Friday, April 06, 2007

The A-T issue: Joke or Symptom of bigger problems?

The April Fool's Issue of the AT continues to generate intense discussion on campus. As you can see from the previous post, over 30 comments have been posted here. On the university discussion list, there have been 60 emails. In my more ambitious days of blogging, I would have posted all of those.

In general, there have been several lines of debate (represented here as well):

1: Did the April Fools issue have any significance?
1: can faculty understand the humor of the younger generation?
2: is criticism of the AT akin to censorship?
3: is this a mistake/misunderstanding or a sign of broader institutional racism/sexism/agism at UWO?

The various defenses of the A-T seem to be quite hollow, from the lack of awareness of the impact of such writing to the argument that negative stereotyping has no real effect.

In various discussions around campus, it has become clear that in addition to our reputation as Sloshkosh, UWO is already known as a place unwelcoming to people who are different.

The AT controversy seems to cement that reputation. The A-T staff's protestations that they never meant to hurt anyone suggest that the hostility is unconscious and unexplored.

This should be an eye opening moment for our campus. What can we do to make something good come of it??

19 comments:

S.B. said...

Two days in a row? Sheesh, slow news day for the UW System or something?

(That was humor. Apparently I'm really bad at determining what's funny, so I thought I'd point it out.)

I don't think criticizing us is akin to censorship. I can take the criticism that we shouldn't have used certain stereotypes or that the issue was just plain not funny. What I can't take is the insinuation that either a) my staff is just plain racist/sexist/homophobic or b) that even if we aren't those things, we were still writing from our deep-sided biases/institutionalized racism/blah blah blah I'm putting myself to sleep. You may think we all have deep-seeded biases; I may think that's bullshit. I guess we'll agree to disagree.

I'm not sure when/where we argued that stereotyping has no real effect. Again, I'm truly sorry if we made anyone feel marginalized or unwelcome. But I don't think that's a reputation we started, and I honestly don't think we added much to it on Monday (I could be wrong, of course, but it's really a matter of opinion). The responsibility to make the campus climate a welcoming one is not mine.

For what it's worth, we've received letters/comments from a few minorities who were not offended. You never know what's going to bother who. One of those comments mentioned that the author is offended by every single issue of Life and Liberty News. Where's the outrage there? Personally, I find it a little frightening when those people paste Prof. Palmeri's head on a dartboard; even though I know it was a joke, I can't help but think that they might actually want to throw something pointy at him. That was almost a year ago, but I remember being quite offended at the time, and guess what? People told me to lighten up.

How can we make good come of this? You tell me.

Anonymous said...

1: Did the April Fools issue have any significance?

NO

2: can faculty understand the humor of the younger generation?

NO

2: is criticism of the AT akin to censorship?

NO

3: is this a mistake/misunderstanding or a sign of broader institutional racism/sexism/agism at UWO?

BOTH.

IT WAS A HUGE MISTAKE.

IT IS A SIGN OF BROADER INSTITUTIONAL --ISM AT UWO

THE ADVANCE TITAN STAFF ARE NOT ---IST, BUT THE STUDENT BODY AS A WHOLE IS.

lammers said...

S.B. wrote:

>>The responsibility to make the campus climate a welcoming one is not mine.<<

Yes, it is, in the sense that is the obligation of EVERYONE here, from second-semester freshman to Chancellor. You in particular have great power as editor, and with that comes great responsibility. (I know, it's from a comic book, but that doesn't make it less true.)

>>For what it's worth, we've received letters/comments from a few minorities who were not offended.<<

I still say that the MEC story was not directed at any minority student stereotypes but at an inane offensive TV show. I think with a bit of tighter focus on just who you were lampooning (e.g., ostentatious crass flashiness and reality TV), it could've been a really good thing.

>>One of those comments mentioned that the author is offended by every single issue of Life and Liberty News. Where's the outrage there?<<

They are not an official university organ, attempting to represent the entire student body, as the A-T is. They are a small group trying to advance a particular political agenda. Obviously they don't have much circulation; I see the A-T all over and I've never even heard of this other newspaper.

