President M. Duane Nellis did the community a favor last Thursday night when he kept Gigi Secuban, his vice president of diversity and inclusion, on the sidelines and didn’t allow her to add her shrill voice to a public conversation about “civil discourse.” 

On this campus, her voice serves the university best when silent. For no good can come from hearing it, and a consensus has been built on that point. She’s toxic, though Nellis is as well when he brands himself as a champion of diversity and inclusion. 

Here lies the question: Is it possible, as the keynote speaker at the event put it, to resurrect civility amid a tsunami of toxicity?

You need not be a Rhodes scholar to figure out the answer at Ohio University is no. That seems clear after Secuban’s shocking decision to fire LGBT Center director delfin bautista, a person unwilling to bend principle to placate her. 

No need to revisit the circumstances around bautista’s ouster. It has been rehashed in media here and elsewhere across Ohio. To do otherwise is to run full tilt on a treadmill in hell, which means you’re going nowhere worth visiting.   

Hell might not be a bad spot when you’re LGBT or black or Hispanic and hope the lead dogs will make your burden lighter today than what it was yesterday – or lighter than last week, last month, last year or last decade. The diversity treadmill has kept you where you started. 

Nellis didn’t dwell on that. He preferred to stand alone at a lectern in front of faculty, hundreds of students and staff, and talk boldly about how diversity is one of the core values of his administration. His speech was a flimsy attempt to keep the doors to constructive discourse ajar. 

But discourse of any kind at OU comes with a going-out-of-business sign. Everything around it carries a 75-percent discount, and too many students buy it at that cut-rate price. Their currency is silence, which is why they accomplish so little. 

They uttered not a word when the Ohio Board of Trustees voted to raise tuition on the next generation of Bobcats. After making a big to-do about sexual assault, they have gone hoarse on the matter, a 100,000-megawatt signal to Nellis that he can kick this can down the road.  

Didn’t his administration try just that with free speech? It cobbled together a policy that drew withering criticism, then put the policy in mothballs for a while before easing it into practice while nobody was watching.

Ohio University administrators are masters of subterfuge. They like to pretend their idyllic campus sits on high moral terrain and encourages the frank exchange of ideas. 

It does not.

On bedrock issues, civil discourse turns uncivil in a hurry when two sides differ. Their conversations take them nowhere when they can’t find consensus, which is where the firing of bautista left people. 

Now, sit back and watch the sham show – the “civil” discourse about what Ohio University is in the post-bautista firing. 

Somewhere in the months ahead, the bautista story will become OU history, lost amid the other issues that make headlines in newspapers. What will remain, however, are the underlying problems that turned the firing into a blast furnace: an administration out of sync with its commitment to diversity.  

 

Justice B. Hill, who coordinates the “90 Minutes” series at Ohio University, is an assistant professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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