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Education Monday: An Ex- College President's Cry For Help

William Frawley, the ousted president of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, is arguing that when he was charged with driving while intoxicated twice in one month, what he needed was not to be fired from his job, but the love and caring help that each human owes another.

In a piece in the Post's Outlook section, Frawley portrays himself as a victim of a blind, unthinking zero tolerance attitude. Like Alexandria schools superintendent Rebecca Perry, Frawley seems to believe that one set of rules should apply to students and a completely different set to administrators, who, after all, are so much more responsible than those kids for whom they are supposed to be role models.

Frawley was indeed, as he portrays himself, an accomplished academic and by all accounts a good president. Friends and colleagues tell me he's brilliant and a nice guy, too. But his Outlook piece reads like the work of a convict who cannot bring himself to concede that maybe, just maybe, the judge, jury and everyone else saw something in him that he cannot see. In this case, it's pretty clear that Frawley had a significant drinking problem, that he knew this and still chose to drive, that he spurned efforts by colleagues who sought to make him face up to his problem, and that even when the outside world learned of his problems, he resisted taking the right lessons from his embarrassing experience.

So instead of conceding that the college was right to remove him from office and that the press coverage of his ordeal was actually rather light and hardly the "brutal display" or "debasing" about which he complains, Frawley writes a sad commentary in which he is the victim of a world intent on delivering a knockout punch of humiliation. "I had become, Harry Potter-style, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named," he writes. He wants us to feel sorry for the fact that technology has evolved and so he must now "endure the vicious new cyber-punishment of permanent exposure on the Internet."

My goodness, if you can't count on finding some recognition of the merit of personal responsibility from a college president, where can you hope to see such a basic aspect of good character?

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, in an editorial that gets a bit peevish over the fact that Frawley wrote his piece for the Post rather than for the hometown paper, nonetheless makes an excellent case for just why the college's trustees were forced to act as they did, recalling that Frawley seemed to go out of his way to avoid taking responsibility for his actions or explaining himself to his bosses.

"Character is destiny," the paper reminds Frawley, and it seems a necessary lesson. The ex-president, the editorial notes, "uses the vocabulary of the health profession--'no apparent consideration for my illness,' 'undiagnosed depression,' '[n]ew heart problems and allergies,' 'stress,' 'my history of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an electrical problem of the heart,' '[my] still-sedated state,' 'the feeling that I was about to have a breakdown or a heart attack,' etc.--to evade personal responsibility for his reckless actions."

Would you hire a man who writes a piece like this to be president of a college, leader of faculty and students? I hope Frawley finds a way to calm his demons and I wish him all the best in what I'm sure would continue to be a productive and creative academic career. I wouldn't have the slightest hesitation about having him as a professor teaching my child. But someone who so blithely dismisses his public responsibilities as well as the popular reaction to his breach of the public trust ought not be in a position of leadership.


By Marc Fisher |  December 17, 2007; 7:31 AM ET
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Comments

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Interesting...the former college president has the exact same name as the actor who played Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy. And that William Frawley was a notorious drinker, too.

More seriously, as a recovering alcoholic, I can tell that Mr. Frawley is a long was from dealing with his drinking. I remember in one of my first AA meetings, the meeting chairman posed the question, "Why did you drink?" A couple of different reasons were given which were brusquely dismissed with "Wrong!" Finally, the chairman said, "You drank because you're an alcoholic."

Until Frawley admits that it's not depression, or heart issues, or being weaned too early that caused him to drink, then he's not going to get well.

Posted by: Jack | December 17, 2007 9:25 AM

Marc, you have it backwards. Alcoholics don't behave rationally when it comes to drinking. If they did, there wouldn't be any. It is a disease. Anyone from a street wretch to a college president can be an alcoholic.

To echo another AA saying, telling an alcoholic to stop drinking is like telling someone with dysentery to stop going to the bathroom.

The president may still need a lifetime of treatment and he hasn't reached the first step of the 12 step program to begin his treatment. But he can be a role model to the many students who are alcoholics or who are fast on their way to becoming alcoholics. It seems the gap between that and his current status in a large part results from a public ignorance of alcoholism and its inability to think of it as a disease, not a life-style choice.

Posted by: thuff7 | December 17, 2007 9:46 AM

An alcoholic who has a problem in the privacy of his/her own home, or in this case a fully paid for residence that is part and parcel of of his/her job, is one thing. That person would deserve consideration and help.

An alcoholic who chooses to get behind the wheel of a car and endanger the lives of others--twice in 36 hours!--is another thing entirely. That is the rational choice one must make. That is not a symptom of a disease. It is an indicator of character.

Character must count in certain positions. If we expect a college president to maintain a certain moral authority when admonishing those under his/her charge as to behavior, that college president must also be held to a higher standard. Caesar's wife must be beyond reproach, as it were.

Posted by: Pompous Magnus | December 17, 2007 10:03 AM

Well, perhaps Mr. Frawley can resurrect an academic career, just like ol' mayor-for-life Marion Barry. It does seem a bit cold to let him go without ANY kind of severance package. When American Unversity's prez, Ben Ladner, was found to be raiding the cookie jar he got close to a million-dollar severance package (not sayin thats right, just sayin.)

