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A case of the D.U.I's. Source: dotpolka hide caption

itoggle caption Source: dotpolka

You know that stab of sympathy, or even empathy, that you get when a public figure has some kind of meltdown?* For me, it usually goes hand in hand with a stab of interest — a slight curiosity at what it must feel like to go through something private, in public. These days everyone is public in one way or another, but when you're a community pillar of any sort — soccer coach, CEO, university professor — it ups the ante on your mistakes. Two weeks ago in the Washington Post, William Frawley, erstwhile president of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, wrote about the two DUIs that led to his dismissal from the University, opening a window onto his experience that made me really think about the nature of "public." We're talking to him today — you can read his op-ed here — and we'd love to hear from you with any experiences you're willing to share with us.

*Yes, I still have sympathy for a certain pop star. And a plan — I want to kidnap her and take her to college. Who's with me?!



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As someone whose life has been irrevocably altered by a drunk driver, I don't believe that Mr. Frawley deserved another chance. I find it hard to believe, also, that this was the first (and second) time that he was driving under the influence. As a university President, unfortunately he must be held to a higher standard. How would it appear to the student body if their leader was allowed to seek treatment after TWO incidents of driving under the influence?

Sent by Catrina | 2:52 PM | 12-10-2007

Here in Idaho we've recently elected a Governor who was arrested on a DUI after getting caught cheating on his wife, whose father was his employer. So in one day he lost his wife, his job, but since he had no reputation to speak of, he was OK. We forgave him, even after he competed in a "tighest jeans" contest and won...

Sent by Nancy Boespflug | 2:57 PM | 12-10-2007

Mr. Frawley is a criminal. He endangered every man woman and child he passed! Rather than take the high road and find fault and lecture us on how we should address his problem, he should spend time with grieving families, speaking to teens and doind more to reduce the addiction to alcohol. Public persons take on those well-paying roles, filed with power and if they commit crimes, they deserve waht they get!

Sent by Tom Kinsella | 2:57 PM | 12-10-2007

At the very least, two DUIs suggest that Mr. Frawley is a problem drinker. He might even have an alcohol dependency problem. I would argue that alcohol abuse is relevant to the job of college president. In other positions (e.g., staff writer), it may not be.

Sent by Adam Butler | 2:58 PM | 12-10-2007

Drunk driving kills innocent people. But for the grace of God, Mr. Frawley could have killed someone's child. Our society must do everything possible to end this scourge. Explanations are excuses.

Sent by Daniele | 3:00 PM | 12-10-2007

It's nice that your University president and the doctors can lament their predicament in public and receive some sympathy. Our entire society has become increasingly inhuman and in fact, expects the common worker to be a workaholic. There is no sympathy for a mid-level worker who can't keep up. The consequence for any misstep or even illness is to be fired from the job. Middle aged workers who don't want to work 70 hours a week, or who are nearing retirement or who become ill and need to use the company's health insurance are all at risk of losing their jobs. Don't these people need sympathy also? This would be a good topic for an entire show.

Sent by Bridget | 3:05 PM | 12-10-2007

There are so many problems in this world that depression and alcoholism have little sympathy and instead are treated by ridicule and jail. Has anyone noticed that jail does not rehabilitate anyone with character defects? The solutions are not readily apparent but is anytone out there interested in discovering the cause and finding a better therapy for the sad people affected by these problems?

Sent by Mary Ellen Farney | 3:11 PM | 12-10-2007

We're so into punishing people. What about younger people who haven't even begun to get there lives in order that are branded and banished so harshly that they sink further into depression and become homeless, dead weight . MADD mothers have done as much harm as good. Granted we can't allow people to kill on the highways but sentencing them to a life where no one will hire them and massive fines only creates another problem. Meanwhile we applaud drinking in everyway possible but if you have a problem with it you are a leper.

Sent by J. B. | 3:27 PM | 12-10-2007

Perhaps I missed an admission that Frawley might have a substance problem cannot drink safely. I read the news article and did not come across his admission to his apparent problem with alcohol nor what actions he is taking to assure the event will not be repeated. I'm afraid this story will continue to a more tragic end unless he faces the nature of at least one of his problems.

I recall a Judge Kramer in MA once commenting that if you appeared before him apprehended for drunk driving the chances were that you had driven drunk between 200 and 2000 times before you were caught. I hope Frawley doesn't want us to believe this is the first time he has ever driven under the influence. I also believe that somewhere in hi past someone had cautioned him on his behavior. He wished to be judged not on his actions but on his intentions.

The sequence of actions and consequences is part of growing up. Many of us have been treated harshly and unfairly for our errors but they were our errors.

