Some attempts to hack into two previous posts resulted in their deletion from blog site. We are having the matter worked on.
News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com
Friday, August 31, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In the post below, my concluding paragraph is:
Ultimately, if journalism is to survive as the Fourth Estate, new rules about the privacy of public figures will have to be established. Until then, savvy media consultants may have to lie a bit. Or have the courage to tell the media when to bug off.
One of those bright products of South Dakota education and good old Nixon-era dirty tricks indoctrination quoted that paragraph with the last sentence left off and stated it as evidence that I am endorsing the practice of lying.
Perhaps a moron could not recognize the irony in the paragraph and in the phrase "savvy media consultants may have to lie a bit." But it takes only a few IQ points above a moron to recognize that the suggestion that media consultants may have to lie a bit to c0unteract petty malevolence and ignorant dishonesty is not an endorsement but a reflection of the kind of practices that occur on blogs and in some media. And then the last sentence suggests that some moral courage in telling the media the straight truth might be a better approach.
Of late, South Dakota War College has been wallowing in the cheapest and meanest kind of politics. But it went over the line. The argument that a link was provided to my post does not mitigate the act of misrepresenting a direct quotation by altering it.
It is an act of manipulating the data to misrepresent what somone actually said or wrote. It is called subreption. It is the academic crime that is worse than plagiarism. Ward Churchill was fired from the University of Colorado this past year for committing precisely this kind of act.
Posted by David Newquist at 4:58 PM
Folks are standing around the Sen. Tim Johnson-Bob Woodruff story huffing, and puffing, and fanning some puny sparks of anger into a major conflagration. Some members of the press are understandably miffed because the Johnson staff told them he was not granting interviews while it appears that he was cooperating with Bob Woodruff on an in-depth piece about the progress of his recovery. The plaint is that the Senator's staff lied. Some of Sen. Johnson's defenders make a distinction between interviews that will feed speculations about his political plans and his abililty to carry them out and a long-term video production that deals with the process of recovery and rehabilitation of someone who suffered brain damage.
Those who howl with indignation at being rebuffed at their requests for information regarding the Senator's recovery and progress cite the public's right to know. Others think the Senator and his staff acted wisely by keeping any specific information or glimpses of the Senator from feeding those malevolent appetites that would be sure to construe the slightest defect into evidence of a disqualifying disability and a call for his resignation. A California blogger of the regressive persuasion who claims to be a physiatrist called for the Senator's resignation within days after he suffered a brain hemorrhage. A man from Brown County bought an ad in the local newspaper calling for his resignation. And letter writers and bloggers joined in the chorus. Of course, they couched their calls in best wishes for the Senator's recovery, but that did not mask their intent to charge that the medical episode disqualified the Senator from any further service to his state.
And some news media and many bloggers have worked overtime to insure that, even without specific information from the Senator, his recovery and potential re-entry into political life would be done in a dense cloud of doubt and negative speculation. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or much of public information specialist to know that doing anything that contributes to the haze of ill-wishing woud be incredibly stupid.
Bloggers have taken up this story with a vengeance. Part of the problem is ego. They regard themselves as journalists and want the right to pry into family and medical matters in their competition to come up with a story. But a larger part of their motive is to drive a wedge between the Senator and the press. The regressives see that inflating any lingering disabilities that the Senator may display into major disqualifications for office is their best chance to regain a senatorial seat should Tim Johnson run again. One does not have to specialize in the lower reaches of human motives to recognize the political strategy we are sure to witness in the coming year.
Blogs have changed the way the press must be regarded. If the traditional media does not play its stories the way that partisan groups want them, the blogs will attack. Political factions are trying to get control of the editorial voices of the media by putting the traditional media on the defensive and by casting doubt on their integrity and reliability any time a story is run that displeases them. It doesn't take an expert in mass communications to see that the news dissemination system is being challenged in an attempt to divide it into partisan camps.
Ultimately, if journalism is to survive as the Fourth Estate, new rules about the privacy of public figures will have to be established. Until then, savvy media consultants may have to lie a bit. Or have the courage to tell the media when to bug off.
[Simultaneous post at Keloland Blogs.]
