Chancellor Denice Denton’s suicide was a tragedy that left a deep hole in the campus community. The loss was great for our campus as well as the world, for Denton was a hero in her field, a pioneer for gay and female scientists.
We at City on a Hill Press (CHP) find it inappropriate to speculate upon the causes and conditions of her death. However, there is one myth about her circumstances that we take great opposition to. Many media outlets and voices in our community have said that Denton’s death was closely related to the amount of criticism she received in her post.
Not only is this statement likely inaccurate, but it undermines an intrinsically essential requirement of the chancellor position. A chancellor, just like any other public leader, must be accountable for his or her actions and prepared for criticism.
It must be acknowledged that Denice Denton was presented with two types of criticism: the professional and the personal. While the former is not only appropriate, but expected, the latter is simply in poor taste.
Professionally, Denton was criticized for her apparent involvement in the UC pay compensation scandals. Personally she was ridiculed for her appearance and her sexuality. The gravity of those personal attacks seem heavier with this tragedy in our hindsight.
But aside from the few cases where journalists and members of the community strayed from the boundaries of personal respect, there is a bigger issue – the role of a chancellor as the public head of the university and his/her job to be accountable for all matters of campus politics.
The assertion that criticism was the ultimate cause of Denton’s suicide makes it seem that this criticism was inappropriate. We at CHP strongly refute that message. When citizens repress their critical facilities, we lose the key to democracy: the voice of the people. The university’s ideal role is to be the cornerstone of democracy, the institution that prepares and educates the leaders of tomorrow.
It is our job here at CHP and across campus, to always question and at times criticize the decisions that are made on this campus. While it is essential to respect the personal, it is more important to question the professional. This policy does not condone jokes or insults, but begs for serious inquiry around campus matters.
The myth that Chancellor Denton’s suicide was a result of criticism flies in the face of psychological theory. Psychologists believe that suicide results from a series of problems both biological and circumstantial.
Suicide rarely results from criticism and ridicule alone. Furthermore, there is no public evidence that Denton’s suicide resulted from her public criticism.
This myth serves one group only: decision makers who don’t want to defend their decisions. And in a time like this where there has been so much corruption among our decision makers, from the UC President to the President of the United States, criticism and inquiry are the key to ensuring that this university as well as this country, is run appropriately.
We at CHP mourn Denice Denton’s death, and send our condolences to her friends and family. We hope to use this tragedy to grow and examine our community and whatever shortcomings contributed to Denton’s discontent.