It would have been hard to be in north Mississippi during the past week without being aware of the shameful mess at the University of Mississippi.
It has been a wild, volcanic spew of words, accusations, and a rush to judgment regarding two photographs and a few words posted on that apocalyptic beast known as Facebook.
[If by chance you are not aware of this tragic comedy, Google the words “Ed Meek” and “Ole Miss.” Google will give your far more than you want to know. Then come back here.]
A brief bio of Ed Meek would include that he graduated from Ole Miss. Many would agree that he has been the most enthusiastic and effective promoter of the university during the last half century. He has a long record of progressive leadership regarding racial issues, and specifically has always been on the side of the angels in Ole Miss’ troubled racial history. He earned a PhD, has been very successful in a number of businesses and has been described as a “serial entrepreneur.” He and his wife gave Ole Miss $5.3-million in 2009 to establish the school of journalism, which is named for him — but not for much longer.
While Meek’s FB posting doesn’t strike me as terribly out of order, I would say it goes a little over the line and does not reflect his stellar career as one of the most successful PR men in the South. I have no doubt that he sincerely intended to offend nobody. However, I understand how some people, if they are quick and eager to take offense, might crank themselves up into a little snit — a very damned little snit — about his FB post.
Apparently several people were able to quickly stir themselves into an uproar and started posting their objections on Meek’s Facebook page. The words “racist and bigot” were thrown around freely. It is not remarkable that a bunch of immature millennials, who are often looking to be offended, got themselves worked up and piled on Ed Meek. Nothing surprising about juveniles acting out.
The astonishing part of this whole circus is the reaction of at least two highly-educated, experienced and mature executives of the University of Mississippi.
The most mature of the two is a man named Wilbert Norton, Jr. He is dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss. Norton graduated college in 1963. Assuming he graduated at about age 22, that makes him 77 years old, plenty mature.
The younger of the two Ole Miss honchos is Jeffrey Scott Vitter, age 63. Vitter is the chancellor, the top guy, at the university. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame, a master’s from Duke, and a PhD from Stanford. He had been a high ranking administrator for at least three major universities when the Board of Trustees for Mississippi Public Universities hired him in 2016 as chancellor of its flagship university.
The people of Mississippi pay Dr. Vitter $600,000 per year, plus fringe benefits, for his hopefully distinguished services. From a fellow with Vitter’s pedigree one might expect some wisdom, some sound judgment, some ability to resist impulses and avoid being stampeded by a mob.
Consider this timeline:
- Ed Meek posted his “highly offensive, racist” Facebook comments sometime between 2 and 3 p.m. that fateful Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 19.
- No more than four hours later, at 5:53 p.m., Vitter put up a Facebook posting saying that Ed Meek’s remarks “suggest an unjustified racial overtone that is highly offensive.” Vitter’s post also included the words, “Ed, I urge you to withdraw your comment and apologize to anyone offended.”
- Meek immediately took down his Facebook post that same evening and apologized unconditionally if anyone had been offended.
- The next day, Thursday, Wilbert Norton of the J-school posted a video on Facebook, which was stridently critical of that for which Meek had apologized the previous evening.
- Then in the early evening Friday, Sept 21, Norton and his journalism faculty formally asked Ed Meek to “request that his name be removed” from the journalism school he had paid for.
- Vitter quickly piled on and endorsed the request.
- Saturday, Sept. 22, at 7:45 pm, Ed Meek issued still another apology and formally requested that his name be removed from the Ole Miss journalism school.
Fifty-three hours. That’s all it took for Vitter and his fellow geniuses to strip Ed Meek of the honor he earned during more than 53 years of energetic service and giving to Ole Miss, not to mention the five million bucks. Vitter hasn’t said anything yet about whether and when he will reject and return Ed Meek’s money. Surely he wouldn’t retain a donation from such an outrageous racist.
Less than a year ago, the University of Southern California returned a $5-million donation it had received from Harvey Weinstein, after USC decided he was a morally unfit outlaw. Or maybe the two cases are not comparable. In Weinstein’s case there was ample evidence that he is, in fact, a creep.
With regard to Ed Meek’s faux pas, where was the deliberation? Where was the responsible adult to say, “Let’s cool off for a couple of days and perhaps make an appropriate response.” One could argue that a plainly-worded censure might have been justified. Vitter could have said, “Ed Meek was indiscrete, but he did not intend to offend. He has humbly apologized. He has given a lifetime of work and support for social justice and for the benefit of the University of Mississippi.”
Lady Justice is always depicted holding a scale and blindfolded. It’s good the old girl is blind. Imagine how distressed Justitia would be if she could see how the Ole Miss “leadership” has cheated her balance against Ed Meek.
Four months ago journalist Neal McCready reported on the website RebelGrove.com that two reliable sources had told him the college board would not renew Vitter’s contract when it expires in two years. A few days later the top executive of the college board issued a routine denial, saying, that it was “too early” to discuss Vitter’s contract renewal.
What do you reckon Vitter’s odds are now?
One wonders how the state’s bookies, the legal ones and the illegal ones, are doing at keeping the “book” even on the wagers about that question.
For more on the Ed Meek story: http://nanewsweb.com/steve-patterson-on-ed-meek/