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Archive for November, 2015

Of all the madness that has been taking place at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus the last week or so, here’s what puzzled me most:

What the hell was an assistant professor of communications doing trying to block a couple of journalists from getting access to a group of student protesters? 

Although you haven’t seen them in The Star, widely disseminated photographs show Melissa Click, the professor, trying to stop a student photographer, Tim Tai, from photographing the protesters on Monday.

First of all, why would Click involve herself in a student protest? It appeared as if the students were doing OK for themselves, having brought down the president of the university system and the Columbia chancellor.

But there she was Monday (below), wearing an angry frown and calling for “muscle” to help remove another young man who was recording the confrontation between herself and Tai.

melissa click

This from a communications professor with a Ph.D., who apparently didn’t understand the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and assembly on public ground.

Here’s part of the exchange between Click and cameraman Mark Schierbecker:

Schierbecker: I’m media. Can I talk to you?
Click: No, you need to get out! You need to get out!
Schierbecker: No I don’t.
Click: You need to get out.
Schierbecker: I actually don’t.

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Student photographer Tim Tai

Tai, who is only 20, and Schierbecker handled themselves respectfully and professionally, asserting their right to stand their ground and resisting any urge to angrily engage Click. Even at my age and with my background, I’m not sure I could have been that restrained.

Tai said later:”I wish she had handled the situation differently, but as a journalist it really just became part of the scene I was presented with and I never took her or anyone else’s actions personally.”

…Click’s background and areas of professional focus are, shall we say, a bit out of the mainstream. Perhaps that helps explain how she wandered off the beaten path Monday.

Her bio, on the university’s website, cites her research interests as “popular culture texts and audiences” and says her work “is guided by audience studies, theories of gender and sexuality, and media literacy.”

The website goes on to say that her current research projects include “the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga, masculinity and male fans, messages about class and food in reality television programming, and messages about work in children’s television programs.”

Her doctoral dissertation was about the “commodification of femininity, affluence and whiteness in the Martha Stewart phenomenon.”

Her bio prompted Maureen Sullivan, a contributing writer at Forbes, to write an article titled “Why do Parents Hate Paying College Tuition? Meet Missouri Professor Melissa Click,” in which Sullivan said Click “crystallizes the view that tuition dollars are spent on nonsense, and sometimes worse.”

Click has been affiliated with MU since 2003, and she became an assistant professor in 2008.

MU officials have given no indication of how Click’s antics might affect her employment status, but her department issued a statement rebuking her actions.

The University of Missouri Department of Communication supports the First Amendment as a fundamental right and guiding principle underlying all that we do as an academic community. We applaud student journalists who were working in a very trying atmosphere to report a significant story. Intimidation is never an acceptable form of communication.

To her credit, Click issued an unequivocal apology, which Tai accepted.

…I do not know if Click has tenure, and, in any event, I would be surprised if she was fired. But I would think her chances of becoming a full professor have been greatly reduced.

All in all, she would have been a lot better off spending Monday doing more research on Lady Gaga instead of trying to emulate a Kansas City Chiefs lineman.

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The last two presidents of the University of Missouri system have lasted a total of less than seven years.

Each had previously worked in upper management in the insular world of big business. Neither had experience in academia.

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Gary Forsee

Gary Forsee, former C.E.O. at Sprint — the man who engineered the disastrous merger of Sprint and Nextel — served from February 2008 to January 2011. Although his relatively brief tenure at MU was not marred by any significant scandals, he certainly didn’t leave much of a legacy.

 

 

Tim Wolfe, who resigned as president Monday morning, succeeded Forsee in February 2012. (An interim president served slightly less than a year.) Wolfe had previously worked in upper management for IBM and the software firm Novell.

If ever there was a time for a change of approach in the hiring of the top person at MU, it is now.

It’s imperative, in my view, that the MU board of curators hire someone with administrative experience at a higher educational institution…someone who understands the warp and the weft of campus life and who enjoys mingling with students and talking with them about their college experiences.

Forsee and Wolfe were out of their depths and lacked the ability to communicate effectively with people at every level of the four campuses they oversaw.

In my experience the best leaders are those who are a good fit for their positions and effective communicators.

As most of you know, I was a reporter and editor at The Star for 36-plus years. The best editor I ever had, Mike Waller, who went on to become publisher at the Hartford Courant and The Sun in Baltimore, endeared himself to the rank and file partly by roaming around the newsroom, chatting with reporters, assignment editors, photographers and copy editors. More than once, he stooped down and read the top part of stories I was writing and offered comments or suggestions.

Since retiring from The Star in 2008, I’ve been a substitute teacher at middle schools and high schools in the Shawnee Mission School District. I have seen first hand that the best principals are those who are outside greeting the students in the morning and seeing them off in the afternoon.

In general, I think it’s fair to say, leaders who secrete themselves in their offices tend to lose the confidence of those who rely on them for inspiration and leadership.

I don’t know for sure that Tim Wolfe secreted himself in his office, but I know of two telling incidents where lack of communication got him big trouble.

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Tim Wolfe

The first incident occurred in 2012, according to Wikipedia, when Wolfe announced that the University of Missouri Press — the university’s main publishing arm — would shut down and be replaced by a new publishing operation. This from Wikipedia:

 

Wolfe said he did not know how much the new model would cost and that he had not spoken to any employees at the press before making his decision. In October 2012, it was announced that the University of Missouri Press would not close after all. Wolfe said that he always intended to increase the cost-effectiveness of the press and that it was never the plan to close the press. He said that he should have spoken to more press employees, authors, and other publishers earlier in the decision-making process.

And then there was the incident on Oct. 10, during MU’s homecoming parade, when several black students shouted chants, demanding to have marginalized voices heard.