Posted by David Newquist at 10:45 AM
Monday, August 27, 2007
In the matter of open government, I am somewhat ambiguous about publishing the names of public employees with their salaries. In the town where I previously lived, it was the law that the school board had to publish its annual financial statement in the newspaper, which included the names of all administrators and teachers and the salaries they earned for that year. The salary list included what some received for coaching, and it made clear that coaching was considered a bigger service to the community than education.
The list was a prime reason for putting teachers on a salary schedule. When they compared their own salaries with other teachers', any disparity was sure to be noted. If teachers thought there were unfair pay differentials, the school board would have to spend a lot of time explaining them and trying to resolve complaints lodged against it. It was much easier to put teachers on a pay schedule so that they knew what they could expect.
The down side of publishing salaries is that doing so creates a class division. In the case of teachers, their pay puts them in an economic class that is quite below the social class they are held to. In some communities, this puts teachers in the role of bonded servants, not education professionals. Once when an organization I worked with was going to hold a reception for the editor of a major series of books, a board member, who was a teacher and had a beautiful house overlooking a river valley, offered the use of his home. Another board member asked what dignitary wanted to be hosted in the home of a school teacher.
On my list of the problems with public education, the attitude that teachers are low-level child tenders who don't know their lowly place in society is right on top. Children absorb these attitudes from home and bring them to school. The recognition of this attitude is also transmitted to prospective teachers. It is a reason that bright young people choose careers other than teaching. What persons in their right minds want to designate themselves as a lowly grunts in the eyes of society?
But another factor in the growing teacher shortage is the huge difference in pay between administrators and teachers. School superintendents, who in this day and age are often hired because they will lackey to the school board rather than provide professional guidance, get paid three and four times as much as senior teachers. For some the money is worth a lifetime of groveling. However, that groveling often does more to harm actual education than help it. Bright young people do not want to grovel or serve grovelers as a career.
People forget that the term principal once referred to the "principal teacher." A superintendent was an educational coordinator and faciilator, not a figurehead for the local school board. And school boards were not executive committess, but were the conduit of information between the public and the professional staffs.
Now, many superintendents put "CEO" after they names. That is probably the most telling symptom of what is truly wrong in education at this time.
[Also posted at Keloland Blogs.]
Posted by David Newquist at 11:01 AM
Friday, August 24, 2007
The South Dakota media and blogorazzi are in the thralls of petulance. They are whimpering and whining to mama, or whoever can stand listening to them, that Sen. Tim Johnson would not submit to interviews during his rehabilitation, but they find out that he has been talking to ABC newsman Bob Woodruff, who will broadcast a special on talks between him and the Senator on Nightline next Tuesday after the Senator's homecoming to South Dakota.
For those who have been using their heads for the past few years giving themselves colonoscopies, recall that Bob Woodruff was an ABC anchor before he went to Iraq to cover the war in person. In January 2006, he and a cameraman were riding in a convoy that was struck by a roadside bomb and an ambush attack. Woodruff suffered severe brain injuries. After intensive rehabilitation therapy, he returned to work in February 2007.
After his return to work, Woodruff and his wife published a book on his experience, In An Instant. He also started the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury. The Fund is set up to provide therapy services to military personnel who, like Woodruff, suffered brain injuries and damages.
The injuries that Bob Woodruff suffered were very similar to what Sen. Tim Johnson suffered in a hemorrhage.
The biggest story to come out of all this is the advances made in medicine that rehabilitate people who have suffered disabling injuries and enable them to resume their lives and their work.
Bob Woodruff has a special interest in talking with Sen. Johnson. Sen. Johnson has a special interest in talking to a person who has been through the rehabilitaiton process and whose presence is testimony to the kind of recovery an injured person can make.
Visits with Bob Woodruff have an obvious therapeutic effect. Visits from buzzard-flock journalists with agendas set by the mean and petty politics of South Dakota--and their constant refutations of the tired adage that there is no such thing as a stupid question--would be counterproductive and depressing. Put simply, if you want to get healthy and return to work, stay away from Bloody Mary.
Let the journalists and the blogabillies whine and send their voices forth in the exercise of their First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, some of us can take comfort in the fact that journalists like Bob Woodruff and Senators like Tim Johnson know what the real important work is and will do what it takes to get that work done.
[Simultaneously posted at KELOLAND Blog.]
Posted by David Newquist at 11:36 AM
Monday, August 20, 2007
When it comes to open and accessible government, South Dakota really sucks.
