Ever since I was in preschool, teachers, parents and cat posters in the guidance counselor’s office have drilled it into my head to “hang in there,” “finish what you start,” and “never be a quitter.” Today, as a new and anxiety-ridden resident of the Real World, I find myself a recent graduate of a university currently run by a quitter.
President Judy Hample has reversed 17 years of public education’s efforts to motivate me. Apparently, quitting is actually fine, as long as in the press release you half-heartedly assure those who are counting on you that you “especially enjoyed” the opportunity to work with them. That cat featured on my guidance counselor’s poster has probably lost its grip by now.
Hample’s sudden resignation reminded me of another glass-ceiling-breaker who chose to step down. Last August, Sarah Palin stunned politicos and plumbers alike by announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska, with 18 months of her term remaining. Diminishing approval ratings, along with an ethics scandal or two, contributed to Palin’s decision. The people of Alaska were left behind, and many felt betrayed by their once-beloved governor. While Mary Washington is in a similar boat right now, I doubt Hample has a book deal or aspirations to become a Fox News commentator.
Sure, Hample has gotten some bad press lately. There was that fateful Safety Walk call last fall, and don’t forget her refusal to shake students’ hands at graduation last year because of H1N1. Additionally, it’s pretty hard to justify spending $28,000 of University money on bookshelves when esteemed professors are losing their jobs to budget cuts. (I personally don’t think it’s a coincidence that she announced her resignation the same day that story ran in the Free Lance-Star.) However, President Obama, between stunted health care legislation and Rahm Emmanuel’s vocabulary choices, has attracted more than his share of negative headlines this year, and what does he do about it? He deals. He moves on with his plans. He doesn’t quit.
Whether it’s the leader of the free world, the president of a mid-level university or, say, the editor-in-chief of a college newspaper, every leader will make mistakes and face criticism. The best leaders are not the infallible ones, they’re the ones that hold themselves accountable for their actions and stand tall, no matter what the media say. Several of Hample’s actions had disappointed many, but quitting was the worst misstep of all. Rather than just giving up, Hample should have used the remaining three years of her five-year-contract to try and make amends.
Especially after William Frawley’s Three-Wheelgate, everyone was rooting for President Hample. It’s not like she had a tough act to follow. I, for one, was particularly excited for UMW to finally have a female president. When she first came to Mary Washington, Hample had a vision for the community; she had hope. Last Friday, she abandoned that vision, and she abandoned the students. For that, I have lost any lingering respect for her.
It’s going to be pretty awkward come May when I have to shake her hand at my graduation ceremony. That is, if she’ll let me.