If Wolfe had an ounce of common sense — and if he was the sort of leader who could communicate effectively — he would have gotten out of his car and talked to the students. “What’s up?” would have been a good way to start a conversation.

Instead he remained ensconced in his steel cocoon. Was he afraid the students were going to beat him up? Was he in a hurry to meet the homecoming king and queen? Whatever the case, he waited for Columbia police to shoo the students from the parade route and continued on his way.

By no means was that the only chance Wolfe and Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin (who also is on the way out) failed to respond to complaints and protests from black students — and other minority students — who had been subjected to a succession of slights and offenses. Other incidents included a truck-load of dim wits shouting racial slurs at an African-American student who is president of the MU Students Association and one or more students using human feces to draw a swastika in the bathroom of a student residence hall.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that an MU president with a background in academic administration will be successful. But it’s certainly time for the board of curators to stop trolling the ranks of former and current business executives and set about finding someone with a track record of effective communication and leadership at either MU or another higher-education institution.

For the last couple of days, the MU situation has been one of the biggest stories in the nation. (The story was on the front page of The New York Times website Monday night and had drawn more than 1,345 comments.)

…The next MU president’s biggest job will be fostering an environment of accommodation, open-mindedness and goodwill toward all. It’s a hell of an opportunity for someone with really good “people skills.” Let’s hope the board of curators understands that.

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Patty and I got back to KC last night after a week on the road — a monumental week here in KC, which we kept up with on TV and kansascity.com.

A lot of times when you leave town, you don’t miss much. Then, every 30 years or so, there are weeks like this one, where…

:: The Royals win the World Series

:: A downtown parade attracts 800,000 people. (Estimate courtesy of Mayor Sly James, who apparently has a master’s in Hyperbolic Numerical Studies.)

:: Alex Gordon opts for free agency.

:: The first streetcar arrives.

:: Southwest High School is slated for closing.

:: The state of Kansas continues to loses hundreds of millions in revenue and, by the day, becomes less livable.

…I guess you’re wondering just what could have taken us out of town during a week like this. Well, it was mostly business — Patty’s business. She has a company that designs and manufactures clergy vestments, primarily for women, and she was displaying and selling her products in my hometown of Louisville, KY, and Sewanee, TN. I was along mostly to help load and unload; set up and tear down; and drive.

Here are some of the highlights — just in case you’re wondering how a couple of absentee Royals’ fans spent their days while Kansas City was going crazy.

** We arrived in Louisville last Saturday night and immediately went to a bar-restaurant called the Mellow Mushroom to watch Game 4, which we had been listening to on the radio. The game was in the sixth inning, and although this was the World Series, not one TV in the bar was tuned in to the game. Every TV was on the Kentucky-Tennessee football game — which I could sort of understand, except that Tennessee was winning by more than 20 points…Kindly, the manager granted our request to turn one TV to the baseball game. By the time the game ended, we were about the last people in the bar and were yelling our fool heads off.

** For Game 5, Sunday, we went to a bar called Molly Malone’s. Again, not one TV was tuned in to the World Series. Every TV was on the Sunday night football game between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers…Now I was convinced that my hometown was no longer the town where I had grown up — the town where lots of people, including me, avidly followed the Cincinnati Reds, who play about 100 miles up I-71. Once again, though, a bartender accommodated us and switched a TV to the only game that really mattered. Seated at the bar, we screamed and shouted as Eric Hosmer “stole home” with the tying run and the Royals went on to blow the ham-handed Mets out of the series…Patty celebrated with a couple of shots of whiskey; I had two N/A beers.

** On Tuesday, we heard from our daughter Brooks, who had braved the crowd of about a million people (hey, Sly could have been a couple hundred thousand off, right?) and had her photo taken with none other than Most Valuable Broadcaster Rex Hudler.

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Brooks and Rex

** Tuesday night we left Louisville, where Patty had been selling at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and headed to Sewanee, TN, an hour and a half southeast of Nashville. Patty’s objective was the School of Theology at Sewanee:The University of the South. The university, founded in 1858, sits atop the Cumberland Plateau, which is basically the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains. While Patty worked, I played golf Wednesday and Thursday. I lost about half a dozen balls the first day and came close to hitting one off the Cumberland Plateau. Fortunately it stopped in some heavy grass behind the green. (At least I think that’s where it ended up; I never found it.)

** Thursday night we headed west and stopped in Nashville. Boy, was I excited! The last time I was in Nashville, about a year and a half ago, I had a great time hanging out on Honky Tonk Row, the strip of bars on Broadway between Fourth and Fifth streets. Back then, I latched on to a couple of musicians — a lead guitarist and a bass player — who moved around from one bar to another and one band to another. Those two guys could play just about any song anyone requested. Their forte was classic country by artists like George Strait, Alabama and Brooks and Dunn…This time, I was hoping to find those guys again and, if not, at least hear some similar music.

Nashville is a high-energy tourist town, and several thousand people clogged that one-block stretch Thursday night. I arrived on the scene at 10 p.m. (Patty had gone back to the hotel after dinner) — just as the early-session bands were wrapping up and the late-session groups were about to take over. During the changeover, I meandered from bar to bar, checking out the groups that were setting up and hoping at least one group would offer classic country music. After the bands struck up the music, however, it was pretty clear that rock and country-rock were the only genres being offered. By about 11:15, I was on my way back to the hotel.

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Thursday night on Honky Tonk Row in Nashville

I was disappointed, but I’ve been around long enough and seen enough to know “you can’t always get what you want” and even though you might not like it, things change.

…The disappointment was short-lived, however, because yesterday morning we headed home. Back to Kansas City…Kansas City, home of the World Champion Kansas City Royals.

Even experiencing it vicariously, it was a hell of a week.

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