dissipation, education, journalism, money, really?, unfortunate

Follow the Money. Or Breadcrumbs. Or Whatever.

Matt Krupnick published an article about the fallout from the dean search at Berkeley’s journalism school in the Contra Costa Times yesterday (“UC Berkeley mum on why dean hire bailed out”). I think it’s worth a read, if only for the summing up that hasn’t appeared anywhere else–and he did a good job considering few would talk to him. He made it onto Romenesko, so people are taking notice.

We might as well pull out all the old journalistic shibboleths for this awkward situation. Is the cover-up worse than the crime? What did people know and when did they know it? Follow the money? Funny how so many tropes stem from Watergate.

The most interesting piece of new information in that story was about money, and it came from Provost George Breslauer. Both John Peabody and I mentioned Cynthia Gorney’s question to Breslauer at last week’s school-wide meeting. She asked if he could guarantee that the university would keep funding coming in. “Done,” he told us, sparking a round of applause.

In my post, I thought it worth noting that “how much, for how long, and for what was not completely clear.”

Turns out Krupnick’s reporting has dug up one parameter: “I’m not prepared to step in and now pour money in to ensure that everything Orville [Schell, the former dean] raised money for keeps going,” Breslauer told him.

That runs counter to the impression he gave at the meeting. “Grandstanding,” one professor called it yesterday.

But who’s asking questions? Or rather, who’s allowed to ask questions, considering what’s been said around the school? This situation has the potential to become, as George W. Bush says, “an accountability moment.” So the buck stops where?

anticipation, dissipation, education, journalism, really?

Sources Say…

John Peabody’s got an inside source who says:

1. There were tenure disagreements. And, 2. potential inaccuracies that are minor, if they exist at all, were in Lynch’s CV.

John Peabody, don’t you remember the finger-wagging admonition not to traffic in rumor and scuttlebut? From our own interim dean, no less? Remember Day 1 of journalism school: you are reporters and we expect you to act that way. Until we tell you not to.

But the possibilities JP and his source raise don’t sound so different from what other students have pieced together. So maybe we won’t be so surprised when the truth comes out, only disappointed by their substance and what that says about this process.

Meanwhile, a message was relayed from Breslauer to the school this morning. Let’s look at it (there’s nothing terribly controversial or revelatory in it, as expected):

Dear Colleagues:

We appreciated the opportunity to meet with many of you on Monday. I
understand that there were many others who could not make it. So I’d
like to take this opportunity to reiterate or elaborate on several
points made at the meeting.

We consider GSJ [Gto be the best journalism school in the country, and
we are committed to keeping it that way. With respect to funding, we
realize that the School has many needs and we are determined both to
work with the School on fund-raising and to assist the School
financially to ensure that its priority needs are met as we bridge to
a mature fund-raising structure for GSJ.

Fuller incorporation of digital media into the curriculum and
research programs is vital to the future of both GSJ and the
university more generally. We are committed to enhancing the
capacity of GSJ in this area.

We will continue to seek the best available candidate for leadership
of the School at this important juncture. A process for choosing a
new dean will be decided soon. It has been our pleasure to work with
Neil Henry as interim dean in recent months as he has worked to set
the stage for the School’s transition. He has provided outstanding
leadership, serving with professionalism, integrity, and devotion to
the interests of GSJ.

George W. Breslauer
Professor of Political Science
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
University of California at Berkeley

The only interesting parts come up at the beginning and end. Breslauer starts by announcing that he’s recapping our meeting for the benefit of those who were absent. Somehow he left out the best part and neglected to mention that no questions regarding Lynch’s withdrawal were or will be addressed substantively.

He later points out that there is no set plan for how to choose the next dean–a dean search and related committee is not even broached rhetorically, though my impression is that it is required technically. If not, why go through formal channels, ever? But in the next sentence, Breslauer launches into an encomium of Neil Henry’s interim deanship. So connect those dots however you want.

The fundamental question that this whole episode highlights has to do with many of the complaints and problems that crop up at the journalism school. Namely, where is the accountability?

A second-year student at the meeting asked an important question: Will Neil Henry ask Dianne Lynch to accept some responsibility for this situation and write a letter essentially apologizing to the school for leading it on, only to withdraw at the last moment? Henry said he would ask.

