An Example of Old Whitewater’s Deficient Reasoning

Old Whitewater – a state of mind rather than a person or a person’s age – seldom speaks except to reveal its deficient reasoning (and to reveal, in fact, that it doesn’t even know what good reasoning might look like).  Before going further, a reminder: FREE WHITEWATER is the work of one person, writing without collaboration, of views directly stated. One needn’t – and here doesn’t – speak for others.

Today, I’ll consider – not for its merit. but for its utter lack of merit – a letter to the editor of the Janesville Gazette signed by Shirley M. Grant of Whitewater, and entitled Criticism of Kopper over husband’s actions unfair (subscription req’d). Grant contends criticism of UW-Whitewater’s Beverly Kopper stems not from Kopper’s public role, her responsibility for her public workplace, or her appointment of her own spouse to a public position, but instead Kopper’s “falling in love with a man she thought she could trust.”

No, and no again: private feelings of love do not govern this public matter.  See No Ordinary, Unconnected Spouse: Public officials’ use of family appointees. and Questions Concerning a Ban on the UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Husband After a Sexual Harassment Investigation.

Grant goes on to contend that a person in her twenties (referring to only one of the five reported complainants of workplace harassment and assault) could not possibly know the character of her – the complainant’s – own husband. Grant’s claim is an oddly personal, but easily refuted, one: society often correctly assumes that those in their twenties can and do assess complex matters – including character – correctly.  From those in their twenties, America commissions officers in her armed services, schools assign teachers, cities hire police officers, and both religious and secular Americans get married. All of these matters require a general discernment of character. If Grant’s claim about not being able to assess character were generally true, then America would be wrong to commission her military officers, schools to hire teachers, cities to hire police officers, or for families and churches to support marriage from among those in their twenties.

And yet, and yet — for centuries on this continent we have selected from those in their twenties for these weighty matters requiring an understanding of character, and while so doing we have become the most influential and extraordinary society in human history.  It’s highly improbable that we could have been so mistaken about people in their twenties and yet been so successful as a society.  It’s more likely that our longstanding confidence has been wisely placed.

Perhaps Grant doubts the choices she or the people of her acquaintance made in their twenties, but there’s no reason to concern oneself with this point: the tiny handful within her horizon are nothing as against many millions who have and continue to discern wisely to the great benefit of our society.

Grant observes that she “attended UW-Whitewater when there were riot police on campus to make sure we got to class safely….Did the university fall apart? Did the students stay away? It looks to me as though it just got stronger.”

The implications are perverse: (1) that because she once had hardships others should accept injustices now, (2) that daily functioning under injustices excuses the injustices, (3) that continued popularity during injustices excuses the injustices, (4) and that an institution’s increase in wealth or size excuses the individual harms inflicted or tolerated during that increase.

That’s similar to claims that corrupt corporations make during financial scandals, religious institutions make during sexual abuse scandals, and governments make when officials abuse the public trust: a crude and amoral act utilitarianism. See The Act Utilitarians.

Finally, like so many of the Old Whitewater mindset, Grant thinks that a few exclamation points make her weak claims stronger (‘you are kidding!’, ‘whatever it might be!’)

They don’t.

One does not make Alchemy, Witchcraft, and Cold Fusion more plausible by writing Alchemy! Witchcraft! and Cold Fusion!  False before, false afterward.

There is no sign from her letter that Grant thought about the issue more than superficially (and so, as a consequence, she’s apparently thought about it only deficiently). It’s evidence of the old – but failed, withering – poor quality of reasoning that slowly slips away in Whitewater.

Previously:  Journal Sentinel: UW-Whitewater chancellor’s husband banned from campus after sexual harassment investigationQuestions Concerning a Ban on the UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Husband After a Sexual Harassment Investigation, Chancellor Kopper Should Resign, A fifth woman publicly accuses UW-Whitewater chancellor’s husband of sexual harassmentThe UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Lack of Individual Regard, and No Ordinary, Unconnected Spouse: Public officials’ use of family appointees.

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5 years ago

Definitely agree that this is not about “love” or putting up with problems now because tehre were problems in the past. The biggest problem however is the clearest one of all about how leaders don’t get to cherrypick public v. private stances. It’s not “community leader” until you want to insist you’re not.

We have had a chancellor/administration problem here that needs to be fixed. Agree also nothing will get fixed with letters to the editor that miss the big points. Papering this over is only making it worse.

I’m not sure that this is just a problem from “Old Whitewater” but it is a problem of people not thinking through the issues.

Solid point.

5 years ago

the university environment in Wisc. is more competitive than a long time ago. no way schools just keep getting stronger without fixing blatant issues. rallying the troops is worthless. only path to strength is real change.if people keep pushing you can have something way better.

5 years ago

The idea that workplace abuse should be tolerated because a manager fell in love shows how desperate people are to find excuses for these incidents. I wish I could say that I never imagined people would rationalize so completely, but I can’t. When incidents are finally out in the open the worst rationalizations begin.

5 years ago

No, this problem is not just about someone making a bad personal choice like falling in love.
But anyone who has been around knows a letter to the Gazette isn’t significant. You definitely know that too. It helps that you have written about this topic before. This post looks like it is written to community leaders more than one person’s letter. A lot of us see that there is a problem but it does make sense to put down a marker just in case.
(Good poverty post today too.)

Stephanie Vander Pas
5 years ago

This letter to the editor is disgusting. No other sexual assault victim would be treated the way I have been.

I took the time to get to know my husband before I married him—but I do not owe the world a detailed explanation of that. Should it ever become clear my husband is not the person I believe him to be and that he utilized my authority to harm others, I have no doubt in my mind I would resign for the well-being of all involved.

This entire concept is void of reason. You don’t get a free pass on the basis of love. I shouldn’t have to be sexually harassed every time I attend an event with the chancellor just because someone else once had to experience some other hardship.

I’m running out of words to use for the people involved in this.

Stephanie Vander Pas
5 years ago

I refuse to believe any other sexual assault victim would be treated the way I have been. This entire experience has made me truly resent a community I once loved and cherished my time in.

This isn’t as simple as falling in love. You can fall in love with the wrong person and be forgiven for making bad choices in your life.

This is about appointing someone to a public position, keeping him in that position while under multiple investigations for claims of sexual assault, finding out the claims had merit, and then keeping that information secret until MINUTES before it became news. Whether she did or did not, does or does not love him is irrelevant.

My attempts to appeal to the human side of Chancellor Kopper, the side I hoped could actually have sympathy for what I endured at the hand of someone else’s husband, has been twisted and turned and played over and over again by people who will never have a singular clue what it is like to watch strangers speculate about your marriage while others get to use their marriage as an excuse to commit crimes and get a free pass.

I’m just about the least naive person I know in my 20s. I’ve seen enough to know to trust very few, but my husband is among them.

I promise you this, though. If that trust proves to be wrong, if it proves to be the biggest mistake of my life and he commits an act even close to this nature, it will not be a matter of whether or not I would resign, but how quickly I could do it.

I will not apologize for any of this as I have received no apologies for my experiences.