Exit Where You Entered

The Nov. 12 resignation of McMicken Arts and Sciences Dean Ronald Jackson at the University of Cincinnati marks a sad ending and an even sadder beginning for the university’s battered, tattered and exposed race relations (whatever that means these days.)

The Nov. 12 resignation of McMicken Arts and Sciences Dean Ronald Jackson at the University of Cincinnati marks a sad ending and an even sadder beginning for the university’s battered, tattered and exposed race relations (whatever that means these days.)

Jackson was McMicken’s first and the university’s only black dean, and his 18-month tenure was marked by a flurry of literal and figurative no-confidence votes by his staff, emails made public lamenting his abysmal leadership and lackluster abilities to govern staff and no shortage of rumors from varied sources that Jackson could not manage finances and that he was hopelessly tardy releasing budgets to the departments within UC’s largest college.

Folks who knew claimed Jackson was simply incompetent, a buzzword of late attached to black folks in high-life positions and, therefore, a sometimes uncalled-for and race-based criticism.

But from what I have heard from insiders who know well, Jackson was in over his head so do not feel too sorry for him.

He and the UC muckity-mucks who overlooked more qualified and well-seasoned applicants for the deanship were incahoots with one another and they are now each getting what they deserve: a storm of mass confusion around racial turmoil, dust kicked up because UC obviously likes getting dirty.

This all could easily have been avoided if one or the other — Jackson and his bosses — had simply told the truth earlier on, say, 18 months ago.

We all know when we’ve bitten off too much on a job.

Administrators who hire us know when they’re signing the wrong person.

The problem was a perfect storm.

UC had and still has a sad-ass history attracting and retaining blacks to high-level positions and Jackson was a perfect Fall Guy, a black, tenured faculty member in the Communications Department who, it turned out, was a terrible communicator but who could help UC out of a bind by taking the reigns of McMicken when it needed to be righted back on course.

But I believe Jackson knew better of himself.

The moment he rhetorically asked department heads whether he was actually expected to know how all McMicken departments worked, he knew he was in the wrong lane.

And he was not in that lane alone.

Driving over him — where they’d thrown him beneath the bus — was UC President Santa Ono and anyone else who knew about McMicken’s budget shortfalls that, according to Jackson, he knew nothing about when he took the job. (Whut? Yeah, right.)

See, there are all types of secrets ensconced when people on both sides of race-based issues are lying about the fine points of their entanglement. Jackson was never in a relationship with UC as a dean. 

It has always been an entanglement and only he and a few others there know how far-reaching are the tentacles of that entanglement.

As usual, it’s the students who are suffering, left as they are to focus only on the easy-queasy feelings of racism.

It’s easier to call all this racist without trying to slow-walk it and break it down to bloodstains and molecules.

At a town hall forum the day after Jackson announced his resignation and he sent an email to his staff, UC Provost Beverly Davenport sidestepped and all but ignored questions from students about race and instead urged them all to move forward.

“It’s a new day,” Davenport told the crowd, according to a News Record story.

You know what?

It is a new day, or at least it should be.

But what these aloof administrators fail to understand is that students are young adults, emphasis on young, and in all the rush to move forward what’s absent is the teachable moment.

That makes for a strange piece of negative space at a so-called institution of higher learning.

How difficult would it be and how long would it take for some of these more grown-up folks to stop for an hour or so and say, yes, we messed up. 

All of us. 

None of us got this right. 

We hired a man who wasn’t exactly or even well-qualified and we left him out to dry. On top of that, we have so far turned a blind eye to attracting and retaining qualified blacks, so we got ahead of ourselves with Ronald Jackson. 

But our mistake is entirely separate from the racist cartoon that was distributed across campus in September. However, we cop to the fact that we have constructed the ideal environment for that type of behavior to flourish, because in dark, damp and dirty places, shit grows.

Took me less than three minutes to write that so I know it can be said even more quickly.

I know from experience that students appreciate and respect being treated like adults. They are having sex, drinking to excess, spending wildly, quitting jobs, blowing off classwork, grappling sometimes with drug addiction and all the while trying to get a college degree.

Students are quite grown in many ways, yet UC continues to treat them like children by not owning up to some very adult behavior on its own part.

Meanwhile, Kristi Nelson, senior vice provost for academic affairs, was appointed interim dean late on Nov. 12 and Jackson will probably continue on at UC in the Communications Department, where he is tenured.

Which puts UC and its students — especially Arts and Sciences students — right back where they started: with UC on the precipice of doing the wrong thing in hiring the wrong person for the wrong reasons.

Wouldn’t it be something if UC students cast no-confidence votes in the university, forcing incompetent campus administrators — and they wouldn’t be black because their numbers are negligible — to hastily resign?

Well, they could call up Ronald Jackson in the Communications Department and he could surely show them the door.

It’s the same one they all used to get in.

Good thing we no longer use “Colored” and “White” entrances and exits because they can all fit through the same one.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON : [email protected]