Digging Holes

One of the truest things I've learned about life in academia is that often times it is best (by which I mean least inconvenient) to keep one's mouth closed unless it's a last resort. And so I worry a little that I may have backed myself against a wall today.

There's been some concern at my school about the state of our newspaper (which, to be fair, has made sure that every bit of concern is warranted). Recently, the paper attempted a take-off of the popular website and book series Post Secret. Unlike the site, the newspaper's attempt was much less about catharsis and confession than about (attempted) humor and titillation. Some of it worked better than others. Some of it was clearly a matter of poor editorial choice.

But the reaction from the University - or at least from faculty and what few administrators I know - has been shortsighted and narrow-minded in a fairly generational way. "Why don't those kids understand what a newspaper is for?" is one easy way the response could be framed.

Now I'm not a newspaper reader myself; I like the interwebs for most things newsy. But I do know enough to recognize that there's a generational difference between the kids I teach and the adults I work with about what a newspaper is for. And I recognize that at my SLAC, the newspaper has been put in the worst possible situation for success: it's run as a club, it barely has faculty involvement, the editors have no means of giving consequence to the newspaper staff. And so, after listening to multiple gripes about the newspaper and what should be done, I found myself stepping up to defend the paper. My defense wasn't based around First Amendment considerations - though I did point out that it would seem part of the point is to let students muck about with it and that if we were going to let them, we'd have to be prepared for what we see as mistakes - but rather around the fact that we've failed institutionally to help the newspaper be what we know it can be.

And I got in touch with the newspaper editors today - trying to explain to them what "off the record" means - to give them a heads up that they're currently standing at the bottom of a very steep, snowy hill that's just a lot of loud noise unleashed at the top. They should expect a mess and be prepared to start digging.

I think I did the right thing. But I'm also worried that as I've tried to help think of ways to dig out of this, that I've, in fact, dug myself into something I don't have time to deal with. I'm on an overload this term (effectively teaching 5 courses), at some point my book is going to come back to darken my desk, I'm on the job market, blah blah blah. I'm co-advising our department's honor society. I can't do one more thing.

Still, I cannot escape the feeling that by speaking up, I've volunteered. And I don't particularly like that doing something that I think needed to be done is going to likely result in something that is, essentially, a punishment wrapped in the form of school duty.


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