Hulshof as UM chief might not be worst thing

Sunday, May 27, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

With the legislative session safely in our rearview mirror and best forgotten, let’s look ahead. Is that President Hulshof just over the horizon?

Now wouldn’t that be a sight for sore eyes and sore academics? Kenny Hulshof as president of our university. The Board of Curators, operating with its customary secrecy, isn’t saying; but Kenny himself confirmed that life in the presidential mansion overlooking the beautiful Hinkson looks more appealing than another hitch in the minority of the U.S. House of Representatives.

It may not be the presidency that an ambitious politician always has in his dreams, but it pays better, for one thing; and it would eliminate that commute to visit his family and play drums at the Newman Center.

Allow me to disagree with the septuagenerian sage at the newspaper across town and suggest that it might not be the worst thing in the world for the university, either. After all, another name that has been floated, though not recently, is that of John Ashcroft. There has even been the suggestion that Kit Bond might want to follow all his earmarks back to Columbia. We already have a building with his name on it. Why not a desk in University Hall? Don’t forget that these are Matt Blunt’s curators running the search.

Congressman Kenny’s looking better already, isn’t he? (Just for the record, it’s not Saint Jack Danforth’s endorsement that impresses me. He liked Clarence Thomas, too.)

So what if Kenny doesn’t have any academic background or scholarly credentials. Elson Floyd never taught a class, as far as I know; and the guy before him had film strips listed as publications on his vita. (As Dave Barry might say, I didn’t make that up. I didn’t have to.)

University presidents these days don’t have to be scholars. They have to be politicians and fundraisers. Six successful campaigns for Congress show that Kenny is adept at both. It helps, too, if they have some backbone. If you remember the stance he took on the House Ethics Committee, sanctioning the then all-powerful Tom Delay and losing his committee seat as a result, you might imagine that he’d do better at defending the university’s core principles than the most recent administration did. He said Wednesday, without being prompted, that the university’s independence has to be “fiercely protected.” Sounded good to me.

Sure, he’s a hardcore conservative. But take a peek down the road to Jeff City and you’ll be reminded that this state is currently run by hardcore conservatives. He’d feel more at home in the capital than Elson Floyd ever did.

Another point: Unlike any of his recent predecessors and probably unlike any of the other candidates for the job, Kenny is an alum. As one myself, I think that’s important. Who better to lead us in the “Alma Mater” than someone who knows the words?

There’s even precedent. A Massachusetts member is leaving Congress to head a university back there. And I’m told that David Boren does less damage as president of the University of Oklahoma than he did as a U.S. senator.

Now doesn’t that make you feel better?

George Kennedy is a former managing editor of the Missourian.

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Thomas Dillingham May 27, 2007 | 11:59 a.m.

I am disappointed but maybe not surprised that George Kennedy thinks the UM community should just shrug and accept the least worst candidate that Little Boy Blunt's Board is willing to offer. As we have been told before, Hulshof is a 'nice guy.' We are reminded he plays drums at the Catholic church. And he is an alum. These are "qualifications" I have seen offered as reasons why he has been re-elected to the House--along with the fact that he has been a dependable (read mindless) rubber stamp for George W. Bush's policies. Oh, yes, he "stood firm" in censuring Tom DeLay--when it was perfectly obvious to everyone that DeLay was headed down the flusher anyway. Maybe Hulshof's vote provided an extra swish in that direction.

So we are told that university presidents don't need academic credentials any more--though that assumption is ill-defined and open to serious question. Apparently Hulshof is qualified because he is comfortable talking with our more neanderthal legislative members, and he is qualified because he has a nice smile. What about intellectual acuity--the ability to look critically at the complex of lies, torture, and outright murder that makes up George W. Bush's vile and immoral war? Has Hulshof ever shown a second even of uncertainty about it? Not on the public record. Should that disqualify him for the presidency of UM. Apparently not. How about moral integrity? Just the opposition to DeLay? How about years of spineless toadying to Bush and the fatcat establishment? Should that disqualify him for the presidency of UM? Apparently not. How about what Kennedy did not mention--support for the Patriot Bill, which demonstrates zero awareness of the damage to constitutional rights perpetrated in that bill; opposition to stem cell research, which is consistent with his Catholic drumbeating, but hardly consistent with concern for academic freedom. Neither of those concerns seem to bother Kennedy. But since he is an alum, perhaps he has a special understanding of the culture of UM that I cannot share. I can certainly be disappointed, however, and I am.
Tom Dillingham

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