|Rodney Hanley, a no-show at UMM|
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Rodney Hanley, we hardly knew ye
On Thursday another U subject emerged that might cause some squirming. It wasn't as important as athletics - it had to do with the sudden withdrawal of our new chancellor here in Morris. You could have knocked me over with a feather Thursday afternoon. It was an announcement out of nowhere.
Maura Lerner of the Star Tribune did the best reporting on this, and I hope there's more to come. Lerner wrote an article for the state news section of the Strib. The subhead for the article stated that Rodney Hanley withdrew for "personal, family reasons."
Pesonal reasons? Any decision is a "personal reason." Remember when George W. Bush was talking up "personal accounts" as a replacement for Social Security? How much illumination does the word "personal" give in these usages? University President Eric Kaler said the new guy withdrew "after considerable thought and reflection." Kaler suggested the decision was "best for (Hanley) and his family at this time."
There is zero chance that any respectable journalist is going to accept an explanation like this. It was rude to the Morris community to imply we would accept such a ridiculously shallow, generic explanation. I realize we aren't as important as the U's athletics, not that we haven't made news in Morris with athletics, like with the goalpost incident in 2005 that took the life of a student, merely from an act of silliness.
Lerner wrote that "Hanley could not be reached for comment Thursday." So we have an empty explanation from Kaler and evasive action by Hanley. Don't bet on the Morris community newspaper to try to dig and find out more.
Hanley is now provost and vice president of academic affairs at Fisk University, a fascinating institution in Nashville TN. Nashville is where I turn to get my original songs recorded.
Why couldn't Hanley have devoted his "considerable thought and reflection" before actually accepting the appointment? He did want it, didn't he?
Since the U isn't sharing anything substantive about Hanley's decision, we in Morris are forced to guess, speculate and gossip. We have no choice. This was bombshell news. An email I received just before typing this reported that a prevailing belief in Morris is that "Hanley's wife didn't care for Morris."
It's sad to admit that this is not implausible.
My inquiring mind seized on one theory right away: Someone may have tipped off Hanley to some can of worms he'd be stepping into here. It might be something he'd have limited authority to straighten out. College professors have tenure of course. Is there messy politics in the running of a college? Is the Pope Catholic?
I developed another theory: Maybe the state is planning to shut down UMM for a year or two while the state re-purposes the place. Maybe this whole model of a small public liberal arts college has run its course.
Liberal arts is under siege everywhere. It's not that the liberal arts have questionable value. It's just that maybe the state needn't fund such education to a large degree. Maybe it isn't necessary for young people to walk into classrooms and listen to professors. All the intellectual enrichment in the world is available online 24/7 in our new world which is so drastically different from the one in which I grew up.
Grip of liberal arts
Liberal arts is so entrenched at UMM, like it's some sort of bulwark, the place might have to be temporarily closed for another mission to be established, a mission with a more direct connection to how young people are going to make a living after college. What I'm saying is enough to get me shot, figuratively speaking, in this community. The liberal arts mantra has ruled at UMM since its inception. Maybe Hanley actually had a problem with this.
The liberal arts are a tough sell. That's not because of any ignorance in the world outside of UMM. It has been said UMM is "unique" as a small public liberal arts college. If it's such a super concept, why are we unique? Maybe we should have a school of nursing here.
This quick escape by Hanley with such a boilerplate explanation, comes after he has already done media interviews here. He talked to the person who writes for the U's "Profile" publication. The University Register devoted its whole front page to profiling the guy. A huge color photo of him adorns the top half of the Register. I assume that's the last Register publication of the year. Graduation is today (Saturday). No chance for a follow-up to try to find out what the heck is going on.
I communicated with the person who writes for Profile. She too has a theory - we have no choice but to come up with theories. She suggested that maybe a "red flag" suddenly popped up from Hanley's background. Good grief, don't we all have red flags in our background? We're all human.
Prior to this weird departure, Hanley said of coming to UMM: "My family and I are excited to return to an area for which we have deep roots and for which we have great love." This too is a boilerplate type of quote. Then something happened and we have the quick exit and escape, accompanied by quotes that tell us nothing.
When first learning of Hanley, I wondered if he was the type of administrator who would have allowed the "NorthStar" publication to get established on campus. Or would his hands be tied on that? I wonder if he had heard about the "gay devil worshipers" club. Would he have had the authority to try to establish more of a tone of civility on campus? Or would his hands be tied on that too?
Hanley had worked in the northern U.S. before. The weather would not have shocked him. He has even worked in "The Great White North": Winnipeg, Canada.
A default conclusion?
If we receive no further explanation on Hanley's abrupt withdrawal, many of us will assume that some sort of uncomfortable issue arose, something embarrassing or untoward, either involving Hanley himself or his perception of what goes on at UMM. Am I wrong? Well OK then, just tell us the real reason he withdrew. "Personal decision" does not quality. I know that, even though I'm not as smart as all the people who work and study at UMM.
I knew at the age of seven that I existed in a dimension separate from UMM. I really don't know what I do, to alienate UMM people so much. The spouse of a professor once walked up to me and said "Brian, the only thing I have to say to you is that I think your mother is a terrific person." And me? I have never served any jail time. I have quoted Judy Riley before in my blogs. She was at an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. I probably lost my job in the local media because of the goalpost incident. Mike Busian was prompted to write a bizarre letter to the editor in which he said "the First Amendment" allowed us to report on the incident. He's deceased now.
The Morris newspaper is now less than half as big as when I was there. Mostly it's a superfluous pile of ads for Alexandria-based businesses. Congratulations Morris on continuing to support this product, where you can get your gossip urges fueled by reading the "district court news." You can read the obituaries for which the poor grieving families have to pay to get in the paper. Like we're real enthused about reporting the death of a family member.
The chancellor search at the University of Minnesota-Morris presumably cost a lot of money, I'm sure. And now we'll probably have an interim chancellor while everything starts over again. The U treats money like it's play money, as demonstrated by the stuff that goes on in athletics. Maybe it's time we push away from the table and stop supporting all that sports. Many of those young athletes, tough guys who come here with academics as a low priority, get their bodies beaten up terribly.
Have a drink at Tootsie's
Maybe Rodney Hanley will just stay in Nashville where he can always go to Broadway and sip a beer at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. I'd love to do it myself, again.
Addendum: Here's an email I just received: "I asked the shoeshine guy about the chancellor deal. He didn't know that had happened, nor did he care. There just isn't much concern over UMM administration in the town, nor concern with much of anything UMM because of the Great Wall of Apathy. Maybe the chancellor-elect got wind of the Queer Satan Worshipers for a better future."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - email@example.com