It ranks number 50 in the Better Government Association's Integrity Index. The Better Government Association is a group in Chicago that was founded to get the city out from under the mob rule of Al Capone. It has been trying to keep government straght ever since.
Here at home, the Attorney General and the Governor are saying things about upgrading South Dakota's open government laws. South Dakota Watch has written about closed and inacessible government in Souith Dakota. I have harped about it over the years. It seems encouraging when the top state officials take up the cry, but I really don't see any opportunity for anyone who has had to deal with South Dakota's secret government to have much input. The Governor convenes a select group of knowledgeable citizens once a year to analyze the matter. It's called the Governor's Hunt.
The BGA Integrity Index was a study financed by the Ford Foundation. Here is the percentile ranking for South Dakota on the various categories:
Freedom of Information: 0%
Whistle-blower protection: 39%
Campaign finance: 39%
Gifts, trips, and honoraria: 0%
Conflict of interest: 47%
Total percentile rankings: 125%
Percentile ranking: 25%
Rank among 50 states: 50
But those statistics do not tell the full story. A few years ago, when democracy was getting out of hand in Russia, Alexander Putin came to South Dakota to get mentored in the techniques of suppression. For example, the state had money stashed in bank accounts. It would not tell the state treasurer at the time where the money was or how much it was.
When some state officials got nervous about such hidden funds and the relationship of state government to the companies that were enticed into the state to practice usury, they mounted an investigation and made some noise about it. The Governor, Bill Janklow, put a stop to that in a hurry. He came up with the infamous Gag Law that could put a state official in jail if the official said anything about any investigations going on into the affairs of private corporations. The person who "carried the water" on this bill was Majority Leader Michael Rounds (you know, Mikey likes it!).
The worst thing about secrecy in government is that it protects the crooked and incompetent. For example, the day before the 2004 election, a young professor was found dead with a bullet wound in the back of his head at the door to his office building on the NSU campus. It was a messy case. The policeman who was assigned to campuis security suddenly resigned. This came when the police department was in turmoil with with resignations and accusations. All sorts of forensic evidence was rumored about this case, and eventually the Chief of Police announced that it was a suicide and closed the case. Maybe it was. But the files on the case are tucked away in some dark catacomb, never to see the light of day. If there was a sunshine law, people, mostly the South Dakota press (if it can ever find the initiative) , could examine the case and see if the evidence supports the conclusion or if the folks with the rubber gloves and tweezers bungled the investigation. We don't know. And so accusations and rumors continue to flow.
Last year, our political party realized that the voter registration list was terribly out-of-date. Nothing is more dismaying than to telephone someone and be told that he has been dead for ten years. We investigated whether there was a list of death certificates so that we could purge the list of the deceased. State officials had closed off access to vital statistics records on security grounds, saying that they needed to protect against identity theft. There are ways to protect against identity theft, but in South Dakota the answer is to make even the most routine information secret.
Making government open is not a matter that needs much thought or knowledge. There are a few laws that are so ambiguous that they make loopholes for secrecy that you can drive a truck through. In South Dakota, officials drive entire convoys through them. Changing the words to specify when confidentiality is legitimate and when the information must be exposed to the sunshine is not that big of a legal problem.
Then the State could borrow a Freedom of Information code from a state that has a good one and pass it as law. PP at South Dakota War College might regard it as plagiarism, but it would be better than a set of codified laws that in effect tell the citizens to go get screwed.
There is one aspect of Freedom of Information laws that is a problem. Some officials ignore the requests for information. In South Dakota, we could take the Gag Law and make it a law that subjects officials to prosecution if they do not abide by it.
Well, we can dream can't we? Or find reality where there are good laws.
Posted by David Newquist at 3:32 PM
Friday, August 17, 2007
Something truly nice happened today.
The Brown County Fair is going on. Back when I was a full time journalist, the newspaper I worked for covered 12 county fairs. As I was the farm editor, I was busy during July and August covering eight of them. We had a policy of publishing all the judging results from one day in the next day's paper. The Brown County Fair is one of the best I have witnessed. The only thing it needs is harness racing. Horses that trot or pace fast provide wonderful breaks between those sessions of typing up long lists of names. And if you are real friendly to the trainers and handlers you might be able to place a wager or two with a tout that returns nice dividends.
