Saturday, June 10, 2017

Expectations and Hopes: US President Donald Trump's (2017), Miami University's (1970s)

Let me add this much to the debate on the meaning of President Donald Trump's telling FBI Director James B. Comey“I need loyalty. I expect loyalty” and expression of a "'hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.'"

At the end of my first year teaching at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), I received a note in my mailbox from Phillip R. Shriver, the President of the University with the key line, "members of the University Senate" — i.e., full-time, full-faculty — "are expected to attend Commencement."

"Are expected to ...": By whom, and so what? I had never received a note from our President before and looked it over carefully. The paper couldn't have been hand-made (that would be obscenely expensive), but it looked it, and the University seal was embossed and the font tasteful. "Are expected to ..."? Fairly soon, I translated that: "Untenured assistant professor — get your ass to Commencement.

I went to Commencement.

Not long after that, I found myself on the Rules Revision Committee of Miami U's Student Affairs Council, and I found there that a number of our rules were written, "Students are expected to ...." There was an answer here to "by whom": officially the people expecting were the ones who ultimately established the rules, "The President and Trustees of The Miami University." I pointed out to the Committee, and the Committee eventually told Council, "'Shall'; the way to say this is "Students shall."

I'm glad I got that little linguistic glitch corrected, but note for here it was just a glitch. Even as I figured out that I was being politely told to go to Commencement unless I had a good reason not to, the few students who actually read our code of student conduct knew that "are expected to" was perhaps a wimpy, dumb-ass way to give an order, but it was an order.

My question for the administrators on Council was, "What if they don't"? When "students are expected to," what happens if they don't fulfill that expectation? The answer was they risked every punishment up to expulsion. (It was a couple of decades and upon the motion of someone who ... well, someone who wasn't me, that Miami U got around to dividing up its commandments and prohibitions along felony and misdemeanor lines.) 

"Are expected to" meant shall, and that was clear enough, though still a wordy and wimpy way to say shall or damn well better.

"I expect loyalty" coming from someone in authority is a politely expressed demand for loyalty. "I want you to do thus and so," "I hope you do thus and so" — unless clearly modified — is more or less an order. Indeed, one could respond, "What if I don't?" or one could note, "I'm not required to fulfill your desires and hopes" — but few of us think to say such things, even if we have the figurative gonads to do so.

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