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The More Things Barack Obama, the More They Stay the Same

By Kathy Y. Wilson · October 9th, 2013 · Kathy Y. Wilson
The racist brouhaha swirling around University of Cincinnati College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ronald Jackson should quell once and for all any lingering nonsensical verbiage about a “post-racial” America or the “end of blackness” since the election and return of President Barack Obama.

Because the more things Barack Obama, the more they stay the same.

Racism always, without fail, shoves its victims into corners of defensiveness and holds hostage the folks with and in power — that is, whites — and magically silences them from righting the ship of racist fools back on course; white folks end up babbling in Diversity-Weekend-Retreat language that resounds with empty-speak like “inclusion,” “civility” and “community.”


Two things are happening with Jackson at UC and they both involve the sterling student journalism of The News Record, a heretofore forgettable paper of sports and fluffy entertainment that has grown into a valid and valued source of hard news tackling difficult questions of the UC community (whatever that now means).

Jackson is under attack within his own department. 

In April, two emails circulated, one from Associate Dean Jana Braziel that was basically an up-front, no-confidence vote sent directly to Jackson stating she is “not a supporter ... and I unequivocally feel that you have failed as the leader of the McMicken College.”

Braziel’s email landed in Jackson’s box 10 days after psychology professor Steven Howe dashed off an email to UC President Santa Ono, also known as Ono In Over His Head. 

Howe directed Ono to “repurpose” Jackson, as though Jackson were an old Mason jar that could be cleverly turned into a lamp. “Make Ron (vice president) of student services, or give him a position at the foundation,” Howe wrote Ono.

Notice how Braziel, a woman, directly told Jackson how she felt about his performance?

Notice that Howe, a white man, circumnavigated Jackson and gave the superior being — also a minority — a directive suggesting what to do with Jackson?

That bit of gender politics is itself a column.

The lack of confidence and hostility toward Jackson has been building and simmering within Arts and Sciences; yet, as noted by The News Record’s April 17 story about the dissension, 19 of the 20 department heads under Jackson’s purview refused comment, choosing instead to hide behind office cooler whispers, secret lunches and emails.

However, Howe, the de facto spokesman for these heads, said “the majority” didn’t have faith in Jackson.

No one says directly what the man is or is not doing, only that there are “issues” and “challenges.”

There’s a new trend in the criticism of high-ranking black officials and it’s the use or the inference of the word “incompetent.” It’s a loaded word, a word cocked with racism when it’s aimed at blacks and it’s a subversively racist wedge used to begin to pry blacks from high-ranking positions usually reserved for white men.

As with Jackson, it’s unfair to drag hostile emails and conversations to light without also dragging out the evidence confirming inter-departmental complaints. Without that evidence, it smacks of a witch-hunt. And since this is academia, maybe Jackson’s contractors think their beefs would appear trifling to the rest of us; but do tell. 

What is it?

Is he stealing? Is he gruff and unapproachable? Is he slashing budgets, gutting departments?

In the April 17 article, Interim Provost Larry Johnson said Jackson inherited a mess at a trying time.

This is The Obama Factor, defined by me as the inheritance of a miserably failing entity with the expectation of a quick miracle, all performed while bystanders with selective memories watch you burn.

So far, UC is not looking to oust Jackson.

Meantime, by mid-September an anonymous coward circulated a racist cartoon featuring caricatures of Jackson and Assistant Dean Carol Tonge as “the king and queen of A&S,” with a frame capturing Tonge — depicted as a doughy mammy — saying, “Fire anyone that does not look like us!”

This flier was papered around campus and zinged to faculty members via email. 

I believe the creation of the cartoon was an inside job. The references and language smack of insider knowledge; that is, of a staffer or faculty member frustrated by Jackson’s leadership and by his appointment of Tonge to her position. 

A few UC officials did not bust an intellectual or emotional sweat and released statements that did little to defend Jackson and Tonge; neither did they come strong against the overt racism at UC that needs only a pinprick to explode and fester.

Ono, as usual, is mum and his silence about what’s happening on his campus transcends curiosity. Is his board advising him to let folks just duke it out in an academic Battle Royale? 

Is Ono afraid to get dirty?

Whatever his issue (there’s that word again), he’s beginning to look like a placeholder, a perfect silent robot of inactivity.

In all this, Jackson should be careful. 

Jackson should see the front of the bus coming for his dome.

He’s been releasing long statements to The News Record explaining racism in controlled language, explaining how this is a teachable moment.

Yet, no one in his “UC community” is standing behind or beside him.

“Let Ron handle it,” I bet the upper echelon administrators are saying behind closed doors. “Tell him to release a statement and hopefully it’ll all blow over.”

Since when is it the responsibility of the demeaned to handhold and explain his subjugation and his public lynching, bit by bit?

In a brilliant Sept. 5 staff editorial, The News Record explained its course of reporting and how writers were met with silence, buzz words and a suggestion to report “something positive.”

Editors scratched their heads over the faculty’s regression to stiff statements in the face of racism where they’d once been known to be open and accessible for to student queries.

None of this is shocking, really.

Just shameful and embarrassing.

Makes me yearn for the days of white presidents.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



10.10.2013 at 06:07 Reply

This is a ridiculous article to say the least. Ono has managed a difficult situation with class. He has worked to provide Dean Jackson with a fair chance to succeed and has provided appropriate comments about his expectations for civil discourse along the way. His staff have rolled out a comprehensive set of discussions as platforms to deal with this unfortunate situation. There is nothing more he could have done in view of the first amendment. 

