An open letter to Vice-Chancellor McCardell from C’64 alumnus

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Dear Vice-Chancellor McCardell:

I am writing to you to express my disagreement with the decision by the Sewanee Board of Regents not to rescind the honorary degree granted to Charlie Rose at the 2016 Commencement.

The Board of Regents made the decision not to rescind in answer to the petition presented to it earlier by the two student members of the Board of Trustees, Claire Brickson (C’18) and Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19).

In the response letter the Regents stated that,”we do not believe it is our place to condemn the individual. In fact, we think there is grave danger were we to go down that path. We impose a penalty where appropriate, but we also offer forgiveness…The opportunity to forgive should always be taken. Condemnation has no place here.”

Cases of egregious commissions of sexual misconduct not only require “a penalty where appropriate.” They demand it. The traditional theology of forgiveness in the Episcopal Church is that surely it is to be granted, but only after contrition of heart, confession by mouth, and satisfaction in deed.

If the Board of Regents wants to forgive Rose for his despicable treatment of women it is incumbent upon it to exact a reasonable satisfaction in deed. While rescinding the honorary degree is not a sufficient penalty for Rose’s misdeeds, it is the only option the Regents have. It should be imposed.

The entire tenured faculty of the School of Theology supports this view. Professor Turrell writes in his letter that he “doesn’t think it’s the university’s place to offer Rose forgiveness.” He makes it clear that “no one would be saying that Charlie Rose is not loved by God.” Nevertheless “we also want some attention to the grave things he’s done.”

As to the exaction of penalties for a dishonorable action, a priest can be defrocked according to the Canons of The Episcopal Church, a soldier given a dishonorable discharge, athletes can be disbarred from competition because of doping, congressmen (not women so far) can be persuaded to resign their offices, and presidents can be found guilty by impeachment. No doubt other examples can be identified. All of these instances involve a moral imperative.

It may be argued that Rose, like every other American, is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, in December of 2012 he settled a class action lawsuit on behalf of 200 unpaid interns, as detailed in the agreement that Outten & Golden LLP filed in the New York Supreme Court. This settlement is, in effect, an admission of guilt. It is supported by Rose’s own more recent public statements admitting his abuse of women at CBS.

I urge you to read, if you have not already, the recent Washington Post article that is the result of an investigation of several dozen women Rose put in the ultimate position of either giving him sexual favors or losing their jobs. Three of the eight have spoken “on the record.” The Post conducted multiple interviews. Many others of the women agreed to be interviewed but preferred to remain anonymous out of fear for their financial security. For all of the women, reporters interviewed friends, colleagues, or family members who said the women had confided in them about aspects of the incidents. These independently derived stories witness to a consistent pattern in the modus operandi of Rose. Apparently Rose has been harassing women for over two decades.

The Post article can be found here. Need I remind you that Rose was fired by CBS on the same day or the day after the Post article was published? CBS easily decided that the accusations against him were valid.

In the wake of the Post article, the following universities have rescinded honorary degrees previously conferred on Rose: Arizona State University, the University of Kansas, SUNY Oswego, Duke University, and Fordham University. There may be others.

In his Letter From a Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King, Jr. was responding to the Public Statement of eight prominent white ministers, presbyters, deacons, and bishops arguing that, while the integration of the races was surely a good and Christian thing, the Civil Rights agitators under his leadership were pushing “too fast.” What was needed was a more “gradual progression” through the courts rather than public demonstrations. A short time before this high water mark in the Civil Rights Movement, Sewanee’s Chancellor, the Diocesan Bishop of Alabama Charles C.J. Carpenter, in conjunction with all of the bishops of the owning Diocese of Sewanee, had publicly opposed integration of the Sewanee student body.

Bishop Carpenter must have been a very busy man in 1963. In fact, he was the first of the 8 Alabama clergymen signatories to the Public Statement that provoked Rev. King’s famous response. In his reply of 16 April 1963, Rev. King agrees that his “present activities” might be “wise and untimely” but “frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.” He asks the 8 distinguished white clergy to excuse his “impatience.” Rev. King wants to know “who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season?’”

Speaking to the present issue, let me add “another woman’s freedom.” Fifty years later women are asking this same question. The “Me Too” Movement has reached a “tipping point” as momentous as the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. The cascade of revelations by women vis-á-vis prominent and public men is astounding. And they are speaking for the millions of women, even billions through the ages, who cannot speak for themselves.

I know, Vice-Chancellor McCardell, that the pressures on you are great. You can ignore my request and those of others in the hope it will pass away. Or you can defend the decision of the Board of Regents. Or you can muster the courage to ask the Board of Regents, in the interest of the honor and reputation of this University, to reconsider.

I look at history in two ways, as I am certain Martin Luther King, Jr. did. In the short-term much risk is required, surely heartbreak, sacrifice, and the immediate hardship and suffering that taking a stand on a sensitive issue inevitably causes. But in the long-term the worst moments in history sometimes can make way for the great achievements. Every Black person in America knows this. And every woman White and Black is beginning to know it this year.

Please stop and think. Search your conscience. Do the right thing.

Yours sincerely,

Charles P.R. Tisdale, C’64