UM’s Alex Azar Appointment Gets Deserved Flack

Alex Michael Azar II in caricature © 2020 DonkeyHotey, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t quite rise to the level of ‘man bites dog’ but when the president of your local chapter of the American Association of University Professors objects to the hiring of someone as any sort of Professor, it’s at least unusual. But here comes Scotney D. Evans, an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development, with a statement (written with graduate student Thomas Kennedy) opposing the UM Business School’s hiring of former Trump Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as a researcher and adjunct professor in UM’s Business School. They have some cogent points:

Hearing that the Miami Herbert Business School hired Alex Azar, former President Donald Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, we both reacted with a mix of horror, disgust and sadness. With all the amazing, diverse and socially responsible policy experts out there that can really motivate and inspire students into “ethical citizenship and service to others” with “a respect for differences among people,” as stated in UM’s mission statement, they choose this guy? There are a lot of important reasons why Azar should be unemployable by any reputable organization that values common humanity and equal rights for all.

Trump’s family separation policy is one of the most shameful stains on the moral character of this country in recent years. Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor and director of speechwriting for Trump, and other Trump cronies like Azar helped enforce a policy that resulted in children being ripped from crying mothers’ arms to be placed in facilities where sexual abuse and mistreatment were rampant. Unaccompanied minors who were coming to this country looking for a better life did not fare much better, as they were also placed in detention facilities in which they were routinely denied hygienic products and basic necessities. Our very own community became a flash point during the Trump years because of an infamous detention center for migrant children in Homestead, Fl.

I (Thomas) have worked on campaigns to close and prevent the reopening of that detention facility and heard firsthand the awful conditions that children were subjected to, including a military style regimen in which they were not allowed free movement, afforded very limited call time, given inadequate access to lawyers and were mistreated and abused by staff. The for-profit detention of immigrant children under horrid conditions outraged many of us, but unfortunately, those who were involved in implementing these horrible policies have not suffered repercussions. Azar was complicit in implementing these detention policies during the Trump era, and was responsible for the administration of immigration detention centers, including the one in Homestead.

This hire directly contradicts the university’s espoused commitment to racial justice. You can’t be against racism and hire Azar. In addition to being complicit in the racist Trump policies described above, he also botched the COVID-19 response that disproportionately harmed and killed Black people, and he tried to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid which greatly benefit people of color. Being anti-racist as an institution means taking a strong stand against racist policies and those who have a hand in creating or upholding them. Alex Azar was directly involved in creating, implementing and rationalizing racist discourse and policies while employed by the Trump administration.

This hire reminds us of the saying – “don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.” University statements against systemic racial injustice are meaningless without decisive action against racist policies and the public figures who propagate them. Frankly, we’re dismayed that more faculty, staff and students have not strongly vocalized opposition to this hire. Are faculty in the business school on board and willing to ignore Azar’s role in toxic policies? Is the harm that Azar helped cause simply being waved away and whitewashed under the guise of welcoming a diverse “marketplace of ideas”? As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Professor and activist David Shih has suggested, the marketplace of ideas fails when we cannot make objective choices about racism.

We believe in free discourse and think our campus benefits from a variety of beliefs and opinions to encourage a healthy and diverse learning environment. We also believe that people make mistakes and should be afforded opportunities to repent. But Azar was complicit in some of the most horrific policies enacted during the Trump era. His hire was a huge mistake.

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