But if the reason for Lynch’s withdrawal that JP uncovered are true, maybe she’s not the one–or at least not the only one–who might consider taking responsibility for her actions.

anticipation, dissipation, education, irony, journalism, politics, really?, ridiculousness, unfortunate

Instant Void: When it comes to the Journalism School’s Dean, you’ve got questions, but we’ve got no answers

Wrote this on Tuesday:
John Peabody has a nice rundown of the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s meeting on the surprise withdrawal of Dianne Lynch as incoming dean. She is, and will remain, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. To recap: Lynch was the favorite candidate among the finalists for the job to succeed Orville Schell. She withdrew late in the game. Provost George Breslauer discussed her reasons for withdrawing with her and convinced her to accept the position in May. Breslauer and the search committee got the UC Regents to approve what they felt was a generous compensation package and official appointment in the summer. Then they started the faculty review. Breslauer said they waited until they could be sure the money was in place before they initiated the review. And then she withdrew, again, last week, about two months before she was set to start, about 5 months after she accepted the job.

Breslauer, along with Vice Provost Shelly Zedeck, and interim dean and professor Neil Henry, a former Washington Post reporter, met with students, faculty, and staff for about 40 minutes Monday evening.

The meeting, according to an e-mail from Henry, was “to discuss the withdrawal and the school’s immediate future with the full school community.”

The discussion of the withdrawal consisted mainly of variations of the phrase, We can’t tell you what happened.

The school’s immediate future was never substantially addressed either. Professor Cynthia Gorney got Breslauer to confirm that program funding would continue, though how much, for how long, and for what was not completely clear. But there’s a promise. In any case, in the same e-mail that Henry sent informing us of the meeting, Henry wrote: “With much School planning and decision-making on hold in recent months pending Dianne’s arrival, I will now move to secure university financial support for various curricular and program initiatives during our continuing transition.” So no surprises there.

There were a handful of notable moments in the meeting, including Henry’s admonition that we should not be curious about rumors, nor should we ask questions about confidential information. Sometimes a person will kick away the dirt to reveal the bright shining line that exists between journalism and bureaucracy.

But all of this secrecy and uproar may have a more pernicious effect. Granted, Breslauer, et al., are bound by the University’s rules of confidentiality related to personnel matters, and thus can not tell us what happened. But Breslauer was careful in describing the timeline of this process (which I summed up above). And he noted that it was during the faculty review process, when materials presumably relating to a candidate’s professional history, are scrutinized by faculty, that she withdrew.

And that’s where the questions start pouring in.

Look at it this way. If one went through the process of getting a high profile job in one’s field, only to withdraw during the professional evaluation–when people are examining your work, maybe calling up a few old colleagues–the casual onlooker might then wonder if something unpleasant was discovered. If it were enough to disqualify someone from being a dean at Berkeley, one might wonder if it might be enough to disqualify that person from being dean anywhere. Yet due to the confidentiality surrounding personnel matters, that other school might not be similarly informed. (Or it might not have seen a problem where others did.) Meanwhile, the reputation of an accomplished administrator and new-media star hangs in the balance.

That’s the uncomfortable situation that Lynch is in, and since there is a void of substantial information, rumors and assertions rush to fill it.

Worse, it may all be the result of bad timing. So Lynch withdrew during the review phase rather than the salary phase. Her motivation may have had nothing at all to do with the review. But because it happened during her professional review, it’s difficult to shake the implication of impropriety. And that, inevitably, is where many questions are headed.

But wait: What if Lynch’s withdrawal didn’t have anything to do with her record? Why withdraw then? Family, yes, which is what she’s told us. (When Karl Rove resigned, citing family reasons, Sara Schaefer Munoz mused about the popularity of the family reasons reason on the Wall Street Journal’s The Juggle blog.)

Could it be the Journalism School, itself? Possibly. Over the course of this whole dean search, a fair amount of dirty laundry has been aired, most of it having to do with the usual departmental politics endemic to any academic institution, though some of it has to do with the nature of journalism and journalism training. If you had a good thing going at your current job, and saw that the new job was rife with vitriolic, internecine feuding, maybe little Ithaca College isn’t so bad, after all. Why leave upstate New York, four seasons, reasonable cost of living, for the big time at Berkeley, if that means trading it all in for a two-season, earthquake-prone den of dysfunction?

Or maybe it’s something else. But I guess that’s the point here.

As long as the confidentiality rules hold, then both sides are technically protected from any potential revelations that they’d just as soon keep hidden. But in the process, both sides risk losing face.

journalism, lost

Eighteen Pounds, Eighteen Pounds

This is week six and I have managed to lose 18 pounds. I’ve been weighing myself at the gym every two weeks–I only manage to get to the gym every two weeks. I had been 191 pounds for many months; now I’m at 173. Eighteen pounds.

The point of this story is that if you are looking to lose weight fast, I’ve got a very expensive program for you.

competition, education, journalism, money

Getting In

For a long time, when people asked me where I go, or went, to college, my first response was “New Hampshire,” or even, “New England.” Then they would slowly zero in: which school, or which town, until: Dartmouth.

