Thursday, January 19, 2017

It's All the Media's Fault

We now have a new administrative narrative to address the issue of our dozen-plus semesters of enrollment declines and administrative failures. No, it does not include any culpability on the part of our six-figure administrators, rather it’s a hackneyed resort to conspiracy theory with the ultimate blame going to the media for disseminating “negative” stories about Chicago State.

At the December 9 Board Meeting, Cecil Lucy said, “there appears to be some level of angst regarding past administrative practices and the appearance of any ability to move the university forward. Let me assure you that this also to be, appears to be a concerted effort by a few to continue to destroy the brand and reputation of the university by flooding the media with negative press.”

Anthony Young chipped in with: “all we ever get is such negative press, what are we doing to get . . . positive things out to the public?”

Later, Horace Smith talked about combating the narrative that CSU is closing, “because I think that’s the strategy of those who don’t like this college. They create distractions and things to say, we’re closing.”

Of course, these stalwarts offered no evidence in support of their conspiracy theory. Doesn’t the fact that no evidence exists prove the existence of the conspiracy? Interestingly, it took Tuesday’s press conference by a Republican Governor to generate some positive press for the university. However, even while expressing a belief that Chicago State can indeed come through the current crisis, speakers at the press conference could not avoid mentioning Chicago State’s “mismanagement” its leadership turnover, and its plummeting graduation rate. Just who is responsible for those things Mr. Lucy? The Chicago Tribune?

Now, I won't deny that Chicago State's existence stirs hostile feelings in some quarters, but let’s face it, Chicago State gets negative publicity because its administrators do stupid and sometimes illegal things. However, just for the sake of comparison, we will take a look at recent Tribune stories on other Chicago area schools. These stories come from a google search yesterday.

The Tribune criticized DePaul University in two articles for failing to honor the first amendment by barring a controversial speaker.

The Tribune reported on Northeastern’s recent enrollment decline, its first dormitory, its hiring of a new police chief, and an 84-year-old student’s graduation.

The Tribune reported that at Loyola women had been groped on campus, that the school had a new non- ordained president, recently fired its basketball coach, and that students held rallies to support student protestors at U of Missouri.

The Tribune reported nothing about Governors State.

The Tribune reported on the University of Chicago’s $1 million lawsuit, praised the school for its free speech stance, reported on swastikas found on campus, and did a story on U of C not supporting “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” for students.

You will note the relative absence of administrative scandals in these stories. Perhaps Mr. Lucy, Mr. Young, and Dr. Smith all believe the newspaper withheld a number of negative stories about those other schools. However, at least seven (7) of the stories could be classified as “negative,” five (5) stories could be classified as “neutral,” while two (2) could be classified as “positive.” Other than the human interest story on the 84-year-old graduating, and on Loyola students rallying, the paper reported no student activity. No faculty activity found its way into print.

During the Board meeting, the Provost mentioned some honor received by a faculty member and declared that it should have been a front-page story. Not so. Universities are responsible for publicizing the accomplishments of their students, faculty, and staff. The news media has no responsibility to serve as a public relations organ of any university. Perhaps the continuing problem at Chicago State is not the “concerted effort by a few” to inundate “the media with negative press.” Perhaps the problem at Chicago State is and has been the mismanagement of our upper administration which creates newsworthy material for the local media to report. Chicago State’s problems emanate from the Cook building and the fourth floor of the New Academic Library, not from the press room at one of the local papers, or the studio at one of the local radio or television outlets. Nonetheless, in the great tradition of previous presidents, Cecil Lucy seeks to avoid administrative responsibility for the university’s problems. The victimization narrative is only convincing for the true believers, everyone else recognizes it for what it is: a ham-handed, self-serving ploy to avoid being held accountable for multiple administrative failures.

With several new Board members, perhaps the university can extricate itself from its current predicament. I certainly hope so. However, the university will not prosper with the current group of administrators in leadership positions. A thorough house cleaning is in order, beginning at the top. It is imperative that the Board bring in a president willing to purge the school of all remnants of the Watson regime: the inept crony hires, the constant instability, the vindictive and paranoid management style, the financial shenanigans, and the almost complete absence of meaningful communication between various levels of the organization. Remember, this university was struggling before the state budget impasse took its toll.

As long as we continue to refuse to look inward, refuse to recognize our responsibility for creating the problems plaguing the university, and continue to blame shadowy conspirators for our multiple failings, I believe our efforts to solve extant difficulties will stall.

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