Presidents

Community College of Philadelphia trustees hire president despite faculty concerns

Should serving as the provost of a school that closed amid state investigations disqualify one to lead a community college?

 

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Alabama university limits president's love life

Alabama State University doesn't want its president to have live-in lovers -- and has banned it in writing.

Groups call for big changes in recruitment and training of community college presidents

With a wave of retirements looming, community college leadership pipeline needs urgent repairs, report finds.

AAUP recommends more communication between faculty and governing boards

In light of several recent, high-profile cases of poor communication between faculty and governing boards, AAUP advocates for regular interaction between the two groups and more shared governance.

Schlissel should have known his emails were public record

Public university presidents are advised not to put anything in writing that they wouldn’t want released publicly. Former Michigan president Schlissel likely knew this, higher education experts say.

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Why it's wrong to widely share emails of a fired president (opinion)

Let’s start with the easy part: University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel was wrong to exchange romantic emails with a subordinate, and the university was right to fire him.

But that doesn’t mean it should have trolled him, too.

That’s what the university did by releasing 118 pages of messages between Schlissel and his paramour. The email dump was “in the interest of full public disclosure,” Michigan’s Board of Regents declared in its statement announcing Schlissel’s dismissal. “Our community and our state deserve as complete an understanding of this situation as possible.”

No, they don’t. They deserve to know why Schlissel was fired, of course. But the lovey-dovey details serve nobody’s interest except our own sadistic desire to feel superior to Mark Schlissel.

And that’s also the goal of internet trolling, in all times and places. The point is not to hold the wrongdoer “accountable,” as trolls often proclaim. Remember, the university already did that: it sacked Schlissel.

Instead, the real purpose is to take pleasure in his pain. The Germans call that schadenfreude, but many other languages have terms and phrases for the same emotion. The ancient Greeks called it epichairekakia, which translates to “rejoicing over disgrace.” The French describe it as joie maligne; in Hebrew, it’s simcha la-ed. And the Japanese have their own saying about it: “The misfortune of others tastes like honey.”

Indeed, it does. Witness the outpouring of social media glee that greeted the release of Schlissel’s cringeworthy emails. Many commentators have focused especially on his descriptions of knishes—a Jewish potato pastry—and his offer to share one with his lover.

Even state attorney general Dana Nessel, a University of Michigan alumna, got in on the act. “Abusing one’s position of power to engage in a romantic relationship with a subordinate is never appropriate,” she tweeted. “But also, ‘Can I lure you to visit with the promise of a knish?’ is likely the worst pick-up line of all time.”

Nessel is right about the abuse of power, of course, which is also why the university was right to fire Schlissel. But her gratuitous barb about his pickup line shows what’s really going on here. It’s not enough for the guy to lose his job. He needs to suffer public shame and humiliation, too, like the evildoers whom the Puritans placed in stockades.

And behind virtually every act of shaming lies a will to inflict pain: in a word, sadism. Now anyone can do it, from the comfort of their laptop or smartphone. Social media has birthed a generation of e-sadists, all taking delight in putting others down.

In a 2013 experiment, psychologist Erin E. Buckels, now a faculty member at the University of Winnipeg, and several colleagues found that people who scored high on measures of sadism—including agreeing with statements like “I enjoy making jokes at the expense of others”—were more willing to crush insects in a “bug-killing” machine. In subsequent studies, Buckels showed that online trolls and cyberbullies had the highest sadism scores of all.

More recently, a 2021 paper by several Icelandic researchers found that internet trolls were more likely to exhibit sadistic personality traits. By contrast, people who didn’t troll showed higher rates of humility, honesty and conscientiousness.

It’s hard to know whether sadists are drawn to online trolling or if trolling creates more sadists. But here’s what we do know: many of us are using social media to celebrate the misery of others. And we think that will make us feel better about ourselves.

It doesn’t. As Nicole Legate, an associate professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, has found through her research on social exclusion, people who engage in online trolling lack a sense of autonomy and competence. They believe that shaming other people will make them feel otherwise, but it actually reinforces the inadequacies that made them troll in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.

So go ahead: sign on to social media and hate on the hapless Mark Schlissel. It’s easy, and you’ll experience the sugar rush that always comes with asserting your superiority over somebody else. But the feeling will pass, and then you’ll want to do it again. Maybe you’re not as superior as you think.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author (with Signe Wilkinson) of Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn, published last year by City of Light Press.

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Former Albion president created culture of ‘fear of reprisal’

Mathew Johnson resigned as president of Albion College after 17 months on the job. He faced mounting criticism from students, faculty, staff and locals, including from a resident who accused him of verbally accosting her.

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Advice for how to make courageous decisions in academe (opinion)

In challenging times, how can you best move forward and not become frozen by the difficult choices, severe doubt or analysis paralysis? Patrick Sanaghan shares five key lessons.

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Westminster College president leads cycling class

Bethami Dobkin’s 7:00 a.m. cycling class gives her a chance to get to know students, faculty and staff members outside the confines of a college presidency.

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A senior administrator describes the role of his dogs in his career (opinion)

Kevin P. Reilly describes how, over his career, his three different dogs have each had the appropriate personality to help him get through that specific phase of his life.

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