The Great Debates
I intended this letter as a note of thanks and congratulations to whichever of your whiz kids finally realized that my beloved Centre [Centre College, in Danville] is a viable market for Lexington news. The addition of an ACE rack to the Doherty Library foyer is long overdue and welcome.
On the way back to my room, I opened the paper and was even more pleasantly surprised to find generous coverage of the Danville debate [Cover, Oct 12]. Then I began reading.
I was horrified and hurt.
As a part-time resident of Richmond-Lexington, I depend on ACE for a clear and honest view of the news. I know you don't and won't sell out, or muffle your voices to appease your subscribers. I know that you do and will cover issues of importance to an intelligent audience-an audience of which I nearly always find myself a part. Unfortunately, today I found myself looking at an attitude gone too far.
It's one thing for Alex De Grand to cover and support last week's protests in his column [citybeat, Oct 5]-the folio title of "News & Views" makes it clear that opinion is a definite part of his work. It's quite another to make your cover story an excuse for an anti-establishment rant.
Were police and civil authorities overly cautious in preparing Danville for the debates? Probably. I don't blame them. The Norton Center was, as we bragged for weeks, the smallest venue the Debate Comission has ever chosen.
It was also probably the most publicized event in Centre history. Green party representatives, among others, had long since made public their intentions to march and possibly defy the protest ordinances. I wouldn't have been surprised to see the Danville PD show up in full riot armor.
It was deeply disturbing to see such one-sided coverage of the issue in your paper. Mr. De Grand's article, apparently meant to cover peacekeeping tactics at the debate, seemed built almost entirely on the annoyance of protesters and guesses at police mentality. The appearance of one UK detective (out of uniform, and not in a squad car) is not news. An interview with a professor at EKU (Why not UK? Or, for that matter, Centre?) about what police officers might be thinking is not evidence.
The facts of the situation-peaceful protests, no arrests and a college that actually provided PA equipment for dissenting opinions-do nothing but contradict the unjustified labels on the story...It approaches yellow journalism.
It's not ACE.
Centre College, Class of 2003
edited for space
I wonder who pays Alex DeGrand for his green propaganda? ACE or Ralph Nader?
As Martin Luther King wrote from Birmingham Jail, "misunderstanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding of ill will." Imagine the frustration that comes from reading the following line in your October 12th cover story:
"Last year, protests at a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle turned ugly when some protesters became violent and police responded in kind."
That one sentence contains two glaring errors that cannot escape comment. First, your chronology is problematic. The Seattle Police had been gassing and beating peacefully seated protesters for two hours before any activists turned to vandalism. In fact, the first shattered windows were the result of tear gas canisters being fired through storefronts to get at protesters who had ran inside. Second, there's a big difference between violence and vandalism; one is breaking property and the other is breaking people. At no point in time did the protestors turn violent.
This is the story the mainstream media deliberately missed and continues to miss. Obviously, a detailed accounting of the events, like the one above, is beyond the scope of your cover story. However, because the events in Seattle continue to be misunderstood a correction remains both necessary and newsworthy.
Demockracy: Gush, Bore or Nadir? Whether Repugnantcan, Democrackhead or Indope-endent, I hope all your readers will rouse themselves to get out and teach their votes to count. Here in the United States of I-might-care, this wonderful land of freedumb, what else might we possibly do? Seriously, if you don't, any pinhead who can pull a lever can control your future.
P.S. If you're a pinhead with lever-pulling skills please accept my full apologies.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. -Eleanor Roosevelt
Every so often (but never as often as we'd like), we run a story that generates enough response to cripple our poor mailman and crash our server.
"Publish or Perish" (Steven Tweddell's August 24 cover story) generated a particularly lengthy and overwhelming response. In it, he profiled a terminated professor who was - by all accounts- a great teacher, and by his own admission, a poor researcher. After about a month, when both sides on an issue have had an ample say, we usually close out the dialogue - but on this one, the mail still keeps coming.
The first camp - comprised mostly of students and alums - say that they feel teaching is an important part of any college education (and don't understand why it isn't valued more than it is). One student protested, "I find more TAs teaching classes, understandable English optional, professors repeating coursebooks word for word with no additional insights, and little or no interest if you are understanding the key concepts of the course."
