Friday, December 16, 2011

DE Closing Editorial

The editor of the DE, Leah Stover, published a very fine op-ed on the events of the last semester in Wednesday's paper: You Can't Save Face by Censoring Others.

I've been all too willing to criticize the DE over the years--student reporters do get things wrong, and do sometimes write poorly. Experto crede: I was a student reporter for one year--my freshman one--at a tiny college where anyone who showed up became a reporter, with no faculty oversight. What I did, for the most part, was get things wrong and write poorly.  Not to mention my sins of commission and omission as a blogger. 

But one can't help but be impressed by the fine work the DE did this semester. When the administration was reporting business as usual on campus, the DE reporters were going to the picket lines, to student marches, and to classrooms, and reporting the truth. DE reporters consistently made a valiant effort to understand the complicated process of negotiations (a process complicated in large part, of course, by the very different stories they were getting from the two sides). Take this article by Sarah Schneider, with a headline that nailed the public debate: Unions Say Strike Not About Money, Cheng Begs to Differ.  Tara Kulash's summary article just the other day on Chancellor Cheng's reign thus far, Her First 556 Days, was a very impressive piece of work. These aren't pro-union hack jobs--far from it. They are carefully crafted, balanced articles by student journalists of great promise.

Above all, the DE's principled stand against the administration's attempt to control information flow shows tremendous courage and integrity. It can't be easy for student journalists to criticize the SIUC administration in this outspoken a manner. If that sort of courage and integrity were more widespread on campus, we'd all be far better off.

At any rate, as I reflect on the events of this past semester, one bright spot will certainly be the positive role played by SIUC students. Those working for the DE have given us all something to be proud of. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

College athletics in the news

The Chronicle has an interesting series of opinion pieces on the following rather frankly worded question: What the Hell Has Happened to College Sports?

Locally, the Southern Illinoisan ran a series of articles recently on the state of athletics:
Small but strong: Reduced staff keeps SIU afloat in academic race
Doing things the Saluki Way: Athletic facilities took priority at SIU
Take a look at the whole picture
The state of Saluki sports
This came before the most recent news, the investigation of a Saluki basketball player accused of sexual assault (though no charges have yet been filed): Police investigating SIU's Bocot. We of course also have the sexual harassment scandal regarding athletics--a problem exacerbated by the administration's unwillingness to bargain a transparent set of procedures for addressing accusations of sexual harassment (which would have made the university's own finding that there was no real violation here more credible).

The series in the Southern asked many of the right questions, but the answers were given, overwhelmingly, by Mario Moccia, who naturally enough defended his programs. Thus the overall result was something of a whitewash. While the recent losing records of the football and basketball teams were duly noted, and there was some attention to the spending for Saluki Way, there was no mention of the fact that SIUC doubled athletics spending in the last five years. Nor did anyone make the argument that our huge investment in athletics was paying off in terms of our wider goals--including increasing enrollment. It seems to me rather clear that SIUC made a huge gamble by pouring most of our disposable revenue into athletics. We've obviously lost this bet.

We've lost not simply because our teams are losing--as many college teams lose as win each and every game, and as the Southern pointed out, SIUC is no exception. We'll have up seasons and down seasons when it comes to the win loss record. And there will be scandals, given the pressures and contradictions between academic, athletic, and business values. The real problems are structural: the idea that a university's success depends on, or can be measured by, how good of a job it does supplying entertainment to its basketball and football fans. Athletics drains resources from academics. That's true even at top of the line big-money academic programs, and it is even more true among mid majors like SIUC.  The last five years were the worst possible time to exacerbate the problem by engaging in a building boom and budget boom for athletics.