My alma mater disinvites Ralph Northam

February 5, 2019 • 2:15 pm

Well this is a bit disturbing: reader Woody wrote me that my own alma mater, The College of William and Mary, has disinvited Virginia Governor Ralph Northam from speaking after accusations that he appeared in a picture showing a Klan member and a white person in blackface. Yahoo News reports, apparently from the National Review (click on screenshot):

Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s previously scheduled speaking appearance at the College of William and Mary’s charter day and inauguration ceremony on Friday has been cancelled, the university announced Monday.

Northam, a Democrat, came under fire on Friday after it was revealed that his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page featured an image of two men, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan uniform.

“That behavior has no place in civil society – not 35 years ago, not today. It stands in stark opposition to William & Mary’s core values of equity and inclusion, which sustain our mission of learning, teaching, and research,” College president Katherine Rowe said of the photo in a Monday statement.

Rowe, who was sworn in to her position by Northam in 2017, went on to praise the governor for serving as a “a welcoming ambassador for the Commonwealth,” but said his appearance would disrupt Friday’s proceedings.

“Under the circumstances, it has become clear that the Governor’s presence would fundamentally disrupt the sense of campus unity we aspire to and hope for with this event,” she wrote.

Now Northam denies he was in that picture, or even knew about it. I don’t really believe him, but even if he did, I’m not at all sure whether we should hold such youthful bigotry against him if he’s behaved in exemplary ways since then. I don’t think so, but it’s clear that as Governor, Northam is toast. He’s been neutered as an effective Governor, and will, I think, step down within about four days. And his waffling about the incident has been disturbing.

Even so, unless he’s been proven to be a bigot, the address should not have been canceled. President Rowe is assuming that Northam did indeed appear in that picture, and she’s also saying that he’s still responsible for that bigotry 35 years on.

She’s also saying that Northam would “disrupt Friday’s proceedings.” No, he wouldn’t. It would be other people who would disrupt those proceedings, and they shouldn’t be allowed to. When W&M students shouted down the Virginia ACLU director in 2017, I wrote to the then President in anger, and was told that it wouldn’t happen again. But President Reveley resigned and now we have President Rowe, and she’s blaming any disruption on the speaker. I am not down with that, and am dragging and throwing shade on the new President.


49 thoughts on “My alma mater disinvites Ralph Northam

  1. Was there gonna be a Q-&-A after Northam’s speech? If so, they’re freakin’ crazy for cancelling him.

    Anyway, my attitude toward this is the same as it is for every issue regarding free expression, regardless of circumstance: Let ’em speak!

  2. Seems like a nice woman & well respected in the world of ultimate frisbee! I wonder if she learned to ‘shoot first’ at her previous position [Smith Coll., Mass.]?

    “…2014 to 2018, [Katherine Rowe] he was provost, dean of the faculty and Sophia Smith Professor of English Language & Literature at Smith College in Massachusetts. She also served as interim vice president for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity with a focus on campus engagement and inclusion”

    SOURCE I Googled “Inclusion, Diversity and Equity” & I got 25k search results from all over inc. the UK, I see Mizzu there on the first page. Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m no fan of such job titles – rather it was just a normal part of doing a good job – being fair & equitable.

  3. Anyone else find it particularly interesting that this 30 year old yearbook photo came out less than a week after his comments about about “aborting” babies who had already been born? And that this scandal completely buried that one?

    1. It was a radio phone in at WTOP watch & listen HERE

      I think Northam expressed himself poorly/loosely on an explosive, sensitive subject in an area where he has some expertise. It made me wonder if foot-in-mouth is standard for him throughout his governorship. This incident may have inspired people to dig deep into his past – I don’t see how a racism scandal is a good tactic for burying the phone in!

      1. I didn’t mean to suggest that he released it, but that someone had this yearbook thing in their back pocket and wanted this governor gone. His comments could scuttle a model legislation that is being introduced in multiple states, as well as harm the national party.

        The country, as a whole, is pro-choice, but killing an infant that is living and breathing outside the womb is not abortion. It is infanticide. And I don’t see how you can call it “foot in mouth”, when he spelled out quite clearly that the baby would be alive and comfortable outside of the mother, and then they would discuss whether or not to kill the baby.

        They needed a reason to condemn this governor, but they don’t want it to be for this. There are too many crazies that go absolutely berserk if they smell the smallest hint that someone isn’t 1000% pro-choice. The national party doesn’t want this discussion.

