Sunday, December 31, 2006

Idiot Highlights of 2006

One of the downsides to both being an academic and writing a blog is that when it gets to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the increased time associated with grading papers/tests and additional family commitments means something has to go, so I temporarily stopped writing on the blog.

Fear not, I'm back -- with a vengeance.

Looking back over 2006, it has been a pretty amazing year. The Democrats took over the House and Senate not because their candidates ran great campaigns, but because the Republicans completely melted down with sex and lobbying scandals (not to mention using racial epithets to insult opponents' campaign workers). It didn't help the Republican candidates had to support an administration that could find its own backside with two hands -- typified by the president saying that Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld would stay on in his administration until 2008 a week before the election, then letting him go the day after the election.

More interesting, however, is what has happened on the political commentary scene. Air America, a liberal talk radio network, declared bankruptcy in the fall. So few people were listening to the network that they probably thought it went off the air a year earlier.

At the other end of the political spectrum, it appears that Bill O'Reilly has finally "jumped the shark" -- the media industry term for when the tide begins to turn badly for a media personality. He decided to take on MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann, labelling him a "smear merchant" -- anyone who criticizes O'Reilly is a "smear merchant", and O'Reilly often makes Olbermann's nightly list of "Worst Person in the World". Since that time, O'Reilly's 8-9 ET airing of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News has lost a significant number of viewers in the important 25-54 demographic while Olbermann's "Countdown" broadcast on MSNBC at 8-9 ET has gained in the same demographic. In fact, in December, on several nights, the two were virtually tied in the 25-54 demo.

Now, if only Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter would take on Olbermann.

But, in 2006, the biggest idiot highlight happened to me personally. I wrote a couple entries on this blog about Jaclyn LaPlaca, a former professor at my institution who left after the student newspaper at Kent State (one of her former employers) revealed that Jaclyn had given false information about her academic credentials. In addition, I agreed to be interviewed for an article about the incident for an academic periodical, InsideHigherEd. I hadn't expected to be the only faculty member at my school who would be quoted beyond essentially "no comment", but I was.

The result was that I believe I got more comments on my blog entries about LaPlaca than on all my other 2006 entries combined. Many were not flattering -- a couple were obscene. The excerpts from "mu_best" (in quotes below) was the most interesting, however:

"Secondly, I want you to know that I am in the process of drafting a letter to the President of the University and the President of the Board of Trustees (this is not a threat by any means, rather a promise)."

I don't know if that happened. If it did, I was not sent a copy. But, gossip on campus that was passed on to me did indicate that at least one senior faculty member was bound and determined to see that I not be rehired. It would be interesting to see if that senior faculty member is "mu_best" (if so, that would be pretty scary) though I have no idea if the gossip is true.

To continue:

"The reason is because the whole campus community has seen the online news portal that you obiously [sic] gave information to."

I think if you polled the university at the time, a tiny minority would have seen the InsideHigherEd piece.

"Well sir, since [the] University did not give an official statement, you are giving falsified information to a third party, an act that is immoral, unethical, and grounds for termination at this school."

Let me see -- if an administrator makes a comment, it's true, but if a faculty member makes a comment, it's false? While it is true that the faculty handbook at our school prevents me from acting as an official spokesperson of the school, it does not prevent me from being interviewed. It may have appeared as if I was the spokesperson because I was the only faculty person quoted in the article, but it was clear from the article I was not acting in that capacity. There is nothing immoral or unethical about that.

"Because you see, now [the] University is in the spotlight. Is that what you really want for our students?? Especially since we have worked so hard to acclaim national status as a distinguished center for learning?"

The only spotlight we ended up in was InsideHigherEd. Even the local media didn't care. So, the reputation of the school didn't take a hit. Nor should the school have taken a hit. The story was not about the school doing something bad, but an individual doing something bad.

"Lastly, I want you to have your news article class do an assignment (one that does not include the continuence [sic] of dragging down someone's integrity) and that would be to research the law on SLANDER, DEFAMATION, and LOSS OF CONSORTIUM. I don't know where Jackie is or if she reads this filth (God I hope not), but I would encourage her to bring suite [sic] against you.

I'm afraid that I didn't have my news writing class do such an assignment. I really didn't want them to have to research the law on LOSS OF CONSORTIUM. To date, I have not been sued, since the three tests here would be 1) was the story untrue?; 2) did I cause LaPlaca damage?; and 3) did I act with a reckless disregard for the truth? LaPlaca could not win on any of those tests.

"Because of the notorious chaos that your blog has posed, the academic community, students, and Jackie cannot move on. I hope you feel good about the fact that Jackie had her fellowship revoked on account of you."

Beyond the over-the-top hyperbole, the irony here is that while "mu_best" suggests LaPlaca file suit against me (for slander, defamation and/or loss of consortium), "mu_best" charges -- without evidence -- that LaPlaca had her fellowship revoked on account of me.

Quite frankly, I have no idea what LaPlaca is doing now. I did not feel good about what happened to her. Anyone reading my blog entries, or saw the InsideHigherEd article knows that. I wish her all the best in 2007 and beyond.

As for "mu_best", I wish her/him all the best in 2007 as well. The response validated my purpose in writing the blog -- to battle the idiocy that has so diminished what passes for social and political discourse these days.

Much more to come in 2007. Happy New Year!