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Monday, January 18, 2010

Kill the Messenger!

I have recently read the "open letter" and petition that are circulating on the UT campus that calls for me, among others, to help “shut down” this A&SCF blog. Instead of just pointing out Lo Obvio (that the petition has a “chilling effect” on free speech in our campus community) I will here elaborate a few thoughts on blogs in general, remarking in specific on the rapid emergence of news blogging as an example of a successful new teaching and learning modality on college campuses, including our own college campus.

For example, last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE)includes an article titled “Scooped! Student News Blogs Challenge College Papers for Big Publication on Campuses” by Marc Parry; view the video version of the story, “Penn State Students Build a Blog Empire,” here:

http://chronicle.com/article/Video-Penn-State-Students/63521/

We discover that there is a “brand new style of publication on college campuses” involving “unruly” entrepreneurial blogs. “Upstart” blog owners are described as “taking new media and pushing it to the limits of legitimacy.” Student blog owners claim “transparency is the new objectivity” in their innovative online social media news reporting. Their underground newspapers are global, and run “on passion rather than formal structure.” More profound, the blog owners interviewed by CHE (calling themselves “a blogging fraternity”) viewed their campus information market (before their forced entry into it) a despotic “duopoly” for information dissemination.

Here at UT, there seems also to be a duopoly of news dissemination: The two official producers of information are UTNews (a million-dollar Administration-owned/managed operation) and the Independent Collegian newspaper. Both of these newspapers have their own blogs in addition to their hard-copy newspapers.

A third news blog has been operating successfully “underground” during the past three years, gradually gaining popularity among A&S College faculty, students, staff and alumni, many of whom have posted on its pages. This third blog is now privately owned and called the “Arts and Sciences College Forum” (A&SCF) blog. A disclaimer on its home page makes clear it is not an official University of Toledo Arts and Sciences blog site. There is in fact no official A&S College blog site! The A&SCF blog by default fills an inexplicable information void that exists on the UT campus. Meanwhile, A&SCF bloggers exhibit the same sort of “passion” and commitment to disseminating news in creative ways and for exploring uncharted and unregulated modes of expression in cyberspace that characterize the student bloggers described in the CHE article and video.

This particular part of the CHE article pertains directly to a major argument in the petition that condemns the A&SCF blog: “For image-conscious universities, such popularity raises the question of how officials should react to unofficial student Web sites that take advantage of their brands.” One way would be to purturbate acrimonious peer pressures (student against student/faculty against faculty) in the hopes of exterminating the unruly blogs.

Since the petition seems to manifest a totally naïve “sandbox politics” uncharacteristic of our freedom-loving university faculty, I am more inclined to believe the advent of organized A&SCF blog-hate at this time is a red herring and thus a deliberate distraction contrived by a zealous Round Table Implementation Report strike force attempting to push the Report past those A&S faculty who have not yet read it, nor read the informed critiques of the Round Table process generating the Report as posted in the A&SCF blog over the past three years.

The apparently blog-challenged petitioners do not like easily accessible informed critiques of the Roundtable process and Implementation Report posted on the A&SCF blog. They seem maliciously intent on killing the messenger.

8 comments:

sirLawrence said...

hey dr N.-
thank you for a provocative entry on the nature of blogs. i do strongly disagree with your last two paragraphs, however.
there i think you are ascribing motives without evidence. this problem seems to be endemic on the blog, and is even practiced by the some of the folks who are against the blog. i, personally, as one of the "strike force", read what people write about the roundtable. i do find offensive the continuing statement that we are all administrator wannabes, again because it assumes motives without evidence. all the folks i know on the RT really think it will improve the college. i welcome debate on that belief, and you and anyone else please continue it. if you are right that the letter authors are trying to take attention away from the RT process, they are stupid- all it is doing is INCREASING attention to the blog and its commentary. it is clearly too late to shut down the blog for that reason. no- i suspect that the letter authors have a much more deep-seated antagonism to the blog that only coincidentally overlaps the RT discussion.
i have not "officially" seen the letter you refer to. i have seen something unofficial, but i do not know if the language is the same as what you have seen. the letter i have seen i thought was poorly crafted and does read like "sour grapes". the argument to close the blog (or, as now seems to be the case, change the name and URL) could be much better stated, but would require much more documentary evidence about perception and the harm to UT caused by that perception. one argument is that the blog shows up among the first entries of a google search on A&S at UT (or any permutation). this is correct. but what is linked are actual entries in the blog (some good ones, too!). when i did a search on the blog itself or its URL, i could not find any entries that actually discussed the content of the blog or its reflection on UT, positive or negative (i didn't look very hard). so, i suspect the perceptions are mostly internal to UT. cheers-

Anonymous said...

