At 7:10am on Friday, NC State Vice Chancellor and Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Mike Mullen posted the following on Twitter: “Sitting in the Renaissance lounge, working, listening to three redneck businessmen discussing democratic mobs and violence. Lots of coded language. #bloodboiling”. He has since deleted the tweet.
Setting aside the almost comical hypocrisy of using coded language to condemn coded language, this social media post is troubling in many ways.
We know nothing about this interaction. We do not even know that it happened. We have no idea what these people said that provoked Mullen’s response. But even if we expect the worst about what the three individuals were saying, it is still unacceptable for a university administrator to use a derogatory term to describe them.
While Mike Mullen the individual can and should say anything that he wants to, once he dons the cap of NC State’s Vice Chancellor, his words and actions represent NC State, whether he likes it or not. Mullen’s Twitter bio reads “Vice Chancellor and Dean for Academic and Student Affairs at NC State University” and his Twitter handle is “@NCSU_MikeMullen”. His statements on Twitter carry the full weight of his position. When he uses the term ‘redneck’, North Carolina State University uses the term ‘redneck’.
Perhaps if Mullen was so concerned about what they were saying, he would have confronted them in person instead complaining about it on the internet.
In an August report about the class of 2022, NC State lauded the fact that one-third of the incoming freshman as well as 350 transfer students hail from “rural North Carolina counties”. The term that Mullen posted online is known to be a derogatory slang word that seeks to belittle individuals that live in rural communities. How can NC State claim to value the contributions of its rural students when one of its top administrators uses the term ‘redneck’ to describe people in a disparaging way?
Chartered as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, NC State has a proud tradition of agricultural and rural innovation. NC State professes to have been founded on the ideal that “the children of farmers, mechanics and other workers should have access to the opportunities and benefits of higher education.” When university administrators use terms such as ‘redneck,’ it undermines not only NC State’s student population, but the very history of our institution.
The Division of Academic and Student Affairs, which Mullen heads, is NC State’s chief agency for student success and the implementation of NC State’s diversity goals. DASA defines diversity as “an inclusive community of people with varied human characteristics, ideas, and world views” whose “interactions both benefit and challenge each other to grow while making the community better.” Diversity is typically thought of in racial or gendered terms, but as NC State has made clear by emphasizing its proportion of rural students, it can take other forms as well.
By using the term ‘redneck,’ Mullen deprecates rural students and makes it difficult for them to see themselves as equals at NC State. Unintentional or not, Mullen’s divisive term neutralizes DASA’s ability to fulfill its “inclusive community” requirement and further challenges NC State’s ability to develop and nurture its students. It is already enough of a transitional challenge for many rural students to come to an urban environment without their university administrators insulting them.
Social media, especially Twitter, provides excellent access to one’s true, unfiltered character. It is telling that Mullen only deleted his post once it started receiving criticism. In a message this morning, Mullen issued a half-hearted apology that touted his own credentials. The refined image that he wants to present today is only a half-truth. One must take his off-the-cuff outbursts in tandem with his prepared statements to understand the man’s true feelings and implicit biases.
Clearly, Mullen has failed his role as an educational administrator and is not slated to carry out even his own department’s goals of creating an inclusive environment.
If Chancellor Woodson is committed to DASA and NC State’s inclusivity standards, he will condemn Mullen’s statements, demand a real public apology, and ask for the Vice Chancellor’s resignation.
Jacob Trubey is a third-year studying Political Science and a former member of Technician’s Editorial Board. He is from Cary.