I abandoned that initial answer too long after I had started getting the question. While I thought I was avoiding the obnoxious and overbearing pride of the Ivy Leaguer by not immediately admitting my affiliation, the avoidance began to seem self-consciously coy and precious, subtly inviting the inquisitor to continue peeling away, with growing anticipation, the layers of obfuscation. It was like Barthes’s strip tease. The final revelation was not always a great letdown, but, like the strip tease’s denouement, it sometimes was. Of course, coming from Alaska (as in many places west of Ohio), every second or third person did not know what or where Dartmouth was, so a regional response was often a very appropriate answer.

The issue of Ivy League designations is meaningful to me again because I recently had the choice of graduate programs at Columbia University and the University of California at Berkeley. I believe that some people who were in the same situation picked Columbia, in large part because it is an Ivy League school (though that factor often went carefully unmentioned). By the way, that’s Columbia’s Low Library pictured above. I think it was Nick Lemann who pointed out when I was there that it is a library with no books.

Last October, Malcolm Gladwell, who brings revelatory sociology to the masses, published a story on the Ivy League mystique in the New Yorker. In particular, he described how the Ivy League has effectively branded itself as a high-demand, low-supply luxury, the result of various admissions practices that are themselves remnants of early 20th century policies stemming from conceptions of race, class, ethnicity, and morphology. The article also acts as a roundabout review of the book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel (who happens to be a sociologist at Berkeley).

Gladwell is Canadian, and applied to college using a very simple form that took him about ten minutes. The college admissions process, for him, was not the nail-biting, mind-bending, perspective-warping experience it often is for Americans. He writes:

Am I a better or more successful person for having been accepted at the University of Toronto, as opposed to my second or third choice? It strikes me as a curious question. In Ontario, there wasn’t a strict hierarchy of colleges. There were several good ones and several better ones and a number of programs—like computer science at the University of Waterloo—that were world-class. But since all colleges were part of the same public system and tuition everywhere was the same (about a thousand dollars a year, in those days), and a B average in high school pretty much guaranteed you a spot in college, there wasn’t a sense that anything great was at stake in the choice of which college we attended. The issue was whether we attended college, and—most important—how seriously we took the experience once we got there. I thought everyone felt this way. You can imagine my confusion, then, when I first met someone who had gone to Harvard.There was, first of all, that strange initial reluctance to talk about the matter of college at all—a glance downward, a shuffling of the feet, a mumbled mention of Cambridge. “Did you go to Harvard?” I would ask. I had just moved to the United States. I didn’t know the rules. An uncomfortable nod would follow. Don’t define me by my school, they seemed to be saying, which implied that their school actually could define them. And, of course, it did. . . .

from “Getting In,” New Yorker, October 10, 2005.

Does it? That is one question I had to ask myself when choosing between Berkeley and Columbia. Later in the article, Gladwell discusses the research of a pair of economists, Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale. According to their work, if a student gets into a selective school as well as a less selective one, and then chooses the second option, he or she does as well in life as those who go to the more selective school. I find that a reassuring fact.

There is a big difference here between the choice that that research describes and my choice: namely, I was not choosing undergraduate schools. In fact, Berkeley has many highly-regarded graduate programs, including the journalism school; and I don’t know that the statistics for the journalism programs would bear out the assertion that one is more or less selective than the other. My choice–and here I am fortunate–was between two very good graduate schools. But throughout the process, the implication present in many of my discussions was that success at Columbia was more likely than at Berkeley. I often reminded myself that I could do as well for myself by choosing Berkeley than Columbia.

There are no guarantees, certainly. In fact, “no guarantees” is an appropriate motto for much of my life experience. When choosing, I considered that what happens in my life–my professional life, at least–is not determined solely by my school, but mostly by me. And that helped.

education, influence, journalism, photography, San Francisco

All Apologies: On Being a Bad Blogger

Dear Reader, I am sorry that I have not posted here for weeks–weeks! It’s not been for lack of content or interest, but merely lack of time and energy.

I have been trying to sort out the tangled decision about where to go in the next stage of life. I have made a handful of visits to Berkeley and its Graduate School of Journalism. I recently returned from New York City and its Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I have sought counsel from a long list of luminaries, including Adam Hochschild, Barry Bearak, Bill Drummond, John Lyons-Gould, Rod Mackenzie, Alisa Dichter, Vera Petkova, Gary Lenhart, Andrew Revkin, Tom Valtin, Nanette Asimov, Rebecca Solnit, Cynthia Gorney, my mother, Soon Hyouk Lee, William Pallister, Rob Gunnison, Jeremy Rue, Daniel Porter, David Perlman, Peter Alsop, Brian Chang, Adrian Cotter, Pat Joseph, Joan Hamilton, Ethan Klein, Mike Papciak, Jon Mooallem, and many, many others, and I appreciate very much their thoughts. I had an opportunity to ask Jon Stewart, but then his son began to cry. I think it is foolish to turn too inward when making a decision like this–I’ve been exposed to all kinds of perspectives and angles that did not initially occur to me. I’ve discovered extra information; for example, I scooped the San Francisco Chronicle by about two weeks on Orville Schell’s stepping down as dean at Berkeley, but had nowhere to publish it (except, I suppose, here). But I do risk the Clintonian trap of too much information, with its built-in delays and eventual paralysis by analysis.

