Earlier this week, University of Montana President Seth Bodnar made a gaffe on his Twitter feed, badly misinterpreting a rather famous line from a John Donne poem, turning a meditation on death into a mash of “we’re all in this together” pablum. When he was called out for it online, Bodnar didn’t back down, something that Greg Martin rightly sees as problematic in an era when UM is slashing the very Humanities programs that help people understand the world we live in.
Please go take a read and enjoy this excerpt:
If Bodnar wants to make us believe he knew exactly what he was saying (which I don’t think he did), it still won’t change the fact that the expression is popularly understood to mean something entirely different. He could have removed the tweet and apologized for the unintentional message it delivered. Heck, he could have even stuck with the implausible explanation of his alternative interpretation while still expressing regret for how students might have reacted to his tweet.
Obviously, this would have brought a certain amount of embarrassment to him. It clearly doesn’t reflect well on a liberal arts university that its president didn’t know the meaning behind the phrase. And it certainly reified the fears of many that he is not as in-tune with the arts and humanities. But a quick removal of the tweet and a bit of a mea culpa would have done far more good than this regretful effort of doubling down and trying to sound as if he was well-versed in the literature he was improperly evoking.
That Bodnar instead chose to keep the tweet and offer this “explanation” for what he was getting at, suggests he made the calculus that his own ego and reputation was more important than showing awareness of the gaffe. This speaks to a character trait that feeds a concern that Bodnar is only performatively down-to-earth and thoughtful. It suggests he’s image-conscious rather than deeply focused about the serious crisis facing the university and the future of liberal arts education.