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3.10.07

ULM betrays higher learning by reaction to prank video

To say the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s administration overreacted to a sophomoric prank would be an understatement. To say concerning the incident that ULM’s administration strayed from what an institution of higher learning should be about would be charitable. To say that the ULM’s administration’s response to the situation was an exercise geared more towards soothing itself and catering to its own attitudes rather than appropriately dealing with the situation would be accurate.

Some time ago, a white ULM student on the spur of the moment with her white buddies decided to do an impromptu interpretation of the crime at the heart of the “Jena 6” case – where one black juvenile assisted by others is alleged to have beaten a white classmate. Some of them smeared themselves with mud (presumably as “blackface”) and then pantomimed pummeling and kicking one of them on the ground, amid mostly laughter and one racial epithet. (Supposedly there was also an exchange where one suggested putting a noose around the “victim” – which apparently did not happen in the real-life incident – but I couldn’t hear that.) The 1:12 video’s audio was bad, its cinematography was wanting, and if you knew nothing about the Jena 6 incident, you’d have no idea what it was about.

Despite the poor artistic quality of it all, the female still thought it worthy enough of posting to a social networking site. Eventually, other students stumbled onto it and some were disturbed by it. This caused the woman to reevaluate her posting of it as apparently she did not mean to offend anybody with it, and she took it off the site with apologies.

Yet, in the eyes of the ULM administration, the damage seemed to have been done when the “national” media made inquiries about it. My guess is, since I can’t find any other national media reference to it at the time of writing this, that it came from a Washington Post blogger – who asks the questions the ULM administration should have considered.

Rather, ULM reacted as if it were time to suspend the university’s business of education in order to embark on a group therapy session, on short notice convening a gathering of students, estimated at 500 and most of who, for some reason, were participants in the school’s athletic teams and apparently hardly representative of the school’s overall student body. This is opposed to the proper response which should have been a short statement to the media reiterating that ULM respects the rights of all individuals, that the student’s free speech production did not represent that of the ULM community, and that ULM’s respect for free speech and the right of academic inquiry meant it could take no action other than publicly condemning the video, being it was private speech unrelated to any scholastic work at the university in any way.

Instead, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Wayne Brumfield threw more gasoline on the fire, stating at a news conference “it became apparent a racist dramatization of the Jena Six incident appeared” connected to a ULM student, then to the students it “was a racist depiction of the beating of the white student at Jena High School.” What makes me curious is why he was so eager to spotlight the racist aspect to the video rather than the more egregious bad taste of it, that it promoted violence against whites by blacks. Or what even the “racism” was he saw in the video – was it black on white racism by depicting blacks beating a white, or was it white on black racism given the fact there were white “actors” wearing blackface thereby imputing whites thought blacks were violent towards whites? It seems to me that of the three potential objectionable interpretations of the video – inciting black on white violence, condoning black on white racism, or committing white on black racism by use of parody – the last is the least objectionable. (That is, if anybody can get past the flippant tone of the video that screams out that it is not to be taken seriously by anybody for any reason.)

Brumfield also announced the university would investigate whether it could punish the student. Try to understand this fantastic and sickening situation: an institution of higher learning, which at the very core of its mission is to allow robust debate in the pursuit of truth, seeks to punish the student, thereby sending a chilling effect over freedom of inquiry for all on campus, for an action in her own personal life that did not occur on university property, did not have anything to do with university resources, was not connected in any way to her education at the university, and did not involve the commission of any crime?

To put it another way, what if Brumfield and this gang found out some students were disturbed that a black ULM student was an active, participating member in something like the Nation of Islam which has, among other things, a racist anti-Jewish perspective, who posted his support of such views on his own personal web site – but who never sought to publicize his views on campus, to use campus resources in any way to publicize them, and never made such views evident in completing any classroom requirements. Would they call a news conference and student meeting to blast this student’s views and threaten him or her with disciplinary action because his views were asked about by other students and the media? Neither does this example merit what ULM has inflicted on the student whose only offense was naïveté about how her decision would affect others.

It is disappointing that the ULM administration chose to abandon a core value of the idea of the university in making a mountain out of a molehill, pandering to political correctness in order to make it seem it was “doing something” – if not falling into the trap of pursuing a political agenda: one almost can sense the eagerness of academia to use the entire Jena 6 incident as a way of “resurrecting” the civil rights movement, implying the ridiculous notion that there is a systematic government-sponsored deprivation of minority rights in America today as there was a half-century ago. Simply, ULM took a teachable moment about what a university should be and preferred to gut that chance on the altar of hustling after a public relations gimmick, or worse.

Ironically, one student at the forum put it best but not in the way he intended when he said, “What kind of message is this sending to America about our university?’ Regrettably, the message is that ULM would rather betray an important core value of higher learning than to resist the fashion of the day.

1 comment:

Eric Carlson said...

A little verbose but well said.