[Will UofL Professor Dr. Ricky L. Jones become UofL’s next president? Dr. Jones and LEO Executive Editor Aaron Yarmuth make a case for why he won’t, but why he should be.]
By now, many people in the city of Louisville (and some around the country) are aware that I am one of two known candidates to become the next president of UofL (the other being interim President Gregory Postel). I have written about this ongoing situation in other places and will not bore you, dear reader, with an extensive recap.
Suffice it to say the sole reason I submitted my name for the job was in response to the argument by members of UofL’s Board of Trustees that the next president should be secretly chosen by them and them alone. They have relented minimally after public shaming and pushback, but they are still not open to a process that guarantees substantive input from faculty, staff or students. It is an odd and appalling choice for a university plagued by secrecy, back-room deals, distrust and possible criminality.
Whether people are energized by (and many are) or oppose my candidacy does not really matter. At the end of the day, the trustees (not a public vote) will choose UofL’s leader. Disturbingly, this board, solely appointed by uber-conservative Gov. Matthew Bevin, continues to display leadership tendencies reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s or those of third-world despots, with terse and paper-thin justifications for their actions (if any are offered at all). It reeks of mean-spirited revenge, pettiness and gangsterism. That considered, we should all be clear that it will be a cold day in hell before the majority of these trustees give my application serious consideration or appoint me president.
It is important to understand the current nastiness at UofL reveals that the school is really a microcosm of the city of Louisville itself. At its core, this is another display of small-minded Kentucky clannishness. Over the years, both university and city have developed dangerous cultures where a few rule, and the many are afraid. Make no mistake, a large percentage of people are paralyzed and controlled by a very real, ever-present terror that something bad will happen if they speak up. But, even scared people are not necessarily dumb — they are tired. So, it makes sense that many are encouraged that someone, anyone, has the cheekiness to stand up to big wigs and may live to tell the story. We must remember that poisonous behavior can continue only if people passively consent to it.
To be sure, UofL and the city need change. Sadly, neither is ready for it just yet. There is a high probability that UofL’s next president will look like all its previous ones. It is another example of the fact that stale, mediocre-to-unqualified, morally bankrupt, even criminal white guys are given chances to fail over and over again. They are afforded every opportunity to bring organizations, institutions and even the country to the brink of collapse before someone who looks different is given a chance to lead. But, be encouraged. Even though the trustees will almost definitely not appoint me UofL’s next president, all is not lost.
Before the extremes of this situation, most people had no idea what a university board of trustees was or what its traditional roles are.
Now, they do.
People are connecting other dots as well. They are seeing that no one knows what is real or true in a world where politicians and the privileged constantly keep secrets and tell lies. They are seeing more clearly that there is a reason for the secrets. They are usually used to hide something untoward.
People are understanding more and more that from the governor’s mansion to city hall to UofL to secret societies, elites (no matter their stated or unstated intent) cannot be allowed to function as if they’re the only ones who deserve to know, think and decide. At best, that leads to a plutocracy. At worst, totalitarianism. People are increasingly pushing back against these types painting dissenters as ill-informed, misguided, divisive, naïve or insane.
Hypocritically, the same elites who construct rules and processes that they demand the rank and file strictly follow disrespect these rules and processes daily. They then condemn and attempt to destroy those who take them to task for doing so. We see them pass out million-dollar jobs not based on merit, experience or possibilities, but rooted in incestuous social familiarity — often over bourbon or beers. As the contradictions are accentuated, more and more ordinary people are seeing the danger in not questioning the privileged class. They are also seeing the anger, arrogance and vindictiveness of the privileged class when questioned.
For over a quarter century, I have taught students at multiple universities, “It is not my job to force you to think like me. It is my job to force you to think! Always Think!” So, No — the trustees will not name me UofL’s next president. But, if this situation has unmasked the way everyday people are disregarded and dominated and prompts a few more people think and fight back, then we all still win! Maybe we’ll try this presidential thing again in 20 years when Kentucky catches up to the rest of the world. •
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is a political philosopher and chair of Pan-African Studies at UofL. He is the host of “The Ricky Jones Show with 12 Mr. FTC” on 93.1 The Beat FM and iHeart Radio and can be found atrickyljones.com.