Posted by: Fred | December 17, 2007 10:41 AM

First off, I totally accept that someone can make an accidental mistake of drinking too much where they have little help but to drive home. I did that once when I was 20 or 21 and I didn't realize how impaired I was until I tried to leave the pizza place. My most sober friend there drove my car home and called a friend to give him a ride back to pick up his car- it took almost all night to fix my mistake. From that point forward I was the designated driver every day, every time. These things happen- I can even accept someone getting into a car without knowing they're above .08.

When I turned 30 I cut out alcohol altogether and I find that in most instances, the successful people I know did that. Do you really want that buzz that badly or don't you feel better when your project is successful?

But driving drunk twice is inexcusable- it shows someone is completely out of control.

I flatly believe that a lot of the ways to describe alcoholism is false. Every single one of us, alcoholic or not, has the power to stop what they're doing. No one is a slave to alcohol.

When you wake up in the morning, you have a blank slate to be anyone you want to be.

I loved to drink, I drank heavily and often, I relied on it to kick off the weekend after a long college week, but after I got scared when I had to have friends help me home I learned to stop drinking outside my house. If I didn't buy booze then I couldn't be an alcoholic.

My father had major alcohol issues- he was a raging alcoholic, but after 5 years of talking about it, he finally stopped buying liquor. Sure, he went through months of cleaning out the last cordials and wine in the basement, but if you don't buy liquor then you can't drink it. I think he told me once that every time he really wanted a drink at night he'd just go to sleep. He'd just get into bed and stay there until he fell asleep- even if it took 2 hours.

My mother had a 3 year bout with drinking and it got bad, but she saw my father as a drunk, and she just cut it out. She stopped buying it.

Alcoholism is not a disease, it's an activity. Stop drinking and the problem goes away. All anyone needs to do is get leverage on themselves to stop- they must believe they can stop, must stop, and must not get into situations where people encourage drinking. Stop making alcohol and alcoholism mystical and magical, it's not- it's an activity that all of us have the power to stop any time we want to.

Posted by: DCer | December 17, 2007 12:10 PM

DCer, congratulations to you and your parents for overcoming your alcoholism. Yes, you are likely alcoholics, which means you have a disease -- the inability to control your drinking. I hope you keep it up.

Posted by: mark | December 17, 2007 12:17 PM

The problem I have with the alcoholism as a disease discussion is this idea that people claim their is a dividing line between problem drinkers and true alcoholics.

As soon as I tell people I faced a bad issue and stopped drinking of my own accord they claim I wasn't an alcoholic, but merely a problem drinker (or college-aged binge drinker, because I cut drinking by like 75% between age 22-30). So if I say (and the US Supreme Court also said this in 1988) that alcoholism isn't a disease because I and my family forced ourselves to stop drinking, then people claim we were never alcoholics because alcoholics cannot regulate their drinking.

It's circularly illogical. Those that prove my theory are removed from the anecdotal studies.

Recently a person I know who is dying started drinking heavily. His kids said he was succumbing to the alcoholism disease, but he told me to my face that he stopped drinking because it was wrecking his job, but now he's going to do what he wants to do in his remaining months.

There was a program that I read about once, Rational Recovery, that described alcoholism the way I understood it, but I've also heard that the group is run by a loon.

Posted by: DCer | December 17, 2007 3:29 PM

Just an observation but not everyone who drinks and drives, let alone just drinks, is an alcoholic. We've simply moved the goal-posts; back in tha day a DUI, DWI was a NBD item. Then MADD got into the act now it's a major crime against humanity. More Baby Boomer self-centeredness.

Posted by: Stick | December 18, 2007 6:47 AM

AA and MADD have certainly formed the debate about alcoholism and drinking and driving for better or for worse. Those caught drinking and driving are usually sent to AA as part of their punishment. However, because of the public safety issues involved it's hard to defend someone, especially a college president, from getting caught TWICE in a 36 hour period. More than being "immoral" (I'm beginning to hate that word and all the ways it's misused) that's simply dangerous, out-of-control behavior and points to a glaring lack of judgment.

If AA helps someone get through not drinking and finding another way to live that's great. Personally, AA's focus on using a "higher power" to relieve your "disease" (though they don't promote any new scientific methods or new understandings in the fields of addiction medicine) seems sketchy at best. However, what's most important that a person in Frawley's position find a way to stop drinking using whatever means necessary whether he submits to AA. In the meantime, the University of Mary Washington has moved on because that's what it needed to do. What happened to Frawley happens to people of less stature and visibility every day. Hopefully he can use some of that "brilliance" to try understand his own part and rebuild rather than waste time and energy defending his empty pride.

Posted by: Mikey O | December 18, 2007 10:07 AM

I'm inclined to believe that Dr. Frawley does indeed suffer from alcoholism, as indicated by his acceptance of an Alfred plea.

Though he does correctly identify an Alfred as a form of guilty plea, amidst the self pity of his article he neglects to tell his readers that it does not admit wrongdoing on the part of the confessor.

To quote AA again, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Without the admission of wrongdoing, Frawley is no where near the beginning of recovery, let alone the end.

Posted by: lbrickley | December 19, 2007 9:55 AM

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