        1. I am no fan of Gov. Northam, but I still want to ask – was he talking of babies with very severe disabilities, of the degree that are even now subject of end-of-life decisions in some places, or of babies born alive after attempted abortion for no other reason than being unwanted?

        2. DW:

          “…when [Northam] spelled out quite clearly that the baby would be alive and comfortable outside of the mother, and then they would discuss whether or not to kill the baby

          It may have been clear to you, but it wasn’t clear to me that Northam meant that.

          Northam [after his longish preamble that ended with the proviso that he’s talking about infants with severe deformity] said this:

          “…if a mother is in labour, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired & then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother”

          The context of that quote was a very late abortion in the final trimester & his spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel tried to add this context later:

          “No woman seeks a third trimester abortion except in the case of tragic or difficult circumstances, such as a non-viable pregnancy or in the event of severe fetal abnormalities, and the governor’s comments were limited to the actions physicians would take in the event that a woman in those circumstances went into labour, attempts to extrapolate these comments otherwise is in bad faith and underscores exactly why the governor believes physicians and women, not legislators, should make these difficult and deeply personal medical decisions”

          1. I’m with him on the abortion issue. In some cases of severe deformities, I’d guess even the baby would opt for termination. However, because he’s an MD with in-depth knowledge, he was tempted to be technical. A politically correct answer would end with, “…but that would be wrong.”

            1. By “him” you mean Northam? This is why I think he has “foot in mouth” syndrome – he should sculpt his commentary to match the audience at the time. There are puzzling aspects to his statement such as IF he’s talking about a late trimester abortion procedure [as his preamble suggests he is] does he say:

              “The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired…”

              I am foxed by this!

              1. Well, if they’re willing to assume responsibility for expenses and care for the disabled child…

              2. rick – you didn’t answer my question in the previous comment. I also don’t know who “they” are in your latest nor why you wrote what you wrote. Can you clearly state your position? Confused.

              3. Yes, I agree with Northam about allowing the mother to decide if the severely disabled infant should live. If the disability is sever enough, for example, that it couldn’t feed or cloth itself, then someone will have to volunteer to do it. If the mother is willing, she can accept that responsibility. The doctor and the mother could reach the conclusion that the baby’s quality of life would never reach a level that would justify keeping it alive. Then, it should not be resuscitated. My understanding is that some obstetricians make the decision themselves when it’s clear that quality of life would be nil, without consulting the mother. This is a questionable practice, but may be justified in certain circumstances – for example when the mother’s judgement and capacity is inadequate.

                The comment: “…but that would be wrong.” was intended facetiously. It’s a line politicians use to make sure people know they are on the side of the angels.

    2. The right-wing web site that publicized the photo claimed they got a tip from a former classmate of Northam’s that was incensed about his abortion views.

  4. I could almost understand this cancellation had it happened before the yearbook photo fiasco. On the grounds of boredom. Someone in VA politics once remarked that Ralph Northam had all the charisma of a bag of mulch — which, ok, seems a little unfair … to bags of mulch.

  5. I would just say that about any schools that had him on the agenda prior to this year book thing would be cancelling now. I would be surprise if the guy himself would still show up. He already tried to do a news conference and that was a disaster so speaking in front of a camera is not going to be good. The line of democrats telling him to go is very long and that other line is full of republicans. He is about as popular as Trump doing a Wall speech which will happen in about 4 hours.

  6. I do not mind the disinvitation because because something significant has changed since the original invitation. He is now perceived as a racist which was not the case earlier. The inviting group would not have given the invitation if they had seen the photos. This is quite different from other disinvitations which happen because other people do not like the invitee.

    To go to an extreme case, if someone is invited and later charged with murder, he would not longer be invited.

  7. Without saying anything about this particular case, at least the disinvitation was based on information that became known *after* the initial invitation.

    But I do think there should be far more caution shown in cases like this, and not just incite a baying mob calling for eternal damnation for one’s sins. There should be a reasonable escape clause for cases like this. Or we just let it run for 5 more years and it will circle around and start biting regressive leftist on the butt, who have said “tone deaf” of “insane” or “toothless” or “lame duck” or whatever.

  8. Perhaps we need to make bigotry a crime so someone like Northam can later answer his accusers, “I’ve served my time and learned my lesson”, and have it be accepted.

