Miss can take a joke. Goodness knows, she could not have survived a thirty-year career in academe without a sense of humor. Recently having found herself in a vat of boiling hot water over a satirical essay, Miss was reminded that most academics are a cheerless lot who will go to great lengths to stop anyone, anywhere from finding something to laugh at in their all-too-often risible behavior.
In other words, I understand what Paul Queally must be going through. Mr. Queally runs a highly successful investment firm and is a generous benefactor, as well as trustee, of his alma mater, the University of Richmond. He and his wife, also a Richmond alum, have donated in excess of $20 million to the campus; their most recent gift of $10 million will help fund a new admissions and career services building. It will be in this very structure where the university will make good on the lofty promise of its strategic plan to
defin[e] a spirit of opportunity and welcome to excellent students, faculty, and staff of all means and backgrounds, sustained through a bold program of financial aid, a dedication to fairness in all that we do, and an authentic culture of inclusivity that seeks and prizes diversity of experience, belief, and thought.
Mr. Queally might be wondering about the authenticity of that “culture of inclusivity,” since many of the university’s denizens have been clamoring for his banishment. Not his gifts, though, they can stay. Just him.
Why? Because he made the fatal mistake of joking about Hillary Clinton and Barney Frank. To the upright members of the Richmond community, it matters little that Mr. Queally’s bon mots were delivered at a private party in New York City, and were transcribed by a writer seeking to make a splash by crashing the party and blabbing about what he overheard.
Actually, it’s not the joke about Hillary (something involving a piscine aroma) that has everybody hot and bothered. After all, she’s just a white woman. The former congressman from Massachusetts’ Fourth District, however, is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Famously homosexual, Barney Frank is out and proud. His sexual preferences (none of my business–or yours) were made known in 1989, when his then live-in lover (the ex-representative has had several since then) talked publicly about the romantic way in which the couple met. The Washington Post recounts:
They met on April Fool’s Day 1985. The representative answered a classified ad in the Washington Blade, the local gay weekly. “Exceptionally good-looking, personable, muscular athlete is available. Hot bottom plus large endowment equals a good time.”
The good times did indeed roll, at least until lover boy, or “Hot Bottom,” as he was known in the tabloids, got in legal trouble for running a prostitution ring out of Representative Frank’s Washington, DC bachelor pad.
I wonder if Mr. Queally is asking himself how his innocent, albeit accurate, comparison of the Newton, Massachusetts Frank and the Fenway Frank buns could in anyway be more offensive than the truth. Seriously, is there any joke in the world that could possibly top it?
Leave it to a University of Richmond faculty member to blow aside the smoke from the fire and brimstone to which Mr. Queally has been condemned and get down to the real reason he’s got to go: He might hurt a gay professor’s bid for tenure.
Writing in Inside Higher Ed Assistant Professor of Sociology Eric Anthony Grollman explains:
The personal significance of Queally’s comments and the limited response from the university finally sank in by the week’s end. As a trustee, Paul Queally will be one of the last individuals to decide my professional fate: tenure. I am a queer man, and some of my research is on the lives and well-being of LGBT people. And I just began my first year as a tenure-track professor at the University of Richmond. Life on the tenure track is already stressful and scary enough. Now, add to that the possibility that at least one person has indicated, at least to me, a level of hostility toward me, my community, and my research. After a tight knot formed in my stomach, I felt I needed to lie down right on my office floor. What is the point of working toward tenure over the next six years if the odds are already against me?
Professor Grollman, lips aquiver, continues:
I decided to seek out motivation of the caffeine variety to keep working. I am still doing my best to adjust to life as a professor, which really means I am simply too overwhelmed to stop work to have a mini meltdown over this controversy. At our campus coffee shop, I ran into my dean and a director of one of the social justice offices on campus. They both hugged me and expressed sympathy for my precarious position. There is news of homophobia at the highest rung of the university ladder; they were right to assume how troubling this is for a new, queer professor who studies sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. And, to my surprise, my dean noted that the college would support me, including any efforts to right this wrong that has occurred at the university. I did my best to hold back the tears that threatened to come forward as I returned to my office.
Where presumably he had a good cry into his latte, because–like so many self-absorbed academics–any slight, insult, or joke is all about him.
It is only in the Ptolemaic universe that is the academy where anything and everything derives meaning from how it affects a faculty member up for tenure. When “news of homophobia at the highest rung of the university ladder,” swept across the University of Richmond, no doubt all of the members of all of the departmental, college, and university-level personnel committees, as well as the chairs, deans, provost, and chancellor through which a tenure recommendation must pass threw up their hands in collective and bitter defeat.
Because a trustee made a cocktail party joke about hot dogs.