Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the Temptation of American law School Deans to Play Great White Father (or Mother)

Pauline Schloesser's book, The Fair Sex (New Edition, New York: NYU Press, 2005) nicely studies the way in which women in the post revolutionary American republic "were encouraged to consider themselves the moral and intellectual superiors to non-whites, unruly men, and children. These white women were empowered by race and ethnicity, and class, but limited by gender. And in seeking to maintain their advantages, they helped perpetuate the system of racial domination by refusing to support the liberation of others from literal slavery." Editorial Review, Book Description, In his paper, In the House of the Great White Father: Race and Patriarchy in the Post Colonial World, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 27, 2003 (revised June 2006, Tony Affigne argues that:
The postcolonial racial regime theory holds that institutional legacies of European colonialism, throughout the Americas, shape racially stratified societies in which descendants of African slaves, American indigenes, and migrants from Asia have been systematically disadvantaged by rigid systems of legal, political, and economic inequality. The theory of racial patriarchy identifies a historical moment—at the founding of the United States—when the call for white women’s citizenship in the new nation was successfully rebuffed by linking women’s legal subordination to the same "natural" order which justified propertied white men’s domination of Blacks, Indians, children, and white commoners.
Tony Affigne, In the House of the Great White Father: Race and Patriarchy in the Post Colonial World Abstract.

Internalized (and just suppose for a second that they can be in some individuals at some times), these hierarchies can be expressed in the most subtle ways. But what makes internalized expression possible is neither systems of racism, gender hierarchy or other subordinating hierarchies. Instead, subordination flourishes in environments that appear to be meritocratic and competitive--and especially in the legal academy.

I was thinking about this the other day when someone related to me yet another story about a dean (who will remain nameless) nicknamed the "Great White Father" (I have heard stories of the "Great White Mother" as well), because of a proclivity to subordinating behavior and the rewarding of the internalization of subordinating hierarchy in his faculty. This type of dean comprises a well known type within the academy. Usually this person is preceded by proclamations of great work toward helping to overcome race/ethnic/religious or other disparities in hiring, etc. This becomes their calling card--well placed in discussions about accomplishments (directed usually to the regulatory institutions of the legal academy) .

But that is the problem. Having constituted himself (or herself) as the source and embodiment of appropriate racial (ethnic/religious/etc) equality, it is hard for him to lose control of the "race warrior" agenda--especially to members of the groups for whose benefit he appears to be directing his efforts. The Great White Father personalizes his role and his place within the institution in which he operates. The Great White Father tends to equate his personal with institutional goals and views. Conflating himself with the institution produces the usual result: disagreement over policy or administrative choices becomes personal. Opposing a Great White Father's decisions becomes evidence of a lack of collegiality or the internalization of appropriate institutional culture.

And then there is the gratitude. Gratitude becomes the median of communication between the Great White Father and his "children" but for whose efforts would have been forced to go elsewhere. The Great White Father's work can produce a correspondingly great need to receive the gratitude of those he has helped. Gratitude becomes the hallmark of the relationship between the objects of this sort of dean's efforts and the beneficiaries. And a failure to show the appropriate gratitude can make life difficult. But it is difficult to plan one's career around the need to be grateful--and it can be disastrous. Consider, for example, the Great White Father taking a benefited member of a traditionally marginalized group "under his wing." He might vest an attention, and expect an obedience to his desires, from younger faculty who were hired thanks to his great efforts, well above that required of "normal" hires. And the price for disobedience can be high. Even more senior faculty may not escape the "Great White Father's need to be helpful, and the consequences of disagreement. Heightened expectation of obedience, a greater attention to the work and efforts of this class of hires, of course mimics the pattern of the master-slave relation, but now attenuated in its modern form. And so easy to hide--behind merit assessments, collegiality concerns, and back office talk. It is not unusual for this type of dean to walk the halls and suggest to well placed white faculty colleagues, that the disobedient minority faculty "has problems," "doesn't seem to take advice well," "may not be working in the right areas," "does not focus on a single and traditional area of study," "dabbles," etc. And all out of concern--for the preservation of the status relationships between them.

The Great White Father can become miffed easily. The terse e-mail when the expected forms of respect are not forthcoming. The expectation of availability at times convenient to the Great White Father. The expectation that additional duties (to care for younger members of the faculty sharing the same characteristics, or students without expectation of additional compensation or other adjustment). All of this marks the relationship. The"helpfulness." The silent treatment. The punishment. And not just of the usual sort one expects of an administrator from time to time. These are tinged with status differentiations--disappointment that the faculty member failed to please. The most rewarded member of the minority faculty, within these relationship parameters, is the cooperative faculty member--the one who, having internalized the values of hierarchy and subordination, becomes the willing tool of the Great White Father. This is not a reference to "Uncle Tomism," a reaction both unfortunate and with its own difficulties. Rather, it refers to a willingness to lose one's independence (in whatever direction that independence might have taken one) to serve the interests of the "helpful" dean, who becomes the bearer of the best interests of the people he helps. It is the nature of the control relationship that marks the interactions. What one sees in the post colonial relationship, what one understands as a difficulty in law in a democratic society, merely reflects the difficulties of ordering personal relationships to avoid the subordinations the law, as a formal matter, declares has been removed as an impediment to formal relationships between people.

It is easy for a White dean to forget that the essence of equality is cooperation, mutual respect, and a willingness to share. It is to be hoped that the temptation to play the "Great White Father" can be both recognized and controlled--like any other vice.

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