In Defense of Marc Short


I’m disturbed by many of the arguments against the decision by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center to hire as a senior fellow Marc Short, the former White House director of legislative affairs and senior adviser to President Donald Trump.

William Hitchcock and Melvyn Leffler, history professors at Virginia, resigned from the Miller Center in protest and argue in their resignation letter, “The appointment of Mr. Short runs counter to the Center’s fundamental values of non-partisanship, transparency, openness, a passion for truth and objectivity, and civility,” But there is no civility in banning Republicans because Donald Trump is uncivil. There is no non-partisanship to ban Trump supporters when Obama supporters would face no barrier. There is no passion for truth in banning people you disagree with.

The argument Hitchcock and Leffler make against Short is explicitly about guilt by association. By working for Oliver North, the Koch brothers, and Donald Trump, they argue, “He has associated himself with people and institutions who disregard, circumvent, and even violate the norms and laws that are fundamental to civil discourse and democratic politics.”

By serving in the Trump administration, Short “has associated himself with ongoing attacks on a free media.” Hitchcock and Leffler wrote, “He has associated himself with rhetoric and policies that have empowered and emboldened white supremacists and that have led to spectacular increases in racist and misogynistic talk and behavior.”

This is a very troubling standard. It is wrong to ban the hiring of people based on their “rhetoric” about politics rather than the merit of their appointments. But it is a huge step further to judge people based on the rhetoric of their employers.

We have a term for this kind of guilt by association: McCarthyism.

That is a harsh assessment of well-intentioned people. But the fact is, they are wrong. Any declaration that political “association” should be used to ban hires by a university certainly does raise the spectre of the days when membership in a leftist organization linked by critics to Communism would result in a blacklist from academia.

It is wrong to create a similar blacklist for anyone who has worked for the Trump Administration. As the author of a book condemning Trump, I obviously share Hitchcock and Leffler’s views about the evil of the Trump Administration, and I think there can be moral critiques made of those who support Trump and embrace his policies. But personal moral critiques should never be confused with hiring standards.

However, there are troubling aspects to the Short appointment that Hitchcock and Leffler also raise, especially the lack of shared governance and consultation with faculty.

The director and CEO of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, William Antholis, wrote that Short “brings a missing critical voice — one that represents members of Congress and the Republican Party who continue to support the president in large numbers.”

The selection of academic appointments should be based on academic merit, not political representation. The notion of hiring preferences for (or against) conservatives is anathema to academic integrity.

So what should we advocate when everyone is wrong? How should we react when a flawed appointment is opposed on illegitimate grounds?

The answer, if we care about academic freedom and shared governance, is that we never cancel academic appointments for political reasons. The Miller Center should fix the flaws in shared governance, but it should also clarify that ideology is not the basis of any appointments.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Marc Short

  1. The writer makes a very important point, about both hiring standards in general, and about bias in the academy. It is interesting that the protesting faculty, in their resignation letters, state “The appointment of Mr. Short runs counter to the Center’s fundamental values of non-partisanship, transparency, openness, a passion for truth and objectivity, and civility.” And then go on to assert, “He has associated himself with people and institutions who disregard, circumvent, and even violate the norms and laws that are fundamental to civil discourse and democratic politics.” If one is at all alert to university corporate behavior and culture, one might be immediately struck by the hypocrisy. At the University of Chicago, for example, where I was a graduate student and later, Visiting Committee member, such pietism, along with an utter disregard for any such standards whatsoever were and are, in full flowering. For example, the University sustains no objections to–even encourages–the presence of current and former CIA officials formerly or currently engaged in black operations and disinformation programs, holding positions in University centers or institutes; or former White House “plumbers” such as Robert Pape, directing a center for “terror” research, while propagating rather radical divergences from “truth and objectivity.” Or for example, former members of Bush and Obama administrations, or special advisors and counsel to the Obama White House, acting in administrative, teaching and director roles, despite, or because of, their carefully managed public personae, distinct from their previously political ones of profoundly partisan, often deceptive special interest agency. Last Spring, the University hosted Clinton former SoS Madeleine Albright, known for her perversely casual remarks about her complicity in the collateral death of nearly a half million Iraq children (“it was worth it”), by warmly promoting her as a defender of human rights. Of course, this institution is by no means unique in its specious opportunism: Yale recently hosted HRC as a commencement speaker of Yale College (I will leave the obviousness of such Tartufferie to your imagination) or of course, perhaps the “poster child” of academic oversubtleness, the appointment of the former DHS head to run the U.California system (and who recently had the FBI and State, lobby on her behalf to force U.Cal faculty to appoint her as a full professor, despite holding no relevant qualifications). Regardless of your position on the political spectrum, the larger issue may be the wisdom of including academic and related governance opportunities, in the “revolving door” practice between government, business and the modern university. That in itself may be one of the most central sources of academic and university managerial compromise, moral frailty and political mendacity: the victims aren’t professors as much as young adult students who are subject to what amounts to cognitive and emotional predation by political actors incented to perpetuate, protect and cleanse career reputations, while indoctrinating vulnerable students. Good article. With Regards.

  2. John as usual has an important point – both on the faculty government side and the reasons cited for not wanting Short though the professors I think do better job explaining case of “non-truth tellers” in their July 31 Wash Post op-ed.

    How one judges value, standard for, and method of this appointment is key. This will become more important as more key Trump admin figures leave. And Trump himself – what university will take his library, if there is one? Will some admin offices get slot as president of State U? This is only the beginning.

  3. I think there are several things that ought to be considered here:

    1. Hitchcock and Leffler publicly resigned their positions when they could not apparently prevent Short from being appointed. So the comparison to McCarthyism does not really apply here because in that case people with suspect associations were actually prevented from getting employment, in most instances because of an extra-judicial blacklist that employers accepted but that was not publicly available or even publicly acknowledged when it was being enforced most aggressively.

    2. The professors have every right to decide which people they wish to associate with and be associated with professionally, especially in this sort of prestigious capacity, and to share their reasoning publicly.

    3. Although the Center’s director asserts that Short brings a missing voice and perspective, I have not seen the question of his actual credentials addressed (though I have read only a couple of articles on this issue and may have simply missed such a discussion). Still, in terms of the issues addressed in this blog post, it would seem to make a difference whether he was hired because of his broader credentials or largely because of his work with the Trump administration. This consideration seems especially relevant since such a large percentage of Trump appointees seem to have been selected precisely because they have no credentials or experience relevant to their positions–and, very often, a frequently and very publicly expressed antipathy for the departments and agencies that they have been appointed to lead.

    4. Lastly, as has been pointed out by others, the events last year in Charlottesville certainly make this more of a raw issue at UVA than it might be elsewhere. So I would be wary of extrapolating very much from this case as being illustrative.

    (By the way, I plugged John’s book on Trump on this blog, and it is a very readable and insightful analysis of the most prominent aspects of Trump’s political persona and its appeal.)

Comments are closed.