Worst College President of 2015—Who Wins the Sheldon?

We are reviving the Sheldon award for worst college president of the year. It is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, who presided over many college disasters, including Penn’s water buffalo controversy and the theft of a complete edition of the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper that included a column criticizing affirmative action. The thieves were not reprimanded or otherwise punished but the campus cop who caught them was—a nice touch.

Here are the four finalists for 2015:

Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri, 4th runner up: Wolfe couldn’t seem to cope with racial protests based on three reported racist remarks and a swastika drawn on a campus wall in feces. Wolfe fumbled the issue for months without taking any action. Then a black graduate student went on a hunger strike, the football team refused to play, and politicians demanded action. At an emergency meeting, on the brink of tears, he quit, saying he hoped his departure would alleviate the pain on campus. “This university is in pain right now … and it needs healing,” President Tim Wolfe said in the university-approved language of feelings. Then he quit, saying his departure might help alleviate the pain.

Related: Campus Turmoil Begins In High School

Michael Lovell, Marquette, 3th runner up: A student who opposed gay marriage attempted to discuss the issue in a philosophy class, but the graduate student who taught the class refused to allow it. She said that the gay marriage issue had been settled and that class discussion of it would hurt the feelings of gays. John McAdams, a Marquette professor and conservative gadfly, wrote about the incident on his blog, which resulted in hostile mail and reported death threats to the graduate student. McAdams was suspended (though Marquette quibbles about the word), forbidden to set foot on campus, and still remains suspended more than a year later. In discussing the case, President Lovell has talked generally about disrespect and harassment. What he hasn’t said is why the Catholic position on gay marriage can’t be discussed in class on a Catholic campus.

Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia, 2rd runner up: When Rolling Stone broke the story of the brutal (and bogus) rape at the university, Sullivan misjudged the impact and boarded a plane to Amsterdam for a conference three hours after the rape story lit up the Internet. Then, with no investigation or hearing, she suspended the allegedly offending fraternity and all other campus fraternities and sororities as well, extending the suspensions well past the time when the hoax started to unravel. She has issued no apology for the suspensions and offered no reimbursement for fraternity members forced to move into motels and hotels because of the suspensions. The activists and their allies who vandalized the accused frat drew no criticism from her or her administration. She imposed credible new rules for frats, but otherwise every move she made on this issue was wrong.

Janet Napolitano, Chancellor, University of California (Runner Up—If for any reason our winner can’t fulfill his duties as winner of the Sheldon, Ms. Napolitano, would wear the crown: Janet Napolitano, chancellor of the University of California, approved and issued a long list of statements that could no longer be uttered by university faculty because they are considered hurtful microaggressions. The list included, “America is the land of opportunity,” “America is a melting pot,” “There is only one race—the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on Campus

Like most campus controversies these days, this one pitted free speech versus hurt feelings, a struggle that colleges typically resolve in favor of feelings (as long as those doing the feeling are non-Asian minorities, gays or women).

Napolitano’s effort to quell positive remarks about America was so strikingly risible that in a normal year she would have won the Sheldon award hands-down. But she had to settle for a silver medal because of what happened at Yale.

Peter Salovey, Yale: In the biggest collapse of the year, Yale President Salovey committed millions of dollars to appease racial protesters with a basket of goodies likely to enlarge the stature of the “diversity” movement on campus and its drive for mandatory courses in race and ethnicity. Those goodies included five years of conferences on race and diversity, four new minority professorships and a doubling of budgets of the four student minority centers that Yale probably shouldn’t have at all unless it wants to keep furthering separatism—one each for Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian- Americans.

Salovey managed to produce a major victory for protesters complaining about strikingly weak and vague issues (a teacher’s opinion that Yale shouldn’t have told students what Halloween costumes to avoid, a feeling of racial discomfort among some blacks on campus, and a false report that a black student had been turned away from a fraternity party).

Related: North Korea Has Taken Over the Modern Campus

When a group of protesters confronted Professor Nicholas Christakis, husband of Erika Christakis who wrote the controversial costume memo, one student is heard saying, “Walk away. He doesn’t deserve to be listened to.” When Nicholas started to explain himself, a student yells, “Be quiet!” and then proceeds to lecture him. When Nicholas calmly and politely says, “I disagree,” the protestor explodes, screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down!” Then, finally, “You’re disgusting!” Had the protester been a white male, he likely would have been expelled or suspended. But the perp was a black female. So no action.

The trigger for the protests was also peculiar. For a large number of students to go berserk over a mild and non-racist email dissenting from a Yale instruction on Halloween costumes was remarkable and Salovey might have politely said so.

As Peter Schuck said on this site, “University officials like us bear some responsibility for the aggressive, obsessive ethnic emphasis practiced on our campus. Through some mixture of cowardice, complaisance, and genuine conviction, we cater to the sensibilities of the most outspoken, politicized students by donning a kind of “kick me” sign. In this atmosphere of identity politics, students have strong incentives to dramatize their wounds as proof of the authenticity of a larger, more heroic social agenda….”

Missing from Salovey’s performance was any sense of authority. When the protestors demonized Erika Christakis for her costume memo, and when protesters cursed and threatened her husband, Nicholas (“We know where you live”), Salovey didn’t seem to notice or care. He declined to fire the husband-wife pair, as protesters demanded, but made no effort to keep them when Nicholas went on leave and Erika quit teaching at Yale because, she said, the university lacks civil dialogue.

