If you are a current University of Richmond student, a member of its campus community or merely an interested alum, it is highly likely that you are familiar with the name Paul Queally.
On a campus where the right name can carry a lot of weight, Mr. Queally’s has made as great of a recent impression as any. Students now study in the business school’s Queally Hall and compete for precious spots in its Queally-sponsored (and modestly-named) Q-Camp. The university recently announced its plans for a Queally Center for Admissions and Career Services, and when the school controversially cut the men’s track and soccer teams in favor of a men’s lacrosse program, Mr. Queally’s name was frequently featured in the fallout.
It is an understatement to say that Mr. Queally has been extremely generous to the university, and similarly simple to state that the school has eagerly accepted his consistent charity. With nearly 20 million donated dollars in the past decade, the Queally name has approached an echelon reserved for the likes of Weinstein, Jepson and Robins, as revered and respected as any other within the Richmond bubble.
But this week Mr. Queally’s name became well-known outside of that bubble, and in a far less favorable light. When New York Magazine featured an excerpt from author Kevin Roose’s new book “Young Money,” many media outlets expressed outrage at its contents, particularly at the details it contained of a January 2012 meeting of the secret Wall Street fraternity, Kappa Beta Pi.
Among the piece’s most inflammatory — and thus most-publicized — anecdotes was a pair of jokes told at the event by one of its members, a certain private equity executive who just so happens to also be Richmond’s most visible donor.
“What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” Mr. Queally reportedly asked a fraternity inductee before an audience of the nation’s most notable financial titans. “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish.”
“What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” Mr. Queally continued. “Barney Frank comes in different size buns.”
I lack both the moral high ground as well as the perfect personal history to critique Mr. Queally’s crude jokes, but one need not bear an immaculate track record to point out the irony of this incident, as well as the mixed message the school will send if it elects to act as if this did not happen.
In recent years, the university sanctioned a student and placed a fraternity on social probation for circulating emails deemed to be sexually explicit. Westhampton College unilaterally decided to scrap escorts and mandate black dresses at Ring Dance, reversing long-standing tradition in order to create what it determined to be a more inclusive atmosphere. The Office of Common Ground has instituted Safe Zone luncheons, celebrated Lavender Graduations and ushered in a number of other initiatives to make the campus more welcoming of its LGBT community. Through these and other actions, the university has consistently made clear that discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or some similar characteristic will not be tolerated.
I was not fortunate enough to have participated in Q-Camp during my undergraduate years, but I have still managed to learn a few lessons about how the business world tends to work. One of those lessons is that money talks, and through his generously donated millions of dollars, Mr. Queally has become one of the university’s loudest speakers in recent years. But with every building that bears his surname, every program that bears his initial and every athletic team that is perceived to be a product of his profit and persistence, his voice and the voice of the university become increasingly difficult to separate. Though his comments were delivered in an environment separate and apart from his role as a university trustee and donor, they inarguably diminish the school’s credibility in the public eye and its apparent commitment to initiatives it has otherwise held out to be priorities.
When I interviewed President Ayers on the eve of his inauguration nearly six years ago, we discussed the concept of the university seeing itself. As I think of such a scenario now, I’m not quite sure how much the school would like what it is about to see. There is now a certain hypocrisy inherent in future students submitting their liberal arts applications to a Queally Center for Admissions, of studying the Dodd-Frank Act in Queally Hall or of competing for the privilege of hearing Mr. Queally speak at a Q-Camp about what it means to be a professional.
At the time this piece was submitted Wednesday evening, the university had remained silent and Mr. Queally had just released a statement that did not include an apology. That is unfortunate. This campus has proven to be one that forgives foolishness, but each party’s behavior to date suggests they’d rather the rest of Richmond play the role of fools rather than forgivers.
I certainly hope someone chooses to address some of the issues this scenario has raised. Can a donor who has given so many dollars provide just one apology to his alma mater? Can a school that has accepted so many donations take just one stance against the behavior of its biggest benefactor? Or, does the ability to cut the right amount of checks endow one with immunity from accountability, with the ability to publicly perpetuate the same prejudicial perspectives that the school has otherwise (rightfully) chosen to punish?
These decisions are there to be made by Mr. Queally and for the university that increasingly chooses to bear his name. Until then, the jokes will continue to be on the rest of us.