It's like the mom who smacked her kid and dragged him out of a riot in Baltimore a couple weeks ago. When life gets complex we yearn for simple.
So I guess it was inevitable that people, especially parents, would get all ape-crazy a year ago for Admiral William McRaven, the guy who caught Bin Laden, who told graduates at last year's University of Texas commencement exercise, "So if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed."
The admiral's speech went viral and everybody in America loved him for more than 30 seconds. But that was a year ago. I almost gagged on my caviar and Champagne in bed Sunday morning when I was watching This Week with George Stephanopoulos and saw they were still painting McRaven as Mr. Make Your Bed Who Caught Bin Laden, as if he were still an unblemished rock-star. Do the people at ABC not have access to Google?
A year after make-your-bed, McRaven is now chancellor over the entire University of Texas system of nine universities and six health institutions. He was barely in place in Austin when he took a hostile stance on UT Regent Wallace Hall's pursuit of truth in a UT admissions scandal, a mess that had just forced out the dean of the law school, the president of the university and McRaven's predecessor as chancellor.
Hall, who believes all of the university-sponsored and controlled investigations of the scandal so far have been various degrees of cover-up, is determined to keep digging. The people who said he was some kind of political 'bot sent by former Governor Rick Perry to do a hit on former UT President Bill Powers are sort of out of steam by now, since both Perry and Powers are former and Hall is still going.
Turning his back on Hall's continued pursuit of the truth in the admissions scandal, McRaven has thrown in instead with the sleazy pols in the Texas Legislature trying to muzzle Hall before he exposes their own roles in the ever uglier scandal.
In a wonderful display of tele-gush, a presenter on This Week said, "McRaven, while unfailingly humble, is often mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest American military leaders, MacArthur and Eisenhower."
Really? OK. But whoever is doing that breathing needs to hold his her breath long enough to also toss in the names of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, Representative Dan Branch, former Representative Jim Pitts and an entire rogue's gallery of skullduggery-doers with whom McRaven has allied himself since coming to Texas. McRaven is now shoulder-to-shoulder with the pols, fighting to keep Hall away from truth about a scam in which UT apparently traded backdoor student admissions for legislative favors.
The admiral made the admissions scandal his own property last month when he successfully urged a majority of the UT system board of regents to allow Hall to see only those documents that McRaven, Hall's employee, and a team of lawyers working for McRaven deem fit for Hall's eyes.
Hall is a regent, a member of the board of directors. But Hall is only allowed to see information about the university that McRaven tells him he can see.
McRaven's posture toward Hall puts him shoulder to shoulder with state legislators seeking to make it illegal or impossible for trustees of public institutions in Texas to ask questions that the hired CEOs of those institutions do not want to have to answer, effectively giving a CEO veto power over his own board of directors.
The military equivalent would be a law saying Congress can only ask questions or seek information from an admiral if the admiral gives Congress permission to do so. You can see how admirals might like that.
The very idea has elicited various degrees of horror from people who study and care about institutional governance. When they think about a law that would make boards of directors less aggressive, the single word that seems to leap most often to their lips is "Enron."
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SHOW ME HOW
In a recent essay, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, suggested that the thinking coming out of UT and the Texas Legislature lately flies in the face of findings and recommendations published a year ago by a special body chaired by former Yale President Benno Schmidt. Called "Governance for a New Era," the Schmidt report said this, in part:
"As former Harvard president Derek Bok has made clear, 'trustees are supposed to act as a mediating agent between the interests of the institution and the needs of the surrounding society. ...'
"Both trustees -- and those who appoint them -- must reject the belief that university trusteeships are sinecures or seats of honor. Trustees need to bring a renewed and vigorous commitment to learning about, and understanding, the academic enterprise. They must, going forward, require for themselves professional development, continuing education and accountability. Just as trustees must insist on real and concrete institutional accountability, the public must demand the same of governing boards."
That's exactly what Hall has been trying to do, exactly what McRaven has been trying to stonewall. If I were This Week, next time I considered doing an off-the-wall, out-of-the-blue puff piece on Mr. Make Your Bed and Catch Bin Laden, I would at least toss in a footnote to mention the Hall matter.
Moms who smack their errant sons and men who tell brats to make their beds: That stuff is all good for millions of hits. But hits, unfortunately, are not I.Q. points.