LONSBERRY: Brockport President Must Go

Heidi Macpherson is done.

               Her relatively brief tenure as president of SUNY Brockport is in its last days. And not because of political correctness, but because of her own administrative missteps.

               Here’s the background.

               A few weeks ago Heidi Macpherson fired Cephas Archie, a black man and her college’s head of diversity.

               That’s a dicey move these days, when presidents and chancellors are fired left and right because somebody’s race-conscious nose is out of joint. A sit in and a letter from the faculty congress and the trustees crap their pants and the president and a couple of deans are gone. It’s that way at campus after campus.

               Anymore, if you’re an American college student and you don’t get your president fired, you’re not woke.

               But it looked like Heidi Macpherson was going to avoid that.

               She moved quickly and resolutely in firing Cephas Archie, she quickly appointed an interim successor, and the student protest seemed anemic.

               It looked like she had made a personnel move in an intelligent and decisive fashion and the upset was going to be minor and fleeting. It looked like she could give a master class to college administrators on how to handle these matters without being burned in effigy.

               Then the mayor weighed in.

               Lovely Warren, mayor of Rochester, chimed in, echoing Cephas Archie’s claims that he was fired because of institutional racism and structural oppression. She talked about it on the TV news, on Facebook, and ultimately in a letter to the SUNY chancellor.

               Which focused attention on the matter, but didn’t necessarily endanger Heidi Macpherson.

               And then Heidi Macpherson got stupid.

               According to the college, last Friday the college received an anonymous voicemail that made an unspecified accusation about Cephas Archie. The alleged matter took place in Texas three or four years ago, before he came to work at SUNY Brockport.

               This is where the stupid comes in.

               Heidi Macpherson ordered her campus police chief to look into it.

               Stop and think about that. Not in the context of race relations at a backwater upstate New York college, but in terms of the Constitution of the United States.

               SUNY Brockport is the government. It is a wholly owned entity of the state of New York. The SUNY Brockport police force is the government, and it is a certified law-enforcement agency. Any investigation or inquiry conducted as part of a SUNY Brockport police officer’s duties is a police investigation.

               Which is where the Fourth Amendment comes in. That’s the one that says the police have to have probable cause before they can investigate you.

               And anonymous voicemails are not probable cause.

               Yet Heidi Macpherson sent a guy with a gun and a badge to make inquiry about an anonymous tip. An anonymous tip, by the way, that occurred outside the legal jurisdiction of the guy with the gun and the badge.

               If there was any belief that a law had been broken in Texas, the correct thing to do would be to pass the information to law enforcement officers in Texas – not make long-distance calls from New York.

               It is likely Heidi Macpherson ordered Chief Daniel Vasile to look into the Texas tip in an effort to back up her decision to fire Cephas Archie. She may also have wanted to know more about it to defend the college against a law suit threatened by Cephas Archie.

               Both of those could be reasonable justifications to call Texas.

               If you have human resources or the college’s attorneys make the call.

               But if you send the police chief, you’re wrong. Fundamentally wrong. So wrong that you have to go.

               At that point the issue stopped being about whether or not Heidi Macpherson was justified in firing Cephas Archie, it became about using police authority to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of an American citizen. And the motivation for that was apparently Heidi Macpherson’s self-interest.

               Which is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

               Based on what’s public, it’s impossible to know if Cephas Archie should have been fired. He and the mayor claim racism, the college claims routine personnel matter. We each are going to draw our own conclusions, probably based on our own life experiences and perspectives.

               That controversy does not lead to a conclusion, but it does create a context of upset involving increasing public attention and student unrest.

               And then comes the revelation about the tip and the police call to Texas, which brings into serious question the judgment and professional integrity of the college president and the police chief. Both should have known that such an inquiry was wrong. The president should have gone elsewhere on her staff to assign the matter, the chief should have told the president that he couldn’t do it.

               But the phone call got made, and the lady who received it told Cephas Archie or his lawyers.

               And now the public knows.

               And Heidi Macpherson has to go. The standard she held Cephas Archie to is the one to which she must now herself be held.

               All that’s left is to work out the details.

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