I have some responsibilities at two booths this year, one of which is for the Brown County Democrats, for which I am treasurer. This year, some people came around and asked if there was a Welcome Home card to sign for Sen. Tim Johnson. There wasn't then, but within minutes someone got some sheets of poster board for people to sign, and there has been a line at the booth for people to sign a card ever since.
Today, a woman with a Thune sticker on her blouse wandered over and asked if she could sign. And she did. That was impressive.
But my real point about welcoming Tim Johnson home has to do with his recovery. I am at that age when people have what medical folks now like to call "episodes." My oldest brother died in his sleep in February. Quite an episode. But my next older brother had an episode about a year and half ago, a stroke. He lives alone in a condo that overlooks a beautiful ravine among the many that run down to the Mississippi and Rock Rivers in Illinois. Our first concern was what kind of arrangements do we have to make for his care.
Perhaps, as recently as ten years ago, the assumption was that a stroke that left one with some mental and physical damage meant one had to find a care facility. But the physicians started my brother on a therapy program for his memory and speech and his affected muscles. He bitched like hell about how hard the therapists worked him, but he is now living alone again, quite self-sufficient, and enjoying his condo.
For me, the return of Sen. Tim Johnson is not a political event. It is a sign of what has been accomplished in restoring people to their full functions and to making the contributions they can make for us.
Shortly after Sen. Johnson's "episode," the vultures gathered around his bed, cyberly speaking, and pronounced his demise and said he should resign from life and the U.S. Senate. Then at news of his recoverly, they insisted that he put himself on display so they could see if he had any speech defects or spastic movements.
The 14th rule of the Hippocratic Oath is not to surround a patient with a bunch of gawking jerks who want to see what a negative diagnosis and prognosis they can come up with. They do not provide a good environment for recovery.
In a little over a week, the Senator will be with us to be greeted with stacks of Welcome Back posters. For people who need evidence of what advances we have made in restoring people to productive lives, his return will have special significance. And for people who wonder what happened to neighborly good will, the lady with the Thune button has preserved something important.
Posted by David Newquist at 8:04 PM
Monday, August 13, 2007
Saturday, August 11, 2007
As Joseph L. Galloway points out, the Democratic led Congress voted to extend the Bush administration's authorization to use warrantless wiretapping. No aspect of the current regime's venture into Orwellian, sneaking oppression has been a more obvious symptom of its totalitarian designs. What happened to the Democrats?
It appears that they still wet their pants when the ding-a-ling squad accuses them of being soft on terrorism, unpatriotic, and harboring herpes. They say they had to make concessions to get any kind of anti-terrorism bill passed at all. Oh, they're also afraid of being called obstructionist.
If the pseudo-Republican faction that wants to embrace fascist oppressions with such fervor has a mark of success, it is the number of sniveling cowards it has produced. Including Democratic lawmakers. It has used propaganda techniques to condition America into a group of sniveling, fawning dupes who will submit to anything for the promise of "security." The biggest threat to our security and personal freedom at this time is the Bush regime. They've already killed more 3,600 of our best and bravest just to prove they can do it.
When those Democratic representatives begin their summer appearances during the fair season, the main question to ask is "Just what in the hell do you think you're doing?"
Posted by David Newquist at 2:16 PM
Friday, August 10, 2007
Blogs aren't inherently mean, malicious, and scurrilous. But sometimes the stuff that appears on them casts a perspective on the human race that makes one neither proud or encouraged.
If you need a reality check about what kind of thought is motivating a segment from the political spectrum, read this post and its comments from South Dakota War College. It is a prime example of the ad hominem attitude, and while partisans hurl charges of hatred at each other, you can see true hatefulness boiling in this verbal pot.
The commenters do not mention a policy vote or political stance with which they disagree. They dredge up the inane matter of Tom Daschle owning a house in D.C. as a reason to vent their personal hatred. They cannot simply disagree; they have to defame the character and intellect of the person. These are precisely the kind of hate tactics that are the history of regimes in Germany, the old Soviet Union, Rwanda, and Darfur. It is not politics. It is the expression of the most perverse, demented--and dangerous--part of human nature.
It is precisely what our democracy was at one time devoted to surmounting.
