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Hiring Coup or Tainted Hire?
On August 1, Alberto Gonzales will start working at Texas Tech University, where he will teach a seminar in political science while helping the university (and Angelo State University) recruit and retain first generation college students. In announcing the appointment last week, Texas Tech officials praised his "experience" and "expertise," noting the important legal jobs he held in Austin and Washington working for George W. Bush.
In most cases, landing a former U.S. attorney general would be a coup for a university, and law schools would be lining up with job offers. But the ties between Gonzales and Bush -- and the role Gonzales played in decisions that critics view as unconstitutionally eroding civil liberties -- mean that this appointment isn't escaping notice, even at the generally conservative Lubbock campus. Criticism has come both from those offended by the Gonzales record and those disturbed by the idea that -- at a time of tight budgets -- the chancellor of the university (Kent Hance, a politician turned educator, who was once a Democrat but became a Republican during the Reagan administration) would find $100,000 to create a job for Gonzales.
To date, however, there are no signs that the criticism will prompt any change at Texas Tech. The Daily Toreador, the student newspaper, on Friday ran an editorial saying that hiring Gonzales was worse than hiring Bob Knight, the controversial basketball coach. The editorial said that the idea put forth by Texas Tech officials -- that Gonzales' success as a Latino who rose to top positions of power makes him a role model -- is negated by what Gonzales did in those positions.
Leaving Washington "in disgrace, Gonzales did not fulfill his duty as attorney general, and he did not reach his full potential as a role model for minorities," the editorial said. "So why hire him? This trumps hiring a fiery coach from Indiana known for tossing a chair across a basketball court. Gonzales is notoriously accused of much more serious problems."
Texas Tech alumni have created two Facebook groups -- Citizens Against Employing Alberto Gonzales at Texas Tech and Alberto Gonzales Doesn't Belong at Texas Tech -- to oppose the appointment.
David Ring, a high school government teacher who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas Tech, said a variety of factors led him to create the first Facebook group. He said that as a teacher he tries "to instill in my students that while our system is complex, slow, and incomprehensible at times, it is overall the best system for our nation. One of the aspects is that personal responsibility must be balanced with freedom. Someone like Gonzales acted under the guise of never being personally responsible for his actions."
As an alumnus, he added: "What does it say about our institution that it is willing to give someone who has almost seemed to go out of his way to flaunt the law such a position? Making $100,000 to teach one section of no more than 15 students (along with special recruiting and speaking duties) doesn't seem like a fare shake to those professors at the school who, I don't know, haven't perjured themselves in front of the U.S. Congress."
Ring said he realized that he wasn't a "major donor" likely to influence his alma mater, but that he and many fellow alumni wanted to try.
Outside Texas Tech, the appointment is also attracting attention (and much of the debate in the Texas Tech and Lubbock, Tex. newspapers has concerned how negative that attention has been). In a column on The Huffington Post, Steven G. Kellman, who teaches comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio, questioned why Gonzales, who never studied political science beyond the undergraduate level, was hired to teach the subject. And he rejected the idea that Gonzales was qualified by virtue of his experience in government.
"At most accredited universities, new professors are chosen through searches conducted and vetted by credentialed faculty in the relevant field. Chancellor Hance's unilateral hire constitutes academic welfare for a government wash-out," Kellerman wrote. "If universities filled their faculties not with certified experts but with the objects of their expertise, children would be teaching pediatric medicine and psychopaths social psychology. Now that Texas Tech has stocked its menagerie with an errant elephant, what other species are next? Bernard Madoff is otherwise occupied, but he might have been hired to teach business ethics...."
Generally, faculty leaders at Texas Tech have been quiet about the appointment. While Faculty Senate leaders did not respond to messages for this article, they have told local reporters that they are not taking a position at this time. One faculty leader who asked not to be identified, noting a conservative culture at the university, said that the Gonzales appointment was consistent with administrators' not valuing what should be part of a liberal arts education -- part of which is instruction by scholars. She noted that at a Texas legislative hearing last year, Hance told lawmakers that research on "the best part of Shakespeare's play" at other universities wasn't as valuable as research Texas Tech conducts for the Pentagon.
Hance defended the hire in the university announcement and in an interview with The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. He said that he met Gonzales in the 1980s, and that he had turned from a "political acquaintance" to a "good friend." While the newspaper noted the negative reaction it was seeing on its Web discussion boards, Hance said he had received many positive e-mail messages about the decision and wasn't paying attention to the critical messages because "they didn't come from loyal university donors."
He also said that the challenging issues Gonzales was forced to address because of 9/11 made it inevitable that there would be some controversy over his record.
Gonzales told Legal Times that he was excited about the "adventure" of moving to Lubbock and working at Texas Tech. He said he hoped to offer students exposure to his experiences in the White House. “There were some extraordinary decisions and events that occurred during the previous administration,” Gonzales said. “I have the advantage of having been in the Oval Office when those decisions were made," he said.
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