Beyond this of course, the author conveniently omits Ono's completion of the largest fund-raising year for UC in decades and his leadership of UC to #3 in the US News up and coming ranking. He has helped attract and yield the most students to UC ever and has launched a research center and attracted several famous professors to UC. Other recent honors include Public University of the Year and #1 for ROI for all colleges. Far from a place holder, Ono is well on his way to becoming one of the best presidents UC has ever seen. 





10.11.2013 at 01:51 Reply

Ms Wilson--

From having read you over the years I know you are a thoughtful observer of the world who is not afraid to articulate her own point of view, no matter how it might compare to anyone else's. I've always admired you and your writing for this reason.

And I frequently agree with you. In this piece, for instance, I agree that President Ono has shown little actual leadership and instead has only acted as the feel-good public face of the university (try to be on campus and avoid getting your picture taken with this guy!) who knows which platitudes to express at which moment that will keep everyone marginally satisfied. I was willing to give Ono some space to grow into this position, but it's been awhile, and what he's doing now appears to be it. He doesn't appear to be competent as an actual leader; he's just a good figurehead.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, Ron Jackson, the person Ono hired as Dean of A&S (over the objections of the search committee) has served much as Ono has. I'm sure Dean Jackson has many positive qualities, but leadership and managerial skill are definitely not in that group.

You state "[no] one says directly what the man is or is not doing."

Really? Have you read Prof. Braziel's email? Did you see the part where she, as a member of the Dean's office, observed that he "rarely if ever participated in a substantive or meaningful way in the major duties related to the Dean's Office?" Or where she claimed that he "regarded the associate and assistant deans as clerical workhorses?" Or that he has "not been forthcoming about details absolutely pertinent to the health and well-being of the college and its functioning?" If you'd like a detailed account of what Braziel is talking about, I'm sure she'd be willing to provide you details if you asked--it's not like she hasn't already stuck her neck out on this matter.

Did you read through the complaints that Prof. Howe articulates for Ono, or did you just assume he'd "dashed" them all off in a bit of unconscious racist pique? Perhaps the part where Howe describes that in his experience, and in the experience of every other A&S faculty member he's spoken to regarding Dean Jackson, that: "Ron equivocates and dissembles. He avoids and procrastinates. He aligns himself with people he views as personally loyal and rids himself of people who could advance the college’s mission?"

What does it tell you that an overwhelming majority of the department heads in the college have serious reservations about Dean Jackson, and why would you expect them to go on record criticizing the person who controls their budgets?

Institutional racism is real, and it exists at UC. The offensive cartoon that circulated is proof enough of that. The small presence of African-Americans on faculty and within the administration are proof of that. The problems with the retention of African-American students--particularly males--are proof of that.

And while at first glance Dean Jackson's troubles might also appear to be so, a more careful examination of the issue shows that they are clearly not. "Incompetence" can be and is used as a means of engraining institutional racism, but this fact does not mean that all assertions of incompetence regarding an African-American of authority are based in racism (unconscious, institutional, or otherwise). In this case, Jackson is just an incompetent dean, and the fact that department heads and faculty have to deal with the consequences of this situation on a daily basis has led to a large amount of frustration.

Unfortunately, Ms Wilson, Dean Jackson, as is President Ono, is indeed "Over his head." Don't misidentify the reason why A&S faculty and department heads feel this way. In this case, it's just a sad truth.


10.15.2013 at 02:05

UC Prof:

i have heard, since this column was published, some very pointed criticisms of jackson but, no, i was not privvy to the entirety of any e-mails that zinged around campus.

my initial point--which still stands--is there is a way to do things including and especially things that will oust department heads.


what ono and UC do have in common is a common thread of cowardice; further, because jackson is black there might be some public hesitation to get him out of there because appearing racist makes white people squeamish ESPECIALLY when they are right and it sounds like "they" are right in this case.


sloppy work on ono's part; on UC's part and on the part of jackson's colleagues. what's been made public (e-mails. colleagues' scentiments, et al) looks terrible but we all know looks are deceiving.

the university should set an airtight precedent with jackson THEN racist cartoons would never anonymously circulate because standards would be in place to rid all departments of medicocrity and the racial quota system would never have to be used because out there, somewhere, exists qualified people of color and not just colored people promoted and set up to fail in an already failing department.


finally, i am not concerned about ono's accomplishments that are financial--that's what he is sipposed to be doing at that level.

he should stop tweeting about his cereal and cartoon choices and handle his colleges and their administration instead of leaving them to bloody one another up.

that is also the president's responsibility.

UC has an atrocious track record attracting, hiring and retaining administrators of color and jackson is yet another example of this track record.

the university must carry what is the university's to carry. and jackson, for now, is the university's to carry.

btw, writing anonymously really belittles all your good points.

at ths point naming yourself can only validate this whole mess. why are academics so gossipy yet so afraid to out themselves? is higher education really only about budgets and tenure?

probably but we're setting terrible examples for the students we're charged with educating.

thank you for reading and taking the time to respond

this will be my only communique on the subject


10.15.2013 at 08:17

Thanks, Ms Wilson. I pretty much agree with everything you've said. Ono's the big problem here, in the sense that he's not doing anything to address the big problems that already existed at UC and, in many cases, is actively making things worse. All while smiling and tweeting and garnering goodwill for not doing much else but being a nice guy.

@Herman Daley - and Herman you sound just like the kind of mindless booster that has enabled Ono's incompetence. I'm not sure what US News's "up and coming" ranking even measures, but I suspect not much of substance. And considering Ono has been UC president for a little over a year, lets not go overboard with attributing all of the other positives you mention to his presence--many of those qualities/trends were in place well before he took over the leadership.