David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
No Moral Higher Ground

February 21, 2018

Interesting happenings out of Colorado this week.  The Adams State University President has been put on leave because of complaints of how she interacts with her employees.  At the center of the controversy, or at least shining the brightest lights on the controversy, is a website run by a former Adams State faculty member aimed at highlighting any and all perceived shortcomings of the President. Read, if you can stomach it, here at Inside Higher Ed (note also, the reference to unnamed sources, my current pet peeve). One of the things the website criticizes the president for was attending a Halloween party as a politically incorrect plumber, replete with fake teeth and fake beer belly (where did she find this costume, in the remainder bins of Inspector Clouseau costumes?).  Not the smartest move by the president by any means (there is a reason an administrator frankly shouldn't go to any party) but it wasn't blackface.  It wasn't Native American.  It was white plumber guy.

Here's the thing.  I am sure both the president and the blogger believe they have taken the higher moral ground through all of this. But, as with everything inside and outside of academia these days, there is no high moral ground. And everyone should stop pretending they have ascended to it.  No one stands on the moral high ground.  There are only swamps of self-interest and deltas of denial.  We pick where we stand and elevate it in our minds.

We can't escape this, whether it is the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shootings, and our never-ending public debate about guns, mental health, and the lack of religion in our schools. No escape if we turn to more traditional political news and it is the Mueller probe.  Try to watch sports, and the morass gathers under our feet regarding Michigan State's potential complicity in the Nasser scandal. 

Everyone believes they stand on the moral high ground, but no one seems to care that it took no effort to scale that height.  Throw down my soap box, jump on top, and claim the higher ground. 

I have desperately, and without success, tried to find over the last few days the first reference to "moral high ground," hoping it goes back to someone like St. Augustine, who might exemplify that the phrase was never about moral authority or superiority, but was about identifying one's moral grounds by the ability to look 360 degrees around one's self to have the most information before judging anyone else.

That is how I would love to define the highest moral ground.  If we were standing on true moral high ground, we would be able to see every direction, like those mountain overlooks that allow you views where 4 states meet.  From that promontory (sorry, Adams State, even higher than your Colorado Rocky Mountains), we can have the ability to scan the entire scope of arguments and come to the most rational belief, moral in that it tries to account for the nuances of every debate, but reflects the deeply intellectual thought that comes from being educated.  Yet, higher education keeps letting us down, especially when Adams State acts more like the Addams Family.

I am not claiming I am on a moral high ground; in fact, I would argue that I am trying to scale that mountain everyday. I have few reasons to assert any kind of moral superiority. If my son drinks (I say "IF," Lincoln), I know I have been just as tempted when underage.  If some one says something inappropriate, I know it is a fine line between my "f-bomb" and theirs.  I come home from tough days at work and and let my frustration loose on my too-small-closet.

I suppose in a perfect world, none of us ever get to the absolute heights of moral high ground.  After all, isn't it the journey that is more valuable than the destination?