    I am kidding, of course, but it does bother me that this kind of thing is a life sentence. Perhaps we don’t need arrest, trial, conviction, and imprisonment, just a statute of limitations or “time served” in social justice court.

    1. I suppose that with the decline of religion we are also seeing the end of the concepts of absolution, redemption and forgiveness as well. And there seems no moral equivalent now of the legal concept of statute-of-limitations. If this is so, it is a terrible pity One misstep, no matter how long ago, brands one as a pariah for life. And discovery of any past indiscretion or youthful stupidity is so very possible in this internet age of online censure. Is anyone really safe under this new social phenomenon? It all reminds me of a line in Stoppard’s “Rosencranz and Guildenstern”….. “Think, in your head, now, think of the most . . . private . . . secret . . . intimate thing you have ever done secure in the knowledge of its privacy. . . . Are you thinking of it? Well, I saw you do it!”

      1. I assume you are not implying that there can be no “absolution, redemption and forgiveness” without religion. Even when religion supplies those things, social judgement also applied. When Hester Prynne sinned, it wasn’t only the church that made her life a living hell. (Yes, I know she’s fictional but the scenario was real enough.)

        The secular substitute for the church’s judgement is our legal system but it has limits as currently configured. Besides social shunning, we also have sexual predator lists. Of course, the theory there is that once a sex predator, always a sex predator. That might be true for some kinds of sex crimes but probably not all. Should we have something similar for bigotry, perhaps with a time limit after which the offender is taken off the list. Of course, no one would be ever off the list really, especially in this digital age where memory is forever.

        1. To tell you the truth Paul I am quite depressed at the way things are going and the complete inadequacy of either the justice system and any societal norms to deal with social offences such as Northam’s. My chief concerns here is that there is no commonly accepted standard of exactly how much penance or good work an offender must exhibit to expiate their “sin”. We are in effect living in an age of a high technology inquisition, the inquisitors the public at large… a witch-hunt where there are no guidelines of “just punishment” or “appropriate sentence”. There really isn’t any possible redemption. There is no recognition, as in religion, that we are all sinners to some degree and that forgiveness is a necessary virtue. I think of Lawrence Krauss, once our friend and champion of our cause. Now a pariah.. his career ruined, shunned by one time friends a reputation in tatters. No rehabilitation acceptable. Is any of this proportional? And can this be called friendship?

          1. I agree. These things used to be dealt with by small communities where most knew the perpetrator and could perhaps make a more fair judgement. On the other hand, they were also unfair in many cases but just in different ways. Our problem today is that those that judge on social media are often ignorant of the details of the crime and can get away with overreacting due to their relative anonymity. Time to seek a new mechanism but I have no idea what would work better.

  9. I am a william and mary alum, one year senior to jerry and fully agree with his post on this issue. I had some hope for president rowe, looking to have some new life in leadership at the college after the awful president reveley. But alas, i am yet again disappointed. I would guess that she was advised by her board of visitors, a group that is very much in the image of our fair weather u.s. senators and other va dem political leadership that did a ready fire aim last week rather than waiting to understand what the issues fully were. They left the governor with no one in his corner. Jerry is absolutely right about who would cause any disruption…not the governor. I see this as an opportunity for president rowe to show real leadership in taking responsibility to lead a public event in which the invited speaker can be heard by the audience. If she fails, at least she has tried and has a data point of awful audience behavior to start to educate the college community. If successful, she has a great example to point to.

  10. The best way to combat racism is to talk about it in the open. I know this can lead to serious punishment (Liam Neeson comes to mind), but how else are we going to understand and alleviate racism if we don’t allow the accused and/or the victims to speak. Because whatever Northam would have said at WM before his blackface debacle, in light of this, the topic would necessarily revolve around racism. Allowing Northam to speak and his detractors to question is the healthiest way to move forward.

    1. Yes…a break with usual speech format to recognize the current unusual situation and maybe even a panel with audience questions…an expert panel could surely be assembled from the current and emeritous college history and political science faculty to accompany the governor, himself a product of rural virginia at mid 20th century.

  11. May I ask, since I was only a wee lad 35 years ago, what would the general reaction to the photo have actually been?

    I know tastes have changed, quite dramatically in regards to LGBT and women, so I assume perhaps the same for African Americans. What I DO know is the people who are doing the moralistic dog piling might want to double check their own actions in regards to Native Americans. While dressing as Pocahontas is considered passé, it is still quite acceptable to wear faux warpaint, dyed chicken feather headdresses, do the “tomahawk chop”, and have stereotypical mascots for favorite baseball and football teams, pro and otherwise. What will people in 35 years think of your Chief Wahoo T-shirt?

