The articulate educator had a definite vision: Fisk would be a small, liberal arts college in Nashville with a diverse student body. Black, white, red, yellowit didn't matter to Reid-Wallace. She thought the school's terrifically rich history in academics and civil rights could be a drawing card for all kinds of applicants. Sadly, that assisted in her political downfall.
This week, Fisk announced Reid-Wallace's successor. She is Hazel O'Leary, age 67. A Fisk graduate herself, O'Leary's official biography shows no higher education experience. In her remarks to the media at her Tuesday announcement, she did say she was a member of two boards of educational institutions, though they went unidentified.
O'Leary is best known for having been former President Bill Clinton's secretary of energy. She is also a graduate of the Rutgers University Law School, a former partner of a big accounting firm and a former vice president of the Northern States Power Company. She also held various positions related to energy and economics in former President Jimmy Carter's administration.
But O'Leary's tenure as energy secretary was marked by significant controversy. It's true that the Republicans were out to eliminate her department, an effort she successfully fought. She also declassified government records that showed Americans had unknowingly been used as guinea pigs in radiation experiments, for which she received plaudits.
But Lord could the woman fly. According to published reports, O'Leary took 16 foreign trips accompanied by dozens of guests at a taxpayer cost of $4.5 million. On a trip to South Africa, she took 63 staffers. When traveling to India, she spent $500,000 for a chartered plane. While in China for 12 days, she rang up $53,800 in telephone costs. Perhaps worst of all, she once chartered the MGM Grand plane that had been used by rock star Madonna.
"I take personal and complete responsibility," she told the House Commerce Committee when she appeared before them to explain what one news report described as her "first-class flights and five-star hotels."
O'Leary's new job is certainly daunting: The financial situation at Fisk University is precarious, applications only trickle in, and control of the university rests in the hands of a small nucleus of alums who have too much time on their hands. What's at stake is the future of one of Nashville's most glorious institutions, a place anchored deep in the history of black culture in the United States.
In introducing O'Leary, board chairman Reynaldo Glover said he was confident that with O'Leary's appointment, "I will never, ever, entertain the question of whether Fisk University will survive." We wonder.
In our judgment, the ideal president for Fisk University would have been a young, vibrant educator looking to establish his or her name by making brave and amazing strides. Not a controversial former energy secretary who misused government resources and has no higher education experience. Even O'Leary, who looks youthful for her age, acknowledged in her introductory remarks that she would have to dispel the issue of her age being a handicap. "It's no secret that I'm 67," she said. "I will tell you I am up for the job."
Asked what she considered her primary task in the coming weeks and months, she said it would be "setting in place a system that allows us all to communicate with each other." Actually, it's probably all about the money, but we'll let her figure that out on her own.
In the Aug. 5 election for General Sessions judgeship, the Scene reaffirms its support for Division II candidate Dan Eisenstein. This particular General Sessions court, which covers cases ranging from lawsuits under $1,500 to traffic violations to trespassing or public intoxication, is the only court that includes Nashville's mental health docket. Eisenstein, who has important experience in the area of mental health and rehabilitation, believes that he can help both Nashville's mentally ill and the city by stopping the arrest/release cycle of many offenders.
Only one other contested election is on the ballot, that being the chancery court judgeship between John Jay Hooker and Claudia Bonnyman. We endorse Bonnyman.
Early voting, incidentally, commences Friday.
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