Ignorance is no excuse

and the whining coming from Rome and South Hadley is deplorable.

It is a complete, inexcusable, firing-level failure to have been in charge of an organization of any size – church, diocese, or Church – in which children are being widely, systematically sexually abused and in which the perpetrators are regularly served new plates of victims, and the same applies to being the principal of a school, or the superintendent of a school system where students have departed so far from decency that they drive one of their number to kill herself.

The word knowingly does not appear in the foregoing paragraph, because it is a complete, inexcusable, firing-level failure to not know what the hell is going in an enterprise that has been entrusted to you. It is not your job merely to react to stuff people might or might not put before you: it is your job to find out what’s happening, which means to proactively gather information and to make sure people feel (i) safe telling you stuff, and (ii) at risk if you ever find out they had something to share and didn’t.

“I didn’t know this was happening” can only be the opening of a letter of resignation and an enduring badge of shame. It’s not even slightly an excuse or exculpation. “I knew about it and did nothing/covered it up” is even worse. In the words of Dick Cheney, “So?”

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

2 thoughts on “Ignorance is no excuse”

  1. Quoting Cheney is particularly apposite here. I lost count somewhere during his first term of the number of times administration officials defended themselves against accusations of criminal malice by claiming that no, they (or their subordinates) were merely incompetent. And that was supposed to make it all OK. Funny for people who insist so loudly on personal responsibility when it comes to others.

  2. Maybe I'm completely misunderstanding the church, but I don't think they consider these activities to be wrong. How many ways do they have to say it?

    Many people (church members and not) think it's wrong, but the only complaint I've heard from the institution itself is that someone told the masses what they're doing. Heavenly authority gets to do what it damn well pleases, had you forgotten?

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