Worst of all, the transformation of universities from actual places of learning to institutions primarily obsessed with race and identity has advanced mightily through Yale’s defeat. For demonstrating weak leadership and incomprehension at an elite university, the Sheldon goes to Peter Salovey.

John Leo is the Editor of Minding the Campus


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

    View all posts

11 thoughts on “Worst College President of 2015—Who Wins the Sheldon?

  1. West Liberty University’s former president should get a nod for using college resources and employees to help him produce a feature-length film starring his untalented teenaged daughter.

  2. So sad my university’s president, Eric Barron (Penn State) didn’t get an honorable mention for either his “Hands up, don’t shoot!” pose or his letter calling for a zero tolerance policy on intolerance.

  3. I think as part of Yale’s President Salovey’s duties as Worst College President, he should be required to listen to the video at full volume for twenty-four hours straight of that rude disgusting ugly bitch, Jerylyn Luther, shrieking, yelling and screaming at Nickolas Christakis, the master of Silliman College. Then after listening to that recording at full volume and watching the video for twenty-four hours, Salovey should then be required to mud wrestle Miss “this is not about creating an intellectual space, its about creating a home…” I’ll put my money on the bitch because Salovey is a complete balless wonder. Don’t misread me here. I’m a flaming liberal campaigning for Bernie Sanders, but these people disgust me. And while I get some pleasure out of poking fun at these idiots—God knows they deserve it—I find it all very disturbing the way privileged, supposedly smart people like Luther (and she is from a privileged background) can be so completely self-absorbed. We are talking about a person, and people like her, that have no interest, much less passion, for our truly amazing First Amendment. She is as worthless an Edwardian aristocrats living in their safe haven manors, doing nothing all day.

  4. I think every year the President of Duke should win — as long as members of the “Gang of 88” are still employed there.

  5. All outstanding choices….and clearly Yale’s Salovey — by virtue of both his institutional standing and the extraordinary cowardice so evident in his multiple displays of sheer idiocy — must absolutely win 1st Place.

    However, I was disappointed that the equally pusillanious President Hiram Chodosh of Claremont-McKenna did not even get an honorable mention. As the editors of the student newspaper put it in their angry response to both the terroristic bullying and the administrative pandering there at C-M: “Above all, we are disappointed that … President Chodosh (wasn’t) brave enough to come to the defense of a student who was told she was “derailing” because her opinions regarding racism didn’t align with those of the mob around her. Nor were you brave enough to point out that these protesters were perfectly happy to use this student to further their own agenda, but turned on her as soon as they realized she wasn’t supporting their narrative. These protesters were asking you to protect your students, but you didn’t even defend the one who needed to be protected right in front of you.”

    But they didn’t stop there, going on to explain: “We were disappointed to see you idly stand by and watch students berate, curse at, and attack Dean Spellman for being a “racist.” For someone who preaches about “leadership” and “personal and social responsibility,” your actions are particularly disappointing. You let your colleague, someone who has been helping your administration for the past three years and the college for six years, be publicly mocked and humiliated. Why? Because you were afraid. You were afraid that students would also mock and humiliate you if you defended Dean Spellman, so you let her be thrown under the bus.”

    [Their entire letter of protest deserves more attention than it has received: http://claremontindependent.com/we-dissent/%5D

    But at least an Honorable Mention, please, for the heepish Hiram!

  6. The most disturbing aspect of all of this is the concept that certain people are no longer entitled to protection against violence — that they “deserve” to have their persons and property attacked with impunity because of what they believe. Not even what they said, but that they would say it because they “should have known” what the consequences would be.

    The point to remember is that you had a right to say it is totally irrelevant. You should have known not to, you should have known that it would upset some specific group(s) and that they would respond not with speech but with violence.

    Hence, it’s your problem — society is not going to help you, neither the police nor dean’s office will do anything to either to protect you from violence or to punish those perpetrating it. The university rules, the state laws and the rest no longer protect you.

    An as there is no clear definition of what you can’t say, you have no idea what you *can* say and hence certain “constituencies” have the power that the Klan did in the Jim Crow South, and for pretty much the same reason.

  7. Salovey has to be a real loser to beat out Napolitano. She is the worst when it comes to liberal do-gooders who destroy everything they touch.

  8. Leo,

    I think at this point the false rape culture has gotten so out of hand that you need a seperate award for the worst college president during bogus rape stories. May I suggest the “Little Dicky” award for the most spineless/unconstitutionally PC actions for a college president during a fake rape case. It will be in honor of Dick Brodhead for his despicable behavior during the Duke lacrosse hoax, which was so egregious that he could easily be justified the winner for the next 1000 years.

  9. I’m disappointed it wasn’t Wolfe. His will be the most damaging precedent for higher education, long term. Of course, I still feel this award requires ignoring my Alma Mater: Duke. This year we had the noose hoax along with thousands of students being addressed by the administration, which then learned the identity of the perpetrator and hushed it up because it was a hoax. This administration, I remind you, is the same one who enabled Nifong’s Lacrosse witchhunt. President Brodhead was dean at Yale when he destroyed Van de Velde’s life over baseless accusations of murder. VP of Student Affairs Larry Moneta was the executor of the “Water Buffalo” incident at Penn.

    As long as these men are in office, anyone who isn’t accusing their students and staff of rape and murder don’t deserve awards for squat.

  10. Teresa Sullivan’s administration came up with new safety rules for an imaginary incident, but her administration never addressed a real incident, the vandalization of a fraternity house.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *