September 24, 2018
POWER OF THE PASSIVE
Today the public learned that J. Mike Walker, co-founder of a company called Dril-Quip that makes offshore oil drilling equipment, has donated $20,000,000 to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UT Austin and the same amount to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M, and that the departments will be renamed respectively the “J. Mike Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering” and the “J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering.” Were the new names a grateful thanks from the universities or Walker’s precondition for the gifts? News reports skirt the question by resorting to the passive: “have officially been renamed” (UT News, and the Houston Business Journal), “are being renamed” (Houston Chronicle). Note that while the passive withholds information from the reader, it gives a kind of god-like power to the universities. The dubbing happens invisibly, deus ex machina, the secret act of a kindly fairy godmother.