The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

OPINION: Should We Cancel Queally?

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian. This article contains expletive language.

In January 1985, then-University of Richmond student Paul B. Queally was arrested for breaking into a University Forest Apartment. But, that didn’t preclude him from joining UR’s Board of Trustees 14 years later. Perhaps it was seen as an act of youthful indiscretion. However, considering the research that suggests that Black men with no criminal record are less likely to be called back for a job than are white men with a record, I’m certain Queally’s race, gender and socioeconomic status have played roles in others’ assessments of his character and qualifications. 

If the initial choice to elect Queally as a trustee in 1999 was questionable, more concerning is why he has been allowed to repeatedly undermine the integrity and reputation of UR in the years since. The major consequences of Queally’s influence over UR became apparent as early as 2012 when his financial support for creating a lacrosse team at UR overrode the near-universal opposition to do so at the expense of the men’s soccer and track teams. Whereas the former sport generally attracts wealthy white youth, Queally’s son included, the latter two are popular among a more socioeconomically, racially and ethnically diverse body. Eliminating men’s soccer and men’s track dealt significant blows to the campus; so, too, did the decision to ignore the fierce protests by the campus community to appease donors. At the best of institutions, donors give wide latitude for the organization to accomplish its work; at UR, it seems we accomplish Queally’s work. 

Queally’s power over UR has only grown over the years, with little -- if any -- resistance when his desires or actions contradict UR’s stated values. In 2014, an undercover reporter published an article about a secret honor society event in 2012 where Queally, among other wealthy white men, gleefully mocked women, LGBTQ people, poor people, liberals, and paid homage to the Confederacy. Queally excused his own sexist and homophobic remarks during the event as jokes made in the spirit of the event, though The Collegian later exposed a picture on Queally’s Facebook account captioned with the offensive term “fag.” 

I noted in my February 25, 2014, essay on Inside Higher Ed that the Board responded to the damaging press attention about Queally with a simple statement: it reaffirmed its commitment to “inclusivity, civility, and respect,” without a single reference to Queally or his hateful comments. And, then-President Ed Ayers stressed the trustees’ commitment to UR’s values, including diversity and inclusivity. Days later, Ayers announced he would be stepping down as UR’s president at the end of the year. 

Queally, however, remained on the Board, later being elected to rector, the lead position on the board, which he still holds… for now. Speculations that UR would change course in naming the new admissions center in his honor were unfounded; in fact, the campus now features a third building with his (and his wife’s) name. UR’s response to Queally’s shameful actions was to promote him, in essence, to king. Indeed, he co-chaired the search committee that selected UR’s next president, Kevin Hallock, a white man business school professor and economist.

At the March 26th meeting between a few trustees, leaders of the University Staff Advisory Council and the University Faculty Senate, not a single soul interrupted Queally as he disrespected and badgered Jessica Washington, an esteemed Black staff member at UR. Or, as he referred to white students as “regular students” relative to students of color. Subsequently, in an April 5th campus-wide email, the Board came to Queally’s defense by attempting to gaslight the entire campus into believing that misogynoir abuse is a form of civil and respectful dialogue. 

Without question, Queally should be fired from his position on the Board and barred from holding leadership positions on campus in the future. But Queally's rise to power at UR from trespassing undergrad to raving tyrant reflects problems that transcend beyond his individual character. Queally was first an annoying pimple on UR’s reputation, then a malignant tumor that should have been excised from the university. Leaving him in place -- no, actually promoting him to rector -- allowed his influence to spread throughout UR like a cancer. To “cancel” Queally would mean to cease his consistent, longstanding behavior – not to remove him over a single misdeed without an opportunity for restitution.  

The analogy to cancer, which I also used in my public remarks during the all-faculty meeting that resulted in the passage of a vote of no-confidence in Rector Queally, is alluring. But I am convinced by the warnings against conceptualizing racism, sexism and other systems of oppressions through a medical or disease model. As critical race theorists argue, racism is “normal science” – it is the usual way of doing business. Queally’s unchecked power over UR, despite its stated values (e.g., inclusivity and equity) that contradict his racist, sexist and homophobic bigotry, is a sign that the institution is successfully operating as designed

So, to his credit, overlooking the criminal, unethical and offensive behavior of a wealthy, white cishet man is not unique to Queally. For example, in 2018, the chief of UR’s police department (another white man) seemed convinced by two white male students’ claims that they simply decorated a gingerbread house with swastikas, which they filmed themselves throwing out of their dorm room window on a public Snapchat video, was part of an inside joke. I have repeatedly heard stories of white male students leaving predominantly-white fraternity lodge parties with unconscious women flung over their shoulders while campus police, positioned outside, looked the other way. That is, even in light of UR’s long reputation for being unsafe for women and publicly gaslighting survivors of sexual violence. Meanwhile, campus events hosted by Black-dominated student organizations are typically heavily policed inside and out. 

Of course, viewing white men’s harmful behaviors as nothing more than “affluenza” isn’t unique to UR. White men can rape unconscious women and serve a mere 12 weeks in prison, if they see any prison time at all. They can admit to grabbing women’s genitals without consent and successfully run for president of the United States… and lead an insurrection against the U.S. Capitol when they lose reelection. Or, perpetrate a homophobic hate crime and later run for president. Or, violently attack multiple people of color and go on to become one of Hollywood’s most successful actors

Cancel Queally? Most certainly, if UR does indeed espouse other values than those he demonstrates through his behavior. Get rid of Rector Paul Queally. Then change the culture that enabled him. 

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