FWIW, I looked at their website and found it to be pretty darn inane and offensive, a real insult to true political conservatives. In fact, I found myself wondering if it wasn't a parody of right-wing excess. Are you sure it isn't some Onion-like group trying to make conservatives look like ignorant bumpkins??? I hava hard time believing it's a serious conservative media outlet.

>>How can we make good come of this? You tell me.<<

As I suggested before, hone your satire skills. Use the April Fools edition for The Greater Good. Skewer things that are really contrary to the public interest, that are foolish and vain. The "Chancellor Wells at Taco Johns" was EXACTLY that sort of thing -- using the power of satire to call attention to the problems of faculty salaries and retention (a crusade the A-T has spoken up for several times.) Don't worry so much about getting a laugh or being cool. Take on injustices, foibles, and foolishness and the laughs will follow.

And dump Gripe Line. It is REALLY an embarrassment.

lammers said...

Anonymous said...
>>2: can faculty understand the humor of the younger generation? NO<<

I am not a psychologist, don't even play one on television. But I have the impression folks express at least two kinds of laughter.

There is the belly laugh of jollity from things that disply wit and cleverness, a sharp turn of a phrase, an ironic juxtaposition, etc.

There is also the laughter we use as a defensive mechanism when confronted with something embarrassing or painful.

Much of the laughter that the poop-'n'-fart come-'n'-go humor of Gripe Line elicits is the latter type: the laughter of embarrassment. "Omigawd, I can't believe he said something so rude and infantile!" And we laugh rather than get mad.

I think the only thing older people don't understand about what "the younger generation" finds funny is how they can so badly confuse the two.

Anonymous said...

Who cares that the gripeline is immature? A lot of readers enjoy it and it's part of the Lighter Side section of the paper. It's a student paper, and it represents the students at the university quite well. A vast number of students aren't concerned about taking life too seriously right now, and they really don't have to be. The college environment is not only about preparing yourself for the real world, it's about relaxing and having fun.

That being said, the gripeline is simply a fun aspect of the paper that often gets laughs, which is fine. Most students could use a little humor mixed in with their news. If they want to read some less-than-well-humored crap, go pick up a Northwestern.

lammers said...

Anonymous said:

>>A vast number of students aren't concerned about taking life too seriously right now, and they really don't have to be.<<

No, not if a lifetime of "you want fries with that" is their goal ...

>>The college environment is not only about preparing yourself for the real world, it's about relaxing and having fun.<<

Pretty damn expensive vacation resort. If I was laying out the kind of dough students are to get an education, I would make sure I was getting my money's worth. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

Nope, it's ONLY about having fun. No work required.

I just think that it's a nice sigh of relief that the current generation is a bit more well-humored then these out of touch professors. Only about 20 more years, and we should have ourselves a pretty nice society.

Hey, uptight egotistical professors: Yeah, we get it, you're published. Too bad they don't give out personalities with those Ph.Ds.

(NOTE: Who wants to bet that my opening sarcastic remarks will be taken seriously be at least five people?)

lammers said...

Anonymous wrote:
>>I just think that it's a nice sigh of relief that the current generation is a bit more well-humored then these out of touch professors. Only about 20 more years, and we should have ourselves a pretty nice society.<<

Ah, the naivete of youth! Do you REALLY think you'll still be hip and cool and with it and clued in, once you start losing your hair and getting a gut, and paying a mortgage? Do you REALLY think today's little babies will look up to you with adoring eyes when they are collegiates, and admire how tuned in you are to the latest pop culture phenom?

Yeah, we did, too ...

You gave up the Transformers and TMNT and My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake you adored in grade school. What makes you think the same poo-poo and fart jokes that thrilled you at 20 will still crank your scooter at 40?

The fact of the matter is that you will be a crabby flabby grey-haired curmudgeon, listening to Black Eyed Peas and 50 Cent and Gwen Stefani and Brittany Spears on your ridiculously outdated MP3 player, watching reruns of "Lost" and "Punk'd" on your old two-dimensional television, and b*tchin' about all those rude obnoxious punks who have no taste and no respect for their elders. I guarantee it.