Will the petition and letter be posted?

Jeff Odelot said...

As this will be my last semester at UT before I leave for grad school, I sincerely hope that I have not been "tainted" by this school.

I was a finalist for a very selective internship (paid!) program in Washington, DC for an iconic American publishing empire, but alas, was ultimately not selected for the internship. After much Google searching and introspection, my qualifications seemed to meet or even surpass the historic qualifications of institution's past interns, except for one little thing -- my time at UT. The internships have been filled with people from the A&S colleges of universities such as Penn State and University of MN, and not with people from UT or places like it (Wayne State, Cleveland State, etc.)

It is hard to theorize a single reason why I wasn't selected for this internship, as many different factors play into the decisions, but I have this sneaking suspicion that my time at UT has had something to do with it. I don't want to sound negative, but when the dean of A&S, (the dean!, not a professor or fellow student) receives a no confidence vote, in large part for deceiving faculty, and is forced to step down just a few years ago, and when the current student government president thinks that it is OK to meddle with election results, I do not have much of a firm academic foundation to base my academic career on, do I? UT has no moral compass, it seems. How am I supposed to be proud of my school?

I hope I am not “tainted”...

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Maybe the other folks gave better answers at their interviews?

As if anyone in DC has any idea of who the dean of A&S is. DO you know who the dean is at Penn State or the history of that College? Then why would anyone know UT?

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

If the problem is the university, it's that UT is not a top-tier public university like Penn State. That's worth keeping in mind when you're choosing a grad school, if that's what's next. Pick a place with a stronger reputation, and doors will open more quickly for you.

As a person who has taught and at UT and at a top state university, I can assure you that part of the reason for the bias is this: The overall quality of students, the overall quality of instruction, and the commitment of university resources to overall quality are significantly stronger at Big State U than at UT.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but it's attitudes like Jeff's that are exactly what is wrong with this corporatized atmosphere being created here.

Jeff feels like he is owed an internship and when he didn't get it, the immediate reaction is that his professors or his school failed him. This is no different than the students who never attend class and are shocked and outraged when you won't negotiate with them to give them an A once the semester is over.

You didn't buy a piece of paper that guarantees you internships or jobs and I'm sorry if that's what you felt you were doing here. What you got here was an education on how to approach the problems you will encounter in the world.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, am sure, will speak for himself, but I don't think he was assuming he should get an internship judging by the tone of his remarks. I think he would merely like to have been able to fairly compete.

Note that he compared credentials and found himself similar. Maybe he did or did not interview as well as others, but he seems mature enough based on this sample of writing and his actions--trying to analyze what went wrong.

I agree that the dullard corporate spirit that makes education into a commodity encourages "I deserve it thinking" and that we are going to get a lot more of this thinking with the Jacobs' administration cookie-cutter approach to education. But Jeff seems quite sensible to me.

He seems simply worried that the philosophic crud of the present UT administration will affect his prospects. And so am I, now that he mentions it.

Anonymous said...

@SirLawrence. Relax this is just a blog dedicated to free discussion and dissent. As a UT outsider, concerned alum, and bona fide university administrator, the process appears to have been one of legitimation through "select" consultation with strategic faculty appointees. The broader issue isn't the report--but a series of inappropriate crony hires (some of which are clearly irresponsible) across multiple units and various administrative decisions (as documented in The Blade, Chronicle, Insidehighered.com, and the student newspaper over the past 2 years) that have collectively marginalized engaged and committed faculty. Sure some of the participants on the blog a cranky; but their intent is to move the institution forward and to reaffirm the centrality of the Arts & Sciences to the university's mission.

In the end, why not accept the blog's general critique of the administration at face value? The administration has made a range of strategic and tactical errors over the past 24 months which have alienated faculty leaders and other members of the university community. More importantly, focusing on the blog (or the genre's intentionally provocative and playful language) serve only to marginalize the message of legitimate faculty leaders.

Concerned Alum