Recent neuroscientific findings about "hard wired" malevolent personality traits-produced by both nature and nurture-have provided a fresh look at corruption. Academics are prone to pointing the finger at business as being a prime societal source of unethical behavior, at least in capitalist societies. But it appears that universities themselves can be just as corrupt. The following excerpt, from Barbara Oakley's meticulously researched but tongue-in-cheek titled "Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend," makes this point. Prometheus Books. 59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, New York, 14228. http://www.prometheusbooks.com/ Copyright © 2007 by Barbara Oakley. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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A Prototypical, Modern-Day, Stable Sinister System-Texas Southern University
In August 2006, flamboyant Texas Southern University president Priscilla Slade, along with three board members, was indicted for "misapplication of fiduciary responsibility" in relation to millions of dollars of misspent, misused, and disappearing funds. Many of Slade's apparent accomplishments were ultimately shown to disguise a sordid reality. For example, TSU's doubling of enrollment brought a dangerous element to campus even as the tuition helped fund her flamboyant lifestyle-Slade was eventually caught illegally spending $260,000 to landscape and furnish her home, $10,000 for limousines, and $9,000 for a bed. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of TSU students graduated in four years-one of the lowest rates in the nation.
Freshman class president Justin Jordan and his friends Oliver Brown and William Hudson-the "TSU 3"-were motivated to investigate the school after the death of a student bystander who died when a firefight erupted in a campus parking lot. Their investigation uncovered rampant corruption on the TSU campus. Christina Asquith, a reporter for Diverse Issues in Higher Education, related how the TSU 3 discovered a paper trail of evidence revealing that associates of campus administrators were being paid thousands each month even when they didn't work for the university. State representatives were paid by TSU to be "guest lecturers." Two highly publicized parking garages were built for tens of millions of dollars over budget. Administrators at many levels appeared to be stealing state funds. Through their diligent efforts, the TSU 3 built a slam-dunk case against TSU's administration that immediately provoked indignation from the board and state authorities and resulted in the immediate firing and indictment of
the guilty parties.
JK, as the instant messengers say. Just kidding.
Instead, despite the increasingly squalid nature of the material the TSU 3 was uncovering, the administration responded by offering semesters abroad and other bribe-like inducements to the trio of would-be whistleblowers. When the TSU 3 brought their evidence of corruption to the university's board, board members responded with a vote of confidence for TSU's corrupt president- neatly shifting blame for the problems on lack of funding from Republicans. When the students met with Texas state governor Rick Perry to provide evidence for criminality, the governor simply referred the matter back to the TSU board-who ignored it. The young men were harassed by campus police officers and ultimately arrested on trumped-up charges. Then, as Asquith relates:
'In late Spring 2005, administrators brought the students before the
Student-Faculty Disciplinary Committee on charges that included "inflicting
mental harm," "insubordination, vulgar language" and "disturbing a meeting."
They say they were denied legal representation and told to write a letter to
Gov. Perry saying that "everything was OK now" at TSU. One of the TSU 3,
William Hudson, was suspended for a year and required to take anger
management classes in order to return. He was also fired from his campus job
in the office of enrollment management. Each of the TSU 3 was forced out of
his role in student government. . . . By the fall of 2005, the three were
feeling demoralized and ready to give up. "Every time we took information to
someone, we ran into a brick wall," said Jordan. (Asquith, "Trouble at Texas
Southern," Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 14, 2006.)
Finally, luck turned their way-a sympathetic DA took on the case and the goings-on at TSU came under legal scrutiny. The indictments came down, and Slade lost her job, after a fashion. She was a tenured professor, so she was simply moved to a teaching position.
"With corruption, everyone pays," Jordan says. "Now the faculty has to teach more classes, the students have had a tuition increase, the taxpayers-they're sick of paying more money, and people in the administration are going to jail. We are all paying somehow." Adds Jordan: "Dr. Slade and the administration did a wonderful job of charming the board. They were mesmerized by her. People were mesmerized by her." (Asquith, "Trouble.")
One can easily imagine that, if the charismatic Slade had had friends in the DA's office, Jordan and his friends would have been further harassed until they had no psychic resources remaining. The lives of the TSU 3 would have been derailed, and corruption at TSU could have gone unchecked for decades to come.
NOTE: A coda to the affair: In July 2008, a federal jury found that Texas Southern University had acted illegally in arresting and expelling three students in retaliation for whistle-blowing.