACP demanded Shively’s resignation,
…as have many others in the community, clearly those who have never done or said anything in the distant past that their current employers might object to if they did or said the same things now. When you’re grandstanding, virtue-signaling and proving you have the power to force others to believe and behave as you demand, the Golden Rule might as well not exist.
Shively, it should be noted, obviously agreed to be punished for something he did before he joined the school system, probably because he was given the choice of having his brain washed or losing his job. He is also, it appears, a dedicated social justice warrior, writing on his official blog that “We are committed to making implicit bias training an ongoing component of professional development for our staff.”
Thus my sympathy for Mr. Shively (he likes to be called Dr. Shively, another strike against him) is limited. It is our society, in which ex post facto punishment is rapidly becoming a means of social control, that I worry about.