October 01, 2007
Managing moral panic
Fire is the best metaphor for understanding it. It can burn you in a flash. Out of control, it consumes everything. To be near it is risky. Failing to notice it can mean losing your life. Managed well, it gives the power of Prometheus.
It is passionate, collective craving to get rid of someone in order to ease anxiety and fear, and make everything right again. Mass hysteria it may be called, or sometimes zealotry, mob violence, witch-hunt, lynching, or the rule of crowds. A classical sociological label is moral panic.
You may have said at some time that moral panic has no place in a university, that here intellect controls emotion, reason rules passion, sobriety prevents frenzy, intellectual independence subverts conformity, and multicausal science disallows singlemindedness. This is the myth academe turns on. As an administrator, you have a duty to proclaim and defend the myth. You do not need to believe it...
To greater or less degree, moral panic fuels the effort to rid your academic unit of Dr. PITA. His name implies so much, at the times encourage it. Your ethnics tribunal, if it is staffed by true believers in its aims, is a tinderbox of hysteria... the tribunal encourages single-issue obsessions and an unbalanced, moralistic mentality...
From: "Eliminating Professors. A Guide to the Dismissal Process", by Kenneth Westhues, published by Kempner Collegium, 1998.