Posted by David Newquist at 10:00 AM
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Todd Epp on his blog and Tom Daschle in a campaign e-mail have commented on the attitude, especially in the Republican camp, about people whining, and carping, and speculating--always negatively or with the negative clearly present--about Sen. Tim Johnson's illness. Todd likens it to wolf-packing in which a once dominant alpha or beta is weakened somehow and all the resentmentful pups down there in the omega zone gather around and try to provoke his demise.
Actually, it is worse with chickens. When one of their fellows is weakened they can't resist the chance to peck him down to the bottom of the pecking order, usually to death.
Vipers don't do that. They don't run in herds or flocks. They do other things, like squeezing things to death or ingesting them alive, or occasionally taking one of those chickens, but it is done in their quest for food.
I have been suffering some after-tremors from cultural shock ever since I moved to South Dakota. There are cultural differences between various regions. I have never gotten used to the fact that people talk viciously and malevolently about other people behind their backs up here. It may be that way generally now, but when I moved up here the practice gave me great discomfort. People did it where I came from, but the people who did it were shunned and avoided. People with at least pretenses toward decency did not want to be associated with them. The premise was simple: if someone maligned or defamed someone to you behind the person's back, you could pretty well bet that the maligner was doing the same to you. You may have had bad thoughts about someone, but you kept them to yourself. If someone did something that could be talked about as an established fact, it was permissible to discuss.
One learned very early in my household not to utter malcious gossip about anybody unless it had a factual and utilitarian basis, like "Jimmy Snodpod steals our lunch money everyday." But to say something like "Jimmy Snodpod is a moron" would earn you all sorts of punishment. The lowest form would be a sermon on whether you wanted Jesus to hear you say something like that and what if he did and told his father who might turn you into a moron so you could see what it was like. The middle range punishment would be the threat to be lashed across the back of the knees with a bridal wreath switch. That's what happened to me the first time my mother heard me use the word fuck.
The worst punishment resulted when you talked about someone you didn't like very well who was sick and you were clearly entertaining ill thoughts about the prospect for recovery. My mother would give you a glance that would give testicles a reason to descend again, if they had already descended. An uncle once expressed a negative prognosis about a boss of his who was sick, and my mother's glance sent his maleness into such a retreat that they turned into ovaries. We tried to get her to open a surgery-free sex change clinic, but her eyes started to knot up and we boys apologized profusely and looked for a tornado cellar to stay in until her wrath subsided.
My mom was a Republican. But she was a guardian of culture who tolerated no idle and malicious gossip. I am not saying some people of the liberal persuasion do not lapse into ad hominem trash talk or show a certain glee at someone's bad health, but when it comes to Tim Johnson, the would-be Republican political strategists have shown the principles of their strategy: Stand at bedside and do the verbal pecking routine about him being so busy recovering that he doesn't put himself on display for all the ill-wishers to peck and cluck about. It started within days after his illness. The obligatory good wishes expressed by them does not hide their negative hopes.
Oh, I wish I had my mother's eyes.
Posted by David Newquist at 7:35 PM
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Mount Blogmore has some discussions taking place about the Daschle-Thune race and what caused the demise of Tom Daschle. The occasion is the publication of Jon Lauck's book on the 2004 race, Daschle vs. Thune: Anatomy of a High-Plains Senate Race and the short review Kevin Woster wrote of it on the blog.
I have noted that Lauck acted as a paid character assassin for the Thune campaign and conducted a methodical campaign of defamation on the South Dakota Politics blog with daily posts accusing Daschle of betrayal, duplicity, and political subversion. (This link will take you to May 2004 posts when the Daschle character assassination really picked up.) Lauck, who was a professor at SDSU at this time, was paid by the Thune campaign to contrive and fire away with assaults on the Daschle character at every pretext and opportunity.
There is a question of how effective the blogs were at the time--or are today--in affecting political perceptions. In 2004, the number of people who looked at political blogs was a very small percentage of the populace, and those who did frequent political blogs chose the ones that reflected their mindset. South Dakota Politics claimed great influence on the election, but the numbers do not support that contention.
What South Dakota Politics was significant for is that it reflected the kind of persistent ad hominem campaign that was the single-minded strategy of John Thune's henchmen. The campaign used an approach that was a favorite of extreme Marxists. Behaviorism was the official pyschological theory of Soviet Marxists. They believed that if you kept an organism in a certain kind of environment, you could condition it to behave exactly as you wished. This did not work very well with wheat, but it had some successes with people. Another name for it is "brainwashing." And its basic premise is that if you keep up a constant barrage of accusations and defamations against a person, a significant number of the passive, non-critical people in the population will absorb them and accept them as fact. This was the crux of the anti-Daschle campaign, and Jon Lauck did the blogging.