Welcome to my world.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine says

In other words, faculty, admin and students have learned nothing from this business and nothing positive will come of it.

Regardless of what you think of this whole faisco there is a serious issue of hostile environment on this campus. I have seen quite a few faculty and students leave because of it. I will contiue to see people leave because of it.

Some people wring their hands about it. Some decide that treating the AT like a pinata will solve the problem, most don't give a flying f

Miles Maguire said...

Tom

You seem to argue that the A-T has an obligation to advance the university's agenda in creating a "welcoming environment," whatever that might mean.

You wrote:

Yes, it is, in the sense that is the obligation of EVERYONE here, from second-semester freshman to Chancellor. You in particular have great power as editor, and with that comes great responsibility. (I know, it's from a comic book, but that doesn't make it less true.)

Two thoughts:

First, it is extremely dangerous to argue that a newspaper has an obligation to a governmental authority to support its program. Let me give you an analogy.

The Washington Post makes a great deal of money because it is able to publish under the sweeping freedoms provided to it by the U.S Constitution. In addition it operates in a consumer economy whose strength and security are protected by the armed forces of the United States. Therefore it has an OBLIGATION to support the policies of the U.S. government and should not be reporting on any of the problems that our government is encountering in Iraq or such unfortunate facts as that our tax dollars have resulted in the deaths of untold numbers of innocent Iraqi civilians. Am I right? (Just to be clear, I am not.)

In the context of a democracy, the role of journalism is essentially oppositional. It should never endorse the status quo. Is it not better for a news outlet to mirror, as best as it can, the facts of the matter so that concerned citizens can take action to create a new set of facts? The people who run Fox News would not agree, but I think that answers my question.

Secondly, I think there is an emerging consensus that the UW Oshkosh campus does not provide a welcoming environment. Many students feel out of place here (including many who might appear on the surface to be "average," which probably explains why we have such a low alumni giving rate), and as a faculty member I think that is a bad thing. But journalists should not be involved in projecting a false image of welcome. Their only obligation is to reflect what they see and report as accurately as they can. They are not an instrument of the university's public relations machine and should not be.

The A-T advertises widely when it has openings on its staff. Current staffers include nontraditional students as well as members of ethnic minorities. Many of its most effective editors and reporters have been female. As far as I can tell, the staff over the years has reflected a healthy mix of values and political beliefs. It is a microcosm of the campus, although probably more diverse than the student body as a whole.

However flawed it may have been, the April Fool's edition surfaced some of the contradictions and inconsistencies that bedevil this campus. That's what a newspaper should do. We should appreciate that fact and take responsibility for trying to address those contradictions and inconsistencies.

As faculty let us all be mindful of power relationships. Student journalists sometimes appear to be more powerful than they really are because they enjoy the bully pulpit of their station. Until they are graduated, however, they are still students, and it is not our job to tell them what to think or how to act.

Our job is to provide an environment in which they can grow to be thoughtful, contributing members of our civil society.

I don't see how the scolding attitude of faculty members and administrators moves us closer to that goal.

When a member of one of our sports teams drops a pass or misses a shot, it reflects poorly on the university's image. Does the chancellor publicly call those students to account? Of course not. Do faculty members publish scathing e-mails? No.

We should recognize student mistakes for what they are: student mistakes.

Pretending that we have a great campus climate will not give us a great campus climate. Blaming students for having the temerity to bring climate issues into relief will not make those issues go away.

lammers said...

Mile Maguire wrote:
>>You seem to argue that the A-T has an obligation to advance the university's agenda in creating a "welcoming environment," whatever that might mean.<<

No, not at all. Don't put words in my mouth. I've never spoken about a "welcoming environment." What I said in the quoted passage is that EVERYONE here represents the university. No one is exempt.

If you will go back and read my prior posts, you will find me saying explicitly saying I did not think the Oshkosh Northwestern should be a lap dog for the university, that it would be wrong for the A-T to submit to censorship, that Ms. Barnard probably apologized too much, etc.

My theme has consistently been that the A-T REPRESENTS the university and that its staff needs to be MINDFUL of that responsibility. They are free to do as they please, but they must realize that what they do, RIGHTLY or WRONGLY, reflects on ALL of us.

