Dr. Art McCoy – By What Stick Do We Measure?
By Dr. Christi M. Griffin
By 6:30 p.m. the two parking lots of McCluer North High School were nearing capacity. The much anticipated Ferguson-Florissant School Board meeting wasn’t schedule to start for another half hour. Normally held at the district’s administration building it was moved to the high school to accommodate what promised to be a record turnout. And turnout it was.
By 7:00 the seats on the floor were filled and the bleachers were filling. Parents, students, residents, clergy and members of surrounding communities came out in numbers to support Dr. Art McCoy, superintendent of the Ferguson Florissant School District. They came for answers as to why he was placed on paid administrative leave.
The news reports were clear that Dr. McCoy has done no wrong. The reports were clear that it was a matter of “philosophical differences” between Dr. McCoy and the school board. The statement, however, one recommended by the Board’s attorney, did nothing more than raise suspicion and fuel anger.
Dr. McCoy is the youngest man to be appointed superintendent of a school district in the State of Missouri. Just 33 when hired by the District, he displayed wisdom beyond his years, an affable demeanor, an adept aptitude and most importantly a rapport with students, teachers and parents. Of even more significance, Dr. McCoy was a role model for the young African American male students in the schools; he regularly visited and set standards they eagerly sought to meet. He is a man widely respected within the larger community.
Many in the crowd expected Dr. McCoy to be in attendance. Fittingly he was not. Pandemonium would have ensued. The seven members of the Board, six who voted for the administrative leave, prepared for the onslaught. The president admitted he was nervous. No one expected the night to be easy. Parents, students and others lined the gymnasium to speak. The Board, it was made clear, would not respond.
If people came for answers, they left with few. Though the president of the Board gave a detailed account of his concern for and involvement in the schools, he did little more than repeat the written statement.
Despite knowing the magnitude of concern, knowing the discontent over the lack of disclosure, the Board failed dismally to offer an explanation that would protect Dr. McCoy’s privacy, insulate the Board from suit and yet, give insight into the decision made. Observing the makeup of the predominantly black crowd in contrast to the all-white Board in front, the lack of disclosure came across as Ole Massa patting the plantation children on the head and saying “it’s ok.” It was condescending to say the least. The crowd’s dissatisfaction deepened and the microphone suffered their wrath.
One by one, speakers leveled complaints. They delineated Dr. McCoy’s accomplishments and expressed their support. Many demanded reinstatement. Others called for their heads. There was a promise for recalls, a promise that those up for re-election would be voted out. Their terms several noted are the result of voter apathy in the past. Five of the Board members responsible for hiring Dr. McCoy had lost their seats. Few in the audience, now fuming with anger, had bothered to show up at the polls. One who lost his seat was clear in his disgust.
But without knowing more, conclusions can’t be drawn. Unquestionably, trust was destroyed. Without doubt suspicion was raised when the innocuous excuse of “philosophical differences” was offered but explanation of the philosophy or differences were not. Suspicion increases when the words “personnel matter” is used, suggesting some degree of wrong doing on Dr. McCoy’s part, yet he’s not fired.
In light of the hovering secrecy and the extraordinary support for Dr. McCoy, the measuring stick by which he is measured seems much different than one used if Dr. McCoy was white. What’s worse is that white privilege masks that reality for even those who believe they are fair.
The extraordinary respect so many in the community hold for Dr. McCoy as well as the admiration held by so many students, is evidence that much he does is right. Since being hired as superintendent of the district has made numerous strides. High school graduation rates are up, MAP scored improved by seven points, the District retained accreditation, and almost miraculously the District achieved near perfect attendance on the first day of school, boasting nearly 100% even in the high schools. Several who came to the microphone, including State Senator Marie Chappelle Nadal, mentioned phone calls accepted or made well after hours. I’ve personally exchanged texts at almost mid-night.
In contrast we’ve watched an unrepentant Anthony Weiner come back after sexually inappropriate conduct, and untrustworthiness to run for Mayor of New York. We witnessed San Diego’s mayor unapologetically deny charges of sexual harassment and refuse to step down. We’ve seen the current mayor of Toronto rant on the news, admit to drunken stupors and use of cocaine and display grossly unprofessional behavior, yet he remains in office.
Characteristic of the privilege that allows whites to believe they do anything with little or no consequence, former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. serves time in prison. Several St. Louis politicians known for championing the rights of African Americans faced the same fate in the past.
The measuring stick used to determine what is and is not acceptable conduct has long been different for whites than for blacks. The standards to which a black man must reach to avoid scrutiny and ramifications regardless of how accomplished or how well admired are nearly super human. Those acts that are routinely ignored when engaged in by whites are held as egregious when done by an African American. And so is the case at hand. When viewed through the lens of those who walk that line, the decision of the Ferguson-Florissant School Board exemplifies a long held belief – if you’re white you’re right, if you’re black, get back. That is the reality of living black in America. That is the reality for a beloved Dr. McCoy.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Christi M. Griffin is founder and president of The Ethics Project at www.TheEthicsProject.org Copyright by Dr. Christi M. Griffin 2013 © in association with MultiMedia PR News. The opinions expressed are solely those of Dr. Griffin.