I wish Mr. Frawely would step back and take a realistic look at the scenario.
It was not a conspiracy. He acted out all the parts necessary to bring it todays situation.

He needs some serious help. I hope he finds it soon.

Sent by Patrick O'Donnell | 3:41 PM | 12-10-2007

"How can you help me heal?" That's a question Frawley should be asking his family and his therapist, not his employer or the general public. As a sufferer of clinical depression I can sympathize with his plight, but he comes across as entitled and in denial of the fact that grave mistakes like drunk driving inevitably come with serious life-altering consequences, the least of which is loss of face. The university didn't owe him unconditional forbearance for his errors, let alone a glamorous, six-figure paying job.

Sent by Hallie | 4:44 PM | 12-10-2007

As a student of Mary Wash, I feel relieved to see Dr. Frawley speak out in this way. He was the leader of a public institution, therefore, asking the "general public" for understanding is a natural part of this recovery process. Dr. Frawley gave many inspiration, encouraging, informative speeches and lectures to a student body of 4,000. This is exactly what I would hope a public figure would do. He continues to be an educator and a leader through writing and speaking publicly.

To say he should only seek help from his family and therapist suggests that alcoholism and depression should be entirely secretive affairs. Instead, Dr. Frawley has offered up his personal struggle as an opportunity for all of us to seek a better process for people with mental illnesses. Many companies have workplace violence action plans. Perhaps we should have action plans in place for individuals who find themselves out of control. This brings highlights, once again, our society's inability to address mental illnesses outside of a therapist's office.

Thank you, Dr. Frawley, for addressing what happened. Some of us have been waiting a long time to hear from the president we admired!

Sent by Maggie | 5:16 PM | 12-10-2007

What a bunch of judgmental jerks! I expected more from the NPR audience. Maybe you harsh critics should do a search on NPR to hear some of the reports they've done on depression. It's a real disease that destroys the brain and obviously impairs judgement which is why so many people with depression commit suicide! Duh.

And for the person gasping that he might have killed a child - I get so sick of people thinking a child's life is more important that anyone else's life. Yes he could have killed someone just like you could kill someone when your talking on your cell phone or adjusting the radio in your car or not paying attention. Life is a dangerous place, people get sick, people need help. With the retribution expressed here by so many it's no wonder were at war for no reason - blowing up other people's children.

Many of you belong back in the year 1522 not 2007.

If this guy had collapsed of a heart attack no one would be screaming about how he needs serious help. Of course he would need help, but there wouldn't be that judgmental eye trained on him the way it is now. Depression and addiction seem to be a disease that the common human is to ignorant to understand despite all of the research and reports.

I remember hearing a story on NPR about a guy who had depression and nobody understood how painful the disease was, but when he got cancer, everyone baked cakes and brought them over to his house. He said he was glad to be dying of cancer so he wouldn't have to live with depression anymore. What a sad thing when people can only show sympathy for those who have certain diseases. It must be a nice privilage to pick and choose who you think has a "real" medical illness and who doesn't.

By the way, I do have depression, I am on medication and people like you make me only increase the amount of Prozac I have to take!

For the few here that expressed intelligence and understanding - well at least that gives me some hope.

Sent by R | 6:51 PM | 12-10-2007

As an employee of UMW, I can tell you that Mr. Frawley's treatment of people while he was here was appalling. He was mean-spirited, egotistical, imperious, prone to rage, and verbally abusive. The DUI was not isolated behavior. His way of regarding all he worked with was equally self-centered. I'm a recovering alcoholic with managed major depression. I made amends to those I hurt as part of my recovery. Dr. Frawley needs to do the same.

Sent by saracup | 9:14 PM | 12-10-2007

Dr. Frawley is an accomplished professor of English. He was a very successful Dean at GW University. Then, he was selected to be the president of Mary Washington University. Unfortunately he had a depression-induced breakdown and then was thrown out of Fredricksburg by both the local newspaper and the board of trustees of Mary Washington. People don't seem to realize (or care) his actions were the result of an illness. How mean is it to fire someone and deprive them of their profession because of an illness? What kind of mean creatures are we?

Sent by Richard | 9:48 PM | 12-10-2007

Maggie, the extent to which the public must be involved in the recovery process is a formal apology. If the apology isn't accepted, then it's up to to alcoholic to accept that and move forward without one. Forgiveness and closure would have been nice, but he wasn't 'entitled' to it and it's arrogant to demand it from others. Writing a self-pitying op-ed about it doesn't have much to do with the healing process at all.

Sent by Hallie | 5:05 AM | 12-11-2007

I'm grateful you've introduced this topic into conversation. As our culture dissolves, it welcomes another in which we realize our human frailties and let go of our secrets. So much of the angry conversation above comes from a belief system that values control over everything else. Any recovering drunk knows that the disease of alcoholism tells him or her that he doesn't have a disease. It's called denial and we all have it.