All I am asking of the editors is to exhibit the sort of responsibility and maturity that anyone committed to safeguarding the First Amendment should exhibit.

Again, read all my posts. I do not want to have Authority say to them, "You must cease printing The Gripe Line." The Gripe Line isn't the point. I want the editorial staff to be the kind of people who say, "Wow, Gripe Line is really infantile crap. We want to dump it, NOW."

THAT is my point. I'm not concerned with the symptoms; I'm concerned with the condition they evince: lack of discretion and maturity and responsibility. It saddens me that they are apparently not the sort who can see that, but I'm not about to advocate dropping the hammer over it. I simply hope their successors next year will better understand editorial responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Miles also posted his own analysis over at his blog, where he argues the A-T has almost no bearing on the hostile environment. Blame the administration! he says:

http://news2go.blogspot.com/2007/04/strong-arming-student-journalists.html

lammers said...

Interesting. I'd like to hear from some of the folks who don't feel the university is a welcoming place. Is it the Chancellor and Provost who didn't invite you to the party? Did an English prof shun you in the hall? Was it a group of staff in Dempsey who were looking your way, pointing and snickering?

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing most folks who have a beef with this place, who don't feel comfortable being who they are around here, feel that way because of things their fellow students have done, not the administration.

Anonymous said...

You are half right, lammers. When students harass other students for, say, being gay - maybe chase them down the street at night calling them names or something? That's bad.

When someone from the administration supposedly tells the student that it wasn't harassment, that there is nothing the university can do about it and he should just buck up and deal with it, that is just as bad, if not worse.

The lack of administrative action against the perpetrators of hate on campus is essentially condoning it. Those that shoved a professor around for wearing a pro-gay button, those who wrote all the "fag" slurs on the sidewalks - they got away with every thing. They know that they can do whatever they want - they won't be held accountable.

lammers said...

>>When someone from the administration supposedly tells the student that it wasn't harassment, that there is nothing the university can do about it and he should just buck up and deal with it, that is just as bad, if not worse. The lack of administrative action against the perpetrators of hate on campus is essentially condoning it. Those that shoved a professor around for wearing a pro-gay button, those who wrote all the "fag" slurs on the sidewalks - they got away with every thing. They know that they can do whatever they want - they won't be held accountable.<<

Hm. I'm having a hard time believing that if perpetrators could be identified, they would not be dealt with harshly. When someone is assaulted, assault charges should be filed. On the other hand, sidewalk scribblers (like anonymous bloggers) seldom sign their missives, so they are understandably a bit hard to hold accountable for their words.

As the A-T episode illustrates, the administration seems to be especially sensitive to anything even remotely smelling of hate, bigotry, bias, or discrimination, and if anything, to over-react to such things. If your accusations "supposedly" were true, then how has the nasty stereotype of university administration (and faculty) as a bunch of bleeding-heart liberal do-gooders who bend over backwards to acquiesce to "special interest groups" become so pervasive?

Your charge of callous indifference and thinly-veiled hatred on the part of the administration just doesn't ring true. Perhaps we do not always get the response we think we should when we turn to the administration, but it doesn't do anyone any good to spin and distort that response. Stick to the facts.

Anonymous said...

Ask Chief Melland about an incident that occured on October 18, 2006, around 9 pm. Find out if they closed the case. Find out if they charged anyone with harassment.

Ask the victims advocate on campus about what they did to advocate for the victim.

I don't think the administration are "haters", only that slaps on the wrist, failure to provide a safe atmostphere, and yes, occasionally "callous indiference" contribute to, not cause, the "unwelcoming" atmosphere. However the administration appears to be making very great strides to change that, and the administration should be given credit when credit is due.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could elaborate on the incident so we know more about what you are talking about.

Lake Winneblogo said...

Tony weighs in on the controversy over at his blog. In summary; too much talk and not enough action:

http://talktotony.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html#6351114218439957731

Anonymous said...

Not everything someone thinks isn't right or doesn't like is illegal. If the Police didn't charge anyone my bet is they couldn't.