Trust me, I’m a Doctor: Confusing transparency with invisibility


Dr. Leeper, Columnist

It’s been an odd, hectic, even frenetic semester. I feel for the Stater staff, who have been tireless in their quest to extract information regarding our presidential search from a Board office that seems to confuse “transparency” with “invisibility.”

It is all vaguely reminiscent of the Kafka novels I was forced to read at gunpoint as an undergrad (in one of those “useless” gen ed classes we keep carving from our curriculum), where protagonists enter a murky, formless, irrational netherworld accused or oppressed by authority, and in trying to extract some understandable response, some sense of structure and meaning and rules and justice, well, they all die of exhaustion.

I hope for a better fate for the Stater kids.

I tumbled into Spring Break feeling exhausted myself. The news events over the break, sadly, did little to ease my weary mind. First, there was the staggering 120 page report issued by the Department of Justice outlining years of irregular police practices in Ferguson, Missouri (I encourage anyone to read it—it is a compelling and readable story—just stick “DOJ Ferguson” in your Yahoo).

The specific vignettes are numerous and heart-breaking. The general pattern is something like this: police stop someone who is certainly NOT white for no good reason; they verbally abuse and roughly detain them; they call in warrants from prior trumped up arrests; they pile fabricated charges on the “suspect” (“failure to comply”) to ensure some quality jail time, but more importantly, to fatten the city’s coffers, squeezing cash from those with the fewest resources.

At one point, the city treasurer actually sends an e-mail to the police, encouraging them to issue more citations to serve the city’s budgetary needs.

It is a part of our culture to get absorbed by the sensational, and then quickly move forward and develop a collective amnesia. But we mustn’t forget the lessons of Ferguson—the United States still carries deep-seated racism in its social and legal structures—and police departments sometimes develop a culture of lawlessness and lose sight of all constitutional boundaries. The suspension of Fourth Amendment rights, the irresponsible addition of frivolous but costly charges (“Disturbing the Peace,” “Obstruction,” sound familiar, anyone?), that can happen anywhere.

Then, of course, the idiot OU SAE racist chant. I mean, what?? (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just stick “SAE racist chant” in your Google). The university’s president, David Boren, couldn’t move fast enough to expel the “ringleaders” and extract the SAE’s from campus (the furniture tumbling from the frat was reminiscent of Animal House— “THEY TOOK THE BAR!”).

As America moves forward with its sense of collective amnesia, however, I am left with a sense of unease. What the boys chanted was inexcusable, drippingly racist, and tied to our worst, violent past. But, it’s naïve to think this was some original thinking on the part of the frat boys; this chant had been handed down verbatim through generations of (the southern-born) SAE’s. And, gauging from the boisterous reaction on the party bus, others at the University of Oklahoma, and everywhere else, are perfectly comfortable with this style of discourse.

To just expel, remove, expunge, to merely push every remnant of SAE into a U-Haul—did that serve any long-term educational purpose? Can President Boren, a state actor, expel a student and dissolve an organization for what is in reality, perhaps regrettably, legally protected speech? Should state college administrators be able to unilaterally expel and dissolve student organizations without any established policies, student review, or carefully designed appeals processes?

Without process and transparency, even the best intentioned actors can increasingly abuse power and develop bad habits.

I guess the thin thread tying together this sprawling column: it is important for us, in higher education, law enforcement, whatever, to craft sensible policies, written procedures, rooted in cultures and removed from powerful individuals and even more powerful moments. Fairness, justice, process, these are all deeply American values that we seem to willingly give away.

Or, die of exhaustion in their pursuit.