Politics or Principles?
Byon June 06, 2012 04:48 PM
As an alumnus of both Reed and Willamette Week (where I worked as a reporter for many years), I was fascinated by WW's recent cover story about John Kroger, our next president.
The story, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Nigel Jaquiss, got a lot of stuff right. Kroger's colorful past as marine, professor, and mafia prosecutor comes through strong and clear, as does Reed's reputation as an intellectual powerhouse. Moreover, WW gives us an insider's view into several fascinating political scuffles.
Unfortunately, these anecdotes are mostly used to show how Kroger angered key power players in Oregon and demonstrate (I guess) WW's central thesis, that Kroger lacks political finesse.
But I would argue that there's another way to look at each one of these issues—that Kroger took a principled stand.
He opposed liquid natural gas projects, even though that stance made Republicans (and a lot of business leaders) mad.
He launched an aggressive investigation into the actions of Mark Long at the Department of Energy, even though Long's surname "was gold in Salem" (and even though the investigation centered on the companion of once-and-future Gov. John Kitzhaber!).
He took responsibility for a subordinate's mishandling of evidence in a murder case, even though he must have known he'd hate reading the headlines the next morning.
In my mind, these anecdotes reveal a character trait that is rare in Salem or anyplace else—backbone.
Perhaps, as WW claims, Kroger's refusal to cozy up to his political allies makes him a marked man in local power circles.
But I have more faith in Oregon than that. I don't think Oregonians look to the president of Reed for political favors and backroom deals. I think Oregonians want to see Reed led by someone who believes in the power of the humanities. Someone who is passionate about education. Someone who puts principles before politics.
Someone, in short, a lot like John Kroger.
On a minor note, the print version of the article gave the impression that Kroger's quest for the job at Reed was given a boost by professor Jan Mieszkowski [German 1997–] who sat on the college's search committee and was Kroger's roommate at Yale. But in fact, Prof. Mieszkowski recused himself from the committee after Kroger's name surfaced as a serious candidate. (The online version of the article includes this clarification.)