On July 30, 2012 New York Magazine published an article entitled “Leopold’s Ghost,” written by Goucher College President Sanford Ungar, dissecting an experience with which Ungar admits to having become “obsessed.”
The man in question was Leopold Munyakazi, a Rwandan hired by the college in 2008 through the Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) and was ultimately banned from his professorship as well as from the Goucher campus amid accusations of war crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
While the claims were made late in 2008, this summer proved an opportune time for Ungar to share his story.
“Just about exactly a year and a half ago, I wrote an essay about it— a private essay about it” for a group that requires members to present a spoken essay every four years, said Ungar of the article’s origins. “I had a very positive experience when I did that … and it kind of validated my need to understand the whole thing better.”
After a conversation with a friend in New York, Ungar eventually met with the editor of New York Magazine, Adam Moss, who then asked him to adapt the essay for the magazine.
“One of the things they like to do is challenge assumptions and encourage people to ask difficult questions of others and of themselves,” he explained of the magazine.
Moss assigned Ungar to literary editor David Wallace Wells, who, “the way all good editors should do, [pressed] me to examine my own role and what I had thought I was doing, or what I thought the college was doing. It was hard. It was really hard.”
In his article, Ungar details the accusations made against Munyakazi and describes the events that have led to the thus far inconsequential present, all the while grappling with his decisions, emotions, and understanding.
Ungar labored through five drafts before his story appeared in New York Magazine, cutting more than 2,000 words to come up with the still lengthy piece. In preparation, he spoke with Munyakazi in person twice at length and several more times over the phone, once convincing him to sit for the photo that would accompany the article. Ungar has also had brief contact with the former professor since the publication of his piece, although Munyakazi’s thoughts on the published story remain unknown.
“I don’t know whether he’s angry or happy or how he feels about the article. I just don’t know,” Ungar said. “But I’m not mad at him. … This was a very unusual engagement we had with each other. It’s pretty uncommon, but there’s no reason to be anything less than candid about it.”
While he may not know Munyakazi’s thoughts, Ungar has received feedback from those in the Goucher community and beyond. Some readers have accused Ungar and the school of judging Munyakazi guilty too quickly, while others stand behind the decisions made.
Ungar remains resolute not only in the decisions made many years ago, but also the decision to publish this story. While he says that no one has yet expressed outright hatred of the article, there have also been those who have remained “eloquently silent,” which in itself can be revealing. Whether that means they have nothing to say or just don’t want to admit their disapproval, Ungar says he is completely accepting of the silence and that he appreciates every form of feedback.
“I think some faculty members might disapprove of the piece. They might think that I’m airing dirty laundry,” Ungar said.
Rather, he believes he has nothing to hide and has found it highly constructive to examine his and the college’s roles during this period.
“I really believe in open journalism. And I understand if some faculty members might not.”
Throughout the article, Ungar refers to his different roles as college president, journalist, and scholar, all of which helped shape his magazine piece.
His journalistic background helped him investigate himself and his motivations, as well as prepare himself for criticism: “I was a journalist for a long time and I couldn’t worry whether people approved of everything I wrote or spoke on the radio.”
The circumstances at the time also called upon his previous studies of and connections to Rwanda and Africa.
Ungar speaks of his time in Rwanda, a country he has traveled to many times, encountering the government of president Paul Kagame on his last trip in 2001, and the process of beginning to change his perspective of Rwanda’s government. At the time, Ungar, as the director of Voice of America, had been arranging to air the programming on a Rwandan FM radio station. He admits to having been “impressed by … Paul Kagame’s government” and “taken with how cooperative they were with us” at the time.
“Maybe,” he says, “it was understandable that I was getting what I wanted as an American government bureaucrat going there and they were being very gracious and nice to me so I wasn’t critical in my perspective.”
From this and from the experience of the past four years, Ungar leaves his thoughts on one well thought out expression.
“Things are often more complicated than at first they seem.”