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Editor's note: Commentary provides university faculty and staff an opportunity to express their opinions in The Miami University Report. Contributions should be no longer than 500-600 words in length and should be directed to Bill Houk (physics), firstname.lastname@example.org. Published commentaries also will be posted online at www.muohio.edu/townsquare/commentary.
On September 2 I submitted an essay to The Miami Report titled “A Response to President Garland's State of the University Address.” I hoped it would encourage the Miami community to explore concerns the President raised. I also hoped to see the commentary printed in the Report. This did not happen, but what did is the occasion for this commentary.
A few days after I submitted my essay a Report staff member, Ms. Claire Wagner, left a voice mail message to inform me that my 3,264-word essay exceeded the 600-word limit. Ms. Wagner explained my options: summarize the essay, or have the Report print the first 600 words and publish an online link to the article. She invited me to call if I had questions. I did.
I asked why the Report waived its 600-word policy on commentary when it published the President's 7,000-word State of the University Address, also a commentary in my view. She replied, “Because he's the President.” I asked if she thought it fair that the Report printed the President's 7,000-word essay and restricted opposing views to 600 words. Her response was to e-mail me the policy. I asked if the Report had considered following the President's address issue with one a few weeks later showcasing the reactions of others. Her reply was to reiterate the policy, which led me to conclude that in her view, upholding policy was more important than generating discussion of the President's message.
So I inquired about the appeal process. Ms. Wagner said there was none. I said that surely every university process had an appeal mechanism and asked her to e-mail it to me. Her response read: “Regarding your appeal, I stated your case to Richard Little, senior director of university communications, and explained what you believe the issues to be. Richard said he denies your appeal. I've done what I can.”
This memo astonished me. I had asked Ms. Wagner to send me the appeal process, not to appeal on my behalf. I had no interest in having someone predisposed to not publishing my essay state my views, and to do so without informing me of the appeal seems cavalier at least.
Mr. Little's apparent decision to hear the appeal also dumbfounded me, since he is a chief advisor and occasional speechwriter for the President. Recusing himself would at least have avoided the perception of conflict of interest.
While I am expert in neither newspaper policy nor appeal procedure, I suggest that the Report could be an important venue for dialogue about the President's address. Since the Report allowed President Garland to express his views in their entirety, it should find a way to publish dissenting views in their entirety (in fact it might even invite them). If an appellate officer is centrally involved with a case, that person should not hear an appeal. And at minimum, there should be some conversation with an appealing party before rendering a decision.
I sent President Garland my State of the University commentary before submitting it to the Report. I received a thoughtful and satisfying reply. He explained that he uses this address to “prod the University into thinking about substantive issues.” He noted that universities sometimes avoid such conversations and he believes they are important. I agree, but the Report's policies and practices impede the President's aim.
A primary message of my original essay - Miami needs responsible leaders, fair policies, and enacted values congruent with its espoused ones - seems now to me even more important.
Date Published: 10/06/2005