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Stuck in denial
Former University of Mary Washington President William Frawley should stop blaming others

Date published: 12/5/2007

SOME MEN are perfect jailers of their demons: The creatures never escape the confines of iron self-discipline. Other men, weak or worn down, turn temptation's key, loosing monsters--but return them to the soul's lockup before they do great damage. But William Frawley's long-pent demons went on a spectacular, alcohol-fueled rampage last spring, destroying his presidency at the University of Mary Washington and perhaps--Heaven forbid--mortally wounding a sterling academic career.

Only the meanest in this community feel no sympathy for Mr. Frawley, who recently pleaded guilty to two drunken-driving offenses committed within 36 hours last April in Fairfax County and Fredericksburg. Yet in a Sunday commentary in The Washington Post, Mr. Frawley painted Fredericksburg, which two falls ago fêted him at his inaugural like an ascendant prince, as the Town Without Pity--or at least UMW as the College Without Pity.

Mr. Frawley laments that Mary Washington's governors fired him "with no salary or benefits, no severance, no tenure." Admittedly, this is a bitter portion for a man whose bold ideas continue to guide the university even after their crafter's fall. Yet the UMW board of visitors rendered these desserts in a context that Mr. Frawley largely ignores in his Post piece.

After his local arrest, Mr. Frawley spent fully six days in the hospital in what seemed, at least in part, an attempt to pull the covers over his head. During this period the board, like the public at large, was a baffled Mystery Theater audience regarding their president's bizarre conduct. Two days after his discharge, as he writes, Mr. Frawley addressed the visitors, but evidently the lawyers on both sides had counseled against a fully candid conversation--criminal charges loomed--and Mr. Frawley made no satisfactory mea culpa. One of those--which would have served the public interest--rather than the circumlocution urged by attorneys--which aimed to serve only Mr. Frawley's--might have salvaged some of the amenities the president sought.

"My April meltdown," writes Mr. Frawley, "was of my own making, as I've repeatedly acknowledged and publicly regretted." But the dominant tone of his comments, from his first public peep after discharge to his Post commentary, has hardly been one of humble repentance. On the contrary, Mr. Frawley has worked assiduously to medicalize what in great part was a volitional failure of self-control.

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