The second camp - equally vehement and twice as resentful - suggested that this is a non-issue, that it's "life at a research university." Another wrote that students are attracted by research, not teaching. A faculty member wrote that "your reporter posited a dichotomy... that simply does not exist."
Unfortunately, the dichotomy does exist.
Our story did not suggest that superior research and excellent teaching need to be mutually exclusive, only that they sometimes seem to be. And that of the two, the former is more valued. There's almost always a slot for a gifted researcher at any university (even if he is a thoroughly incompetent, incoherent, or even negligent teacher), while a superior teacher (with mediocre research abilities) will probably land on the streets.
The tone and text of the story did not dismiss the vital need for research or minimize its critical value to a university, it simply emphasized the need to value teaching as well. Some programs attempt to make room for both, but there's still a lot of work to be done.
Part of the reason this is on my mind is because I've made a couple trips to my own alma mater in the last couple weeks, to participate in a series of informal lectures.
The first time I visited, a student asked me what I had gotten out of my college experience (which took about 10 minutes), and how it differed from my graduate school experience (which took about one sentence). In college, I learned. For four years, my life was (primarily) consumed by the sheer intoxication of ideas (and I was a mediocre student, at best). I formed relationships with my professors that have lasted to this day. Some of them have become my friends. And they have remained a part of a very small group of men and women I truly admire. They also spoiled me - for graduate school, which had everything to do with politics and almost nothing to do with knowledge or ideas. And they certainly spoiled me for life in the real world - where, mostly, nobody cares.
Of course, one could argue, it's a liberal arts college, not a research institution. It's their job to teach. And at the risk of pointing out the obvious: uh duhhhhhh.
But they're not exactly research slackers either. Most of them have multiple books to their credit, copious articles in scholarly journals, and they still manage (via research and ongoing professional development) to stay current in their field, while keeping their classrooms fresh and exciting. Proving it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.
They make it look easy.
So easy that when I backed into the field of teaching (part-time) a few years ago, I just assumed I could do it too.
But it isn't easy to hold the attention of a roomful of 18-21 year olds - many of whom would rather be anywhere but there. It's exhausting to come home after a hard week's work and sit down with a stack of papers and try to come up with meaningful commentary that's enlightening, illuminating, and somehow firm without being discouraging. And sure, it can be tiring (and tiresome) to answer the same question 43 times.
But I do it. Not for a living. Not as a career move. Not for the money. I do it because (in some undoubtedly ill-advised descent into sentimentality and romanticism) I consider it an honor and a privilege to stand in front of a group of students and teach. I don't kid myself that I'm capable of changing their lives in a few hours a week, but that doesn't stop me from trying.
So when faculty members write in (as a few have) whining about how the time demands of research leaves nothing for the students- whom they consider a nuisance - they get no sympathy from me. I already have a day job that takes a minimum of 12 hours a day, six days a week, and I doubt their research schedule is much more demanding than that. I still manage to get to my classroom prepared, enthusiastic, and genuinely eager to hear what my students have to say.
On the first day, I make it clear that I work for them - not the other way around. And as such, they are entitled to expect things of me (and of all their professors). Things like accessibility, knowledge, and a passion for the time I spend with them.
Last week, I had the rare honor of actually teaching a workshop at my alma mater with one of my former English professors. Over the course of a few hours, he managed to come up with journalism metaphors that somehow incorporated everything from Snickers bars and M&Ms to Aristotle and Alexis deTocqueville. He managed to make punctuation riveting (describing an over-reliance on exclamation points, for example, as "whorish" and "slutty," and extolling the virtues that accompany the elegance of restraint). It's possible he thought I needed a refresher.
I contributed very little to the dialogue, but came away from the evening inspired by the way he's still on fire for language and ideas, 30-some years into a career. And that he's still so gifted at communicating that fire to even the most jaded cynic.
At the risk of seeming slutty and whorish, learning ought to be passionate! And I just don't know how you come by that experience without passionate teachers.