But, as I said, the blogs only reflected the kind of tactic being used elsewhere. After his close loss to Tim Johnson, John Thune began his anti-Daschle campaign. He knew that a strong voting bloc for former Sen. Larry Pressler was the elderly, particularly in the nursing homes. And so, his campaign targeted the elderly in particular. It began with the charge that since Tom Daschle was such a successful leader in D.C. and throughout the country, he had abandoned the people of South Dakota. One of Lauck's blogs noted that the entertainment industry was one of the biggest contributors to Daschle's campaign, and, therefore, Daschle was a great spokesman for the entertainment industry, not for South Dakota. The contention was carefully drawn to make the people in South Dakota infer that Daschle had abandoned the huddled masses in the state for the glamor of Hollywood and Broadway. This abandonment theme was carried out right to the end of the campaign when Thune signed on to an ad that contended that Daschle had dumped his first wife for a beauty queen.
The most memorable advertisement that appeared in newspapers had a picture of Tom Daschle next to pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. This reinforced the anti-American and treachery themes that ran through the Thune campaign against Daschle. As ridiculous and utterly scurrilous as the ad was, it demonstrated the depth of character assassination that was the motive force of the Thune campaign.
Another effective contention was Daschle's opposition to an amendment in the Constitution to make flag-burning a crime. Daschle patiently explained to his audiences that the flag is a symbol of the country, and that the people should be more concerned about the assaults against the country. itself. He also expressed the view that such an amendment would be in direct conflict with the Constitutional rights of free speece and a redress of grievances. But the Thune minions harped on the accusation that Daschle was unpatriotic and allied with those who would destroy our country.
The anti-Daschle campaign was conceived as a relentless assault on the South Dakota inferiority syndrome, which is that anyone who leaves the state and finds success is a betrayer.
In October of 2004, as the election neared, canvassing teams began to uncover how widespread the Daschle defamations had been cast. The Thune team, led by Dick Wadhams, tried the old Soviet tactic of snowing the people under with a blizzard of defamatory falsehoods. Only a minority will resist, and few have the astutenss or intellectual fortitude to resist the blizzard.
Those who spotted the pattern and recognized the technique as mass conditioned-response, as with Pavlov making dogs salivate, thought that the Daschle campaign should unleash a counter-offensive based on Thune's feckless record as a congressman. But high campaign officials made it clear that it was better to lose South Dakota than to abandon higher principles.
A national campaign observer noted that South Dakota culture is made for this kind of campaign. A majority of South Dakotans resent those who find success elsewhere, for them malicious and false gossip is a favorite pastime, and they turn against those who demonstrate higher qualities of character and gravitate to those who verify their resentful predilections. That is what John Thune's campaign understood, and he won.
Posted by David Newquist at 10:49 PM
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Last night I took Ingrid for a walk through the NSU campus. Ingrid likes to sniff at and stalk the many bunnies there. Oh, Ingrid is a Greyhound. But I dogress. I still get the same feeling when I walk on a college campus that I get when I walk inside a historic cathedral. I think of all the study and intellectual work and the many students who were launched into productive lives and careers. I think of those times when a class broke through the resistance barrier and accomplished big things.
I had such thoughts last night. But then Ingrid and I walked past my old office building. One night in the parking lot next to it, some students had a party that ended up with three young men and a young woman in a car. A crowd gathered around as the revelers in the car engaged in what used to be called heavy petting. When the young woman got up the next morning, she was chagrined at the previous nights events and reported that she had been sexually molested. The three young men were immediately booted off the campus and were later charged with rape. One blew his heart out with a deer rifle. One pleaded guilty and was sentenced. The third went to trial and was acquitted. I later had occasion to read the court transcript and was not proud of the university's attitude.
Then around the corner from where that happened, a young professor, Morgan Lewis, was found dead at the door of my old office building the day before the 2004 general election with a gunshot wound in the back of his head.
As Ingrid and I ambled on, I saw Jerde Hall where a young man died of injuries in the lobby one spring morning. And then we walked through the west parking lot which borders on a yard where one Thanksgiving weekend a young man died of hypothermia. He chugalugged from a bottle of Jack Daniels at a nearby party, tried to walk to his dorm room, took a short cut through a yard, and was unable to make it over the garden fence.
