Sunday, January 22, 2012

Streaking, Teaching, "Maybe" & Jordan

Musings on four subjects: streaking photos at East Carolina, teacher ratings in North Carolina, Mitt Romney’s “maybe” comment, and my UNC-CH graduate nephew’s attendance with me at the NC State-Boston College game last week:

Publishing photos of streakers:
The recent firing at East Carolina University of the student media advisor baffles me if the reason he was fired is because he didn’t stop the students at the student newspaper there to publish photos of a man who streaked at a home football game last fall. There has to be more than that to the story, though the University, without breaking any law, could give reason for his firing. That the now former media advisor will not allow public view of his personnel record is indication enough that there must be more to the firing than the photos of the naked man running across the football field.

In the early 1970s, The Technician, NC State University’s student newspaper, published photos of campus streakers—students in the buff except for tennis shoes running through campus as onlookers laughed at what they saw. No media advisor was let go after the first or second time photos were published. No reprimand was given to the newspaper editor for publishing photos.

Probably worse than those photos was one published in the April Fool’s edition in the spring of 1975 when the centerfold of the paper was a nude depiction of United States Senator Jesse Helms, lying on his side, his head propped up on his right hand. The picture didn’t show a completely nude senator Helms as a well-placed hat was present. And, obviously it wasn’t really Senator Helms but that of a student who posed for the photo in the basement of the University Student Center. The photo editor of The Technician pasted the face of Senator Helms over the student’s face. (That was the extent of Photoshop at the time.) No one was fired because of that. As a matter of fact, then Chancellor John T. Caldwell, without a doubt the best Chancellor ever at NC State University, found humor in the photo and the accompanying interview and article that said Senator Helms would replace the soon-to-retire Dr. Caldwell. He believed in free student expression, especially in The Technician.

From the first day that college students have written, edited and published student newspapers, some administrators unnecessarily have tried to control the content, but that should stop. Administrators need to back off; student newspaper editors and writers—while trying to maintain good judgment—should rebel against administrations that try to control what the students do. A good advisor should give advice but not make demands or censor the content. The flack over the photos at East Carolina University does little to enhance the University and a lot to destroy relationships between administrators and students, especially student newspaper editors.

NC State University’s Bottom 100 Professors
North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction now has a report card on teachers across the state. The report card was compiled based on evaluations by principals. This idea of rating teachers reminds me of another NC State University story from the early 1970s which involved the rating of professors yet it was done differently than how the North Carolina teachers are being rated.

The NC State faculty and administration wanted to find out how student felt about professors and instructors across the campus, so the students were asked to complete a survey which contained only multiple choice answers. When the survey was completed, a huge report was compiled. Remember, this was the early 1970s and the computer language of choice was FORTRAN so the data was put on punch cards and the NC State computing center in the basement of Nelson Hall ran the report, some four or five inches thick of continuous form paper.

A committee of faculty, staff, administrators and one student were given the report and met to discuss it. They were told not to share the report or the results with anyone. The student member of the committee stashed her copy in the trunk of her car and never produced it at meetings. No one questioned her possession of the report until the findings were published in The Technician, the student newspaper. It seems that the student with the report misplaced it into the hands of one of The Technciain's associate editors.

Printed in the newspaper was a listing of the Bottom 100 Professors at NC State University. The students at the newspaper combed the report to find the faculty listed in the last 100 positions in the report. The article explained this was the result of the students input with the survey and that it was the duty of the newspaper to warn fellow students of the bottom 100 professors on campus as rated by the students.

The list included many professors highly respected by peers across the campus, the state and the country. Several on the list had PhD degrees and were well-published. Some were Masters Degree holders. Some were distinguished professors, at least in the eyes of their peers and administrators. There was outrage on the campus from the faculty and the administration, but no one could dispute the list. The administration demanded to know how the newspaper obtained the list, but the students refused to reveal sources. When the smoke cleared, the administration decided to never again ask the students their opinions on the professors. Any such ratings would only be done by department heads and other higher ups on campus.

This brings me back to the NC Department of Public Instruction report which is laughable at best because it’s obviously self-serving. Principals are charged with hiring of teachers. And, a principal only reluctantly will give a bad public report to one of its hires. The NC Department of Public Instruction doesn't list the names of teachers, but it should. Possibly it could shame a few to get better or leave the system. Possibly it could encourage our educational leaders to weed out the bad teachers (if the NCAE will allow it) and hire good teachers.

Maybe? What was he thinking?
“Maybe” was Mitt Romney’s response when he was asked last week if he would release as many tax returns—eight—as his father, George, did in 1968 when he was running for President, trying to win the Republican Party’s nomination over eventual winner Richard Nixon who went on to defeat Hubert Humphrey in the general election that year and later resigned over a bunch of stupid stuff.

Actually, from a public relations viewpoint, Romney’s answer, in which he seemed to be trying to come across as humorous, was stupid at the very least. When it comes to his taxes, Romney is getting bad advice which hopefully doesn’t come from within his own mind. If that’s the case, Romney, who took a beating from Newt Gingrich in last Saturday’s Republican president primary in South Carolina, is not the person who should be the GOP nominee and definitely shouldn’t be president. You would think that a person who built a small fortune through hard work would have more “10 level thinking” as my mother-in-law and others say.

His battle with his taxes—the subject of intense pounding from his opponents even though exit polls show that’s not the reason for his distance second place finish in the Palmetto State—is a hindrance to his campaign. He made his bed; he wrestles with himself in it. He’s his own enemy, especially when he reveals paying a tax rate of about 15% on his income. Perception is reality in this case, and the general public perceives his 15% paid as his ability to shelter income when in reality he’s doing what the law allows.

As Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, suggested recently Romney needs to know what every line on his return means and should step forth and explain that he’s simply following the complicated United States tax code which includes too many ifs, ands and buts contributed by members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. Releasing his tax returns for a several years should not do him harm in November, especially if released now…maybe. What may hurt him is if the reports of his wealth being stash in banks in the Cayman Islands are true and that he is sheltering his income and tax bill by doing that…maybe. It all depends on the appetite Americans will have for change in presidential leadership come November…maybe. If Romney is the nominee…maybe.

“Into the Wolves’ Den”
Last week, my nephew Jordan—Rogers not Pomeranz (I have a nephew Jordan on each side of my family)—attended the NC State-Boston College basketball game with me. It was in the RBC Center, the Wolfpack’s home away from home. The Jordan that went with me is a UNC-CH graduate and fan so it was a little unusual to have him there. I’d probably never invite him to the game when UNC-CH comes to NC State University to play a basketball game though I did invite his uncle, Rusty, another UNC-CH graduate and fan, to attend last fall’s fifth straight Wolfpack victory over UNC-CH in the football game played at Carter-Finley Stadium. Never say never.

Anyway, Jordan is a journalist of sorts with his own website, a pretty darn good one at that. He went home that evening and penned a post about his first basketball game experience at the RBC where he had previously attended a hockey game and a concert. His website is called: TheBlackFalcon.Net, where you can read about his experience “Into the Wolves’ Den” that night as well as a bunch of other good stuff he’s written, even a piece about Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried: "The GottFather"

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