I went to the latest of EMU President James Smith’s “Listening Sessions” on Friday, probably the only one I’m going to be able to go to because my January schedule is going to get pretty crazy busy pretty soon. This was the third one of these sessions, and there are three more to come. And for what it’s worth, here’s the schedule:
Session 4: January 17, 2017 2:00 p.m. 217 Porter
Session 5: January 18, 2017 10:00 a.m. 114 Owen
Session 6: February 3, 2017 10:00 a.m. Student Center Auditorium
So what happened? Well, if you saw this video I posted here back in December, then pretty much the same thing as that. Most (though not all) of the questions/comments from the people there were about the debacle of punishing student protesters for sitting around the student center for too long. My colleague Rob Halpern read from a letter he had recently sent to President Smith, one that is along the same lines as to what he wrote for RAW recently. Rob sent me this latest letter and I’m posting it in its entirety in a separate post on the site. I think it’s fair to say that he captured in that letter the sentiments held by most people in the room. Honestly, Smith et al’s lack of willingness to do the humane thing and dismiss all disciplinary actions against these students for conducting a peaceful sit-in continues to perplex me and pretty much everyone I talk to about this.
And I think you have to say “listening” in scare-quotes because I really didn’t see a lot of that– or maybe a slightly better/different way of putting it is maybe Smith heard what people were saying, but I’m not seeing any evidence that there is any sort of corresponding action. These are more “listening” sessions, as in “let’s let people say stuff, say ‘I hear you,’ say something general back, and then pretty much ignore this and just keep doing what we’re doing.”
One obvious example the administration’s stubbornness on not forgiving these student protesters in the name of “rules are rules.” But I think another example that came up at this session is Smith’s take on football.
During Friday’s session, I had the chance to ask Smith about an interview he did with WEMU back in the late summer about the out of whack athletic department budget. Back then, Smith said something along the lines of “we need to find a different way to pay for football.” I asked him about that, and basically his response “we’re working on it.” Then some other people asked about some other things that need to be done on campus– facility upgrades, a potential new center for media studies facility, and so forth. Smith was interestingly more specific about this, arguing that because we’re not likely to be getting a lot of funding from the state for this sort of thing, we’re going to have to find some outside donors to contribute. So I said something along the lines of “Why don’t we just stop playing football? And what I think you’re saying here is while we’re going to need to get some outside donors to pay for things like a new media studies facility, we’re still going to spend tuition money on football.” His answer was “yes.”
So not listening, “listening.” And frankly, not leadership, but “leadership.”