We don't know what's happening. If we did none of this would be going on. I don't care how ill tempered he is or was or if he kicks his cat. He's at least trying to be honest about his life and set an example for those who aren't. Life is just life, folks. The high moral road is bunch of baloney because it keeps us split into light and dark, good and evil (whatever those are).

Time to pack that whole thing up and understand that we are products of a continually emerging process that wants us to awaken. Nothing happens until something moves, said Einstein. Frawley is in motion. Bless him.

Sent by David | 7:02 AM | 12-11-2007

This reminds me of the Mel Gibson drunken rant that made the front page several months back.
Most of us fall into two categories--those who have had or are having a personal crisis, and those that will. A few souls are spared these sufferings, but most are not in the course of life.

When the Gibson story hit the fan, my first thought was that it must be a slow news day to waste column inches and air time on some guy who got drunk and out of hand and demonstrated bad judgement in the process. Just because he's a famous actor-director or a college president--does that really warrant the front page treatment?! Unfortunately, people suffer depression, get drunk and say stupid things and exercise bad judgement every day, and most of us don't have to suffer the front page on top of it all.

Dr. Frawley clearly stated that he accepted responsibility for his actions and that he had every intention of resigning his position at the university. He should have been permitted to do those things and get on with the difficult work of dealing with his personal problems in the privacy of his own dignity. I believe Dr. Frawley was treated with extreme disrespect.

Respect is NOT something that anyone should have to "earn." Respect is what civilized people grant to one another, and what the independence of this country was founded on--the notion that ALL men and women are equal and entitled to "inalienable rights." Respect is not to be confused with trust, which does have to be earned and can and should be revoked based on behavior.

As for the many comments on what could have happened, those comments reflect the passionate desire we all have to prevent tragedy, and most of them appear to be written by people who are weathering their own personal crises. May God be with them.

We are all hamstrung by our own perspective--the inescapable reality that we simply cannot avoid viewing the world through the lens of our own culture, education and experience. Some of us are aware of that limitation, and some of us are clearly are not.

Sent by Michele Simons | 11:31 AM | 12-11-2007

As an employee of UMW, I am supportive of the way the Board of Visitors handled the "Frawley Fiasco". We at UMW and in the Fredericksburg community are not heartless, unfeeling creatures. As is always the case, there is another side to the story. It would have been nice if "Talk of the Nation" had talked with any number of folks at the university. Dr. Frawley deserves no more or less than the average citizen does. Every time he writes or speaks, I picture a child, stamping his foot, crying out "It's not fair." This man is very bright and can be very charismatic, but he is also arrogant and condescending, and has been disrespectful and cruel in his dealings with UMW staff. His behavior caused many to give up their employment here, losing years of benefits in the process.

As a school and as a community, we are better off without him. I do, however, wish him godspeed in his healing, for the sake of his wife and children.

Sent by Lori | 1:24 PM | 12-11-2007

Even more appalling than Frawley's self-justifying, sanctimonious pronouncements now that he is (since his twin DUI convictions) the self-appointed spokesman for us depressives, is his insistence that his behavior in April was anomalous, a mere and momentary aberration from which he is suffering disproportionate consequences.

Some who knew Mr. Frawley during the early years before these unusual disturbances, recall a guy in black leather, barooming around on a cycle, who drank considerably and was known for such activities as drunkenly sucker-punching a Restoration drama professor; putting his boot through a service station plate glass door to express his dissatisfaction with their service; threating folks with a knife in the streets of Newark DE in (a much retold story); and other forms of hooliganism that seemed an odd complement to his daytime duties as scholar/teacher.

There are many, like saracup, who are acquainted with this more jackbooted version of Frawley, whose recent behavior was characterized understandably by Frawley himself as out of character.

So forgive those of us who remain too cynical to accept Frawley's own cyniial attempt at justifying himself while demonizing others. It's gone far enough.

Sent by tom | 3:56 PM | 12-11-2007

I just read Tom's summary of Frawley's acting out in Delaware and can only add one more damning detail: 26 years ago his girlfriend had to get a driver's license; his had been suspended for--duh!--drunken driving!

Sent by sasha | 8:52 PM | 12-13-2007

There are lots of interesting tales swirling in these comments. Some of them might even be true. Some are probably embellishments, either intentional, or the result of the human tendency to make our memory fit our current ideas. It's a good time to remember that this applies doubly to the original op-ed piece. How much of that happened, and how much does it reflect WF's wishful thinking about how he handled his crisis? With only his word, we'll never know for sure.

Sent by Dr. Fred | 10:02 AM | 12-17-2007