I love history, and while it is dangerous to go too far in comparing the past to the present, it is also absolutely true that you can’t know where you’re going till you know where you’ve been. And while the past doesn’t exactly repeat itself, there are useful parallels.
There are also apt quotations. When it comes to politicians, one of my favorite has always been what Oliver Cromwell, the so-called Lord Protector, said to the English Parliament back in the middle of the 17th century: “You have sat (here) too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
Since then, British politicians have taken the refreshing view that if they screw up, they ought to pay a price. We saw this at its most extreme last week when Michael Bates, a junior minister in the department of international development, showed up five minutes late for a session of the House of Lords in which he was supposed to answer questions on behalf of the government.
When he got there, he said, “I am thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place and therefore I shall be offering my resignation to the prime minister.” He was quite serious, but the prime minister refused to accept his resignation, and even his political opponents made it clear they didn’t want him to go.
But Michael Bates’ attitude was refreshing when you contemplate the Michigan State University board of trustees, a body that was completely derelict in their duty towards students, Larry Nassar’s victims, and the entire university.
The New York Times and the Detroit News editorial pages seldom agree on anything politically. But they agree on this: All eight members of the MSU board should have the decency to quit, and if they don’t, they should either be removed by the governor or impeached by the Legislature. “They’ve broken the trust of the university community, and this board shouldn’t get to choose the next permanent president when they have proven they couldn’t hold former university leaders accountable,” the News wrote after the board chose John Engler as interim president.
That’s exactly right. Even as the extent of the Larry Nassar scandal became clear, the MSU board failed to ask for an independent investigation, failed to meet without Lou Anna Simon in the room, failed to see what was coming.
Instead, as the scandal was exploding, the tone-deaf trustees voted to give Simon a huge raise. Joel Ferguson, the dean of the panel, gave an interview to a sports talk radio station in which he was openly dismissive of what he called “this Nassar thing.” The members of this board ought to be crippled with shame. But not a one is willing to give up their free football tickets.
Want an example of how weak our political parties have become? Consider this. Trustees Ferguson, George Perles, Dianne Byrum and Brian Mosallam are all Democrats. They voted to install super-partisan Republican Engler as MSU’s interim president. Yet not one was attacked by their party’s leadership.
They need to be gone. They are now hoping we forget about this soon, and they can keep the jobs they don’t deserve. Whether we allow them to get away with it is, frankly, up to you.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.