    1. “May I ask, since I was only a wee lad 35 years ago, what would the general reaction to the photo have actually been?”

      Depends where you mean. For the good old boys in the South that Northam grew up with, and was one of, the reaction would have been a good laugh. I’m sure that hasn’t changed at all.

      1. Good point. I guess I meant in the US in general, but then I’m pretty sure I could find plenty of people where I live right now that would think it’s funny. I know somebody pointed out that in the UK there was a minstrel-style program shown right up into the late ‘70’s, so I wondered about tv or general attitudes in the US. I think there was a kids film, Song of the South, that has become verboten, that might have been somewhat similar (a bit before my time as well) but I could be wrong. I do remember Ted Danson getting in trouble for blackface in maybe the 1990’s, although I recall it was when he was dating Whoopi Goldberg and it was meant, I think, as ironic or something like that. I think it’s hard to judge what it meant or how acceptable it was for someone like myself who at the time had no understanding of racism or politics. It was strictly Star Wars, Legos, and Saturday morning cartoons for me then, which reminds me, I do recall seeing two crows on tv, and maybe it was Loony Toons that had a little African kid drawn very stereotypically…the times they are a changin’ for sure.

  12. Jerry and Batterson have it somewhat wrong. It’s a celebratory ceremonial occasion. Both Northam (who wasn’t going to give any kind of substantive address anyway) and the College mutually agreed that his presence would have been a distraction from what is intended to be just a good-hearted celebration. Under the current circumstances, it’s hard to disagree with that perspective. It’s true that some members of the BOV want Northam gone, but that sentiment isn’t what’s driving this, just common courtesy.

    1. Yeah mike. Good ole traditional virginia gentlmanly courtesy that ignores an opportunity to deal with a diffucult but real issue…substantively.

      1. I approach disagreeing with a person of your thoughtfulness with some trepidation. But I don’t think they should throw out the elaborate, months-in-the-planning, college-wide celebration to address this newly-sprung “substantive issue”. And to be honest I don’t know what the substantive issue is that everyone is supposed to drop everything in order to deal with…whether the guy should resign? Whether he did or didn’t do it? What the offensive photo means in the context of Virginia whether or not he was in the photo? And/or? That instead of the presidential inaugural and welcoming they should have a teach-in on historical racism? No, it’s not the time or place. The College and the Governor apparently agree.

        1. It wasn’t so clear to me to what the context was.

          If he was giving a lecture, i.e. something people attend to listen to him, then this would be the usual disinvitation nonsense.

          But he was going to officiate at some function which isn’t about him (even if this involves saying a few words) then it doesn’t seem wrong at all to step aside. Turning people’s graduation day into a food-fight about the issue of the minute seems unfair.

          Should I read “speaking appearance at the College of William and Mary’s charter day and inauguration ceremony” as the latter, something like a graduation ceremony?

          1. Yes, the latter. He was simply going o briefly introduce the new college president amid lots of other festivities. Not sure he occasion for a struggle session on all of our woeful sins.

  13. On the substance of the issue, unless further evidence is forthcoming, he’s not gonna resign. He’s pulling a Bill Clinton…”I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewibsky”…and will hunker down and ride it out. He will move sharp,y to the Left and do and say things that please the more strident progressives,especially on issues involving race. Pretty soon all the Dems who have called for his head will quiet down (having already immunized themselves from criticism by calling for his resignation) and the only ones keeping the issue alive will be his political opponents, easy to dismiss and eventually even to disparage for harping on and old issue. Move On!

    1. I think the scenario that’s more likely to play out will be closer to yours, too.

      (And good to to see you’re still following things here.)

  14. I haven’t been following the Northam issue closely enough to have come to an opinion about it or him yet, but I think saying this is “youthful bigotry” is stretching the definition of “youth” a bit. This was a medical school yearbook and not a high school yearbook. He was 25. Young, but hopefully mature enough to merit being enrolled in med school.

    I don’t believe in trying people in the court of public opinion, and again, I’m not really sure how I feel about this whole thing, but one element I find interesting is his switch from claiming the photo was him to denying it. Did he dress up in blackface so often that he can’t keep track?

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