by Andrew C. Hughey, Esq.
In his novel The Lincoln Professor, former student affairs administrator (and my former professional client at the University of Pittsburgh), Dennis E. Donham, deals with deadly serious issues currently plaguing our college campuses—sexual assault and alcohol abuse.
The novel includes “inside baseball “ scenes of academic politics, Greek snobbery and town/gown relations along with an interesting, though somewhat lightly treated, subplot of international arms dealing and blood diamond smuggling. Donham skillfully weaves these varied themes into a tightly constructed, 160 page novel.
The book’s title refers to the lead character, Aesop Willingham III, an African-American professor at Weatherall College, a fictitious, highly selective New England liberal arts college.
Willingham is more than a hard working, highly principled Lincoln scholar; he models his life and moral code on the former U.S. president.
Willingham was abandoned by his parents as a young child and raised by his grandparents. He has always been an academic star, but he harbors secrets about his family history that even he doesn’t understand.
As a youth, Willingham attended Weatherall on a full academic scholarship although he was also a highly-recruited athlete. He returns to his alma mater as a professor and, ultimately, as provost who must contend with a cabal of other high level administrators—including the president—who were his undergraduate classmates and who are all members of Pi Eta Chi, the fraternity that had rejected him.
The book covers the professor’s experiences of tragedies at Weatherall during his undergraduate years and during his provostship, both resulting in the death of female students.
Central to both incidents are the brothers of Pi Eta Chi Fraternity. The fraternity promotes an Animal House style environment but, unlike the popular film, it is humorless, mean and evil. Aesop was fortunate to have been blackballed.
Donham describes the fraternity’s alcohol fueled, assault on a female student in one case, and direct complicity in the death of another female student years later. Clearly the college has learned nothing.
Aesop, as provost, must try to bring justice to the latest victim through a clearly and fully described college judicial process. Working against him are powerful forces of corruption, blackmail and administrative intrigue.
Finally, secrets from Aesop’s background are revealed, threatening his future and the interests of justice. We see how no measure of justice will restore the lives lost and realize that this book is Donham’s call to action for prevention of sexual assault and alcohol abuse on our college campuses.
Ultimately, the book succeeds in starkly emphasizing the need for more meaningful teaching and learning and less misogyny, debauchery and disrespect.
The Lincoln Professor is available from www.twincreekspress.com and www.amazon.com. Andrew C. Hughey, Esq., has been a university attorney for over 25 years and is currently General Counsel at Texas Southern University. Dr. Dennis E. Donham was for 20 years Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.