Why did these memories displace all the memories of productive academic work and capable young people venturing forth to take their places in the world? Because of a recent news story about the president of Eastern Michigan Universitiy being fired for covering up a rape and murder. Two other administrators were fired also. The bare bones of the story are that a young woman was found dead in her dorm room last December, naked from the waist down. The administration sent out a campus e-mail that the campus did not need to worry because no foul play was involved. Then in July a young man was arrested for the woman's murder and rape. The regents fired President John Fallon, III, a dean of student services, and the head of campus security for covering up the facts.
And that made me think of another place I taught. As the student union was about to close one evening, a young black man wearing an apple hat and brandishing a revolver came in and held up the cashier. A few days later the assistant manager recognized the young man as he sat drinking coffee in the Union. The young man was arrested. He was in my section of a developmental program for students from disadvantaged high schools.
The Black Student Union held a news conference in which they announced that the young man had an alibi for the time the robbery was committed. He was in a bordello across the river at the time, and the woman whose services he sought would so testify. The young man was arraigned and a preliminary hearing was held. Then nothing happened for years.
The story was forgotten until a student in my advanced journalism class, which had its work published in the campus newspaper, asked whatever happened to that case. No one could answer, so the student decided to do a follow up. When he went to the clerk of courts and asked to see the disposition of the case, there were no records. He went back through newspaper files to make sure the case had been processed through the courts, and the arraignment proceedings were reported. Then he went to the police department. One of the detectives on the case had retired and another had been put on disability. But the retired detective said that campus adminstrators had convinced the assistant union manager to withdraw his testimony, and the case just stalled out. That did not explain, however, the absence of court records. Tampering with court records is a big-time felony.
The detective explained that the administration was terribly worried about what the story would do to the fundraising and alumni work of the college and wanted the story kept as quiet as possible. The student who was charged quietly left campus and returned to his inner-city neighborhood in Chicago. The assistant union manager suddenly landed a high executive position with a large restaurant chain.
Life on college campuses has changed from the time I was an undergraduate. The restrictions placed upon students back then simply are not tolerated now. A campus was, in fact, an ivory tower that was devoted totally to doing and supporting academic work. Dorms, for example, enforced quiet hours during the evening so students could study without distraction. If you walk into a dorm today, make sure you have hearing protection.
A college president at that time was selected for his eminence as a scholar and professor, and his ability to coordinate the work of other professors. While the president had fundraising and public relations oversight, the bulk of that work was delegated to others. The president was an intellectual leader.
Today, the main function of a college president is to obtain funding, to run a public relations program in order to "sell" a good image of the institution, to attract students, and in general to be a CEO, not the chief scholar in residence.
A president I worked under insisted that image is everything. You are what you appear to be. To which a history professor replied, "Yeah, and we appear to be a bunch of liars." The fact is that on many campuses, the level of academic work actually done is far inferior to the image of it that the institution projects. Rigor and grading is governed by cash flow, not by the actual accomplishments of students.
Today, higher education institutions are run like businesses, not like the intellectual enterprises that a college or university once was. Is there grade inflation? Of course. You can't flunk or downgrade the work of students you depend upon to pay tuition. You can't give low assessments to poor performance when your fundraisers are out telling the public what miraculous standards of academic work are being produced among students. And you can't let the public know about academic cheating or seamy incidents, such as drinking binges, sexual encounters gone awry, and drug trafficking.
What happened to John Fallon, III, is probably something that is part of the job of any college president-CEO today: taking the fall when the public relations fail to disguise what is really taking place on campus. The work of most higher education institutions is devoted to image, not to the dull and hard facts of what it takes to do academic work and do it right.
Young people are vigorous and talented. But they are also vulnerable to ignorance, moments of stupidity, and the great temptations of self-indulgence. To guide them through those lapses of discipline and build character-driven personalities is why colleges were invented in the first place. College presidents are more concerned with covering up and denying those lapses than in focusing on the intellectual activities that produce real accomplishment and qualities of character.
College presidents have changed. That's because few college campuses dare to insist upon intellectual performance and integrity. They are the epitome of self-pertuating bureacracies.
Posted by David Newquist at 10:30 AM
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