It is, apparently, important to point out that these programs both are graduate schools, because they are the only two in the country. Nick Lemann, the New Yorker staff writer and Columbia dean, was careful to emphasize this. (City University of New York will be inaugurating a third graduate school this fall.) The rest are open to, and presumably overwhelmed by, the undergraduate mob.

But as for you, Reader, as a sign of my affection I include this photograph. A friend noted that it “looks like it’s leaning over to give the pole a kiss.” That is just adorable.

journalism, poetry

Today Is The Day After Robert Hass’s Birthday

Yesterday was Robert Hass’s birthday. When I heard it was his birthday, I remembered all the unpublished material I have from my interview with the Berkeley professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, which I dug up today.

I interviewed Hass in early May of 2005. We talked for a little more than half an hour, so the interview came to about 4,500 words; we could only publish about 800 in the Planet. We cut a lot of good stuff. Towards the end, Hass ended up interviewing me about my life and work experiences, and then invited me to speak to his Berkeley class. But he forgot to make time for me when he was planning the course, so that all fell through. Nevertheless, he was a good interview and I’m glad I could talk with him.

Robert Hass is also a great believer in encouraging people to write poetry. In this respect, he reminds me of Kenneth Koch, a favorite poet who also wrote a terrific book entitled Making Your Own Days that helped make poetry less intimidating and opaque to me. (I’ve found many people are intimidated by poetry, and I suspect it’s because we are very bad, in the culture and the schools, about introducing people to it.) Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac quotes Hass: “Everyone … wants to say in their own terms what it means to be alive. Poetry is the most common way, because the material of poetry is the stream of language that is constantly going on in our heads. It’s very low tech. Anyone can do it.” Hass is one of the drivers behind River of Words, a non-profit that encourages children to write and create art about their perceptions of nature.

What follows are some edited questions and answers from that interview. Even this is only a fraction of a fraction of our conversation. By the way, The Writer’s Almanac also quotes Hass as saying, “Take the time to write. You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.” Of which some people could stand reminding.

Q: You’ve written “Art hardly ever does seem to come to us at first as something connected to our own world; it always seems, in fact, to announce the existence of another, different one…” How do you link those worlds?

Hass: I think different artists link them different ways. An artist like Magritte is always playing with the difference. An artist like Gary Snyder is always saying, “Here. Here, here, here. The two can be one: the world of the mind and the heart, and the world of lived experience.” And I think I’m more in Gary Snyder’s camp. But I think all artists play with the difference.

Q: What are you working on now? [Remember, this is 5 May 2005.]

Hass: Gosh, I’m working on two things. One is—I’m just finishing up a book of poems. And I was supposed to have it off May 1st. Actually, the last poem I’m working on—I have two poems I’m working on that I can’t get right, and they’re both ones that have to do with the natural world. And one of them is kind of a public poem and one a private one, and I’m struggling with both of them in ways that I hope will be fruitful.

And the other thing I’m doing at the moment, I’m trying to finish up a book of essays and I have to go next week to Seoul, Korea, with Gary Snyder. We’re both to give talks, and he’s going to talk about poetry and the environment, and I’m supposed to talk about war poetry and the environment. These kind of big-think topics that daunt you when you have to write about them. That’s what I’m working on at the moment.

Q: Any particular reason that of all places you’re going to is South Korea?

Hass: I’m going because Seoul has an international literary festival. This is a new set of them. But I’ve spent some time there and I love the place. And I’m very interested in Korean literature. So that’s why I’m going. And I just finished writing an introduction to the translation of a sensational book of Korean poems by a writer named Ko Un, who was imprisoned in the Park dictatorship. And while he was imprisoned and in solitary confinement—I think he was in jail three or four times, he was really a jailbird—and he decided that if he ever got out—he was a Buddhist monk for a while and he kept himself amused while he was in solitary by trying to methodically picture everyone he’d ever known in his life. And when he got out, he decided he was going to write a book of poems about every person he’d ever known in his life. And he did it, it’s called 10,000 Lives and it makes, portrait by portrait, a little social history of Korea from the time of the war to the present.

Q: That’s amazing. Who’s going to publish that?

Hass: His work is just being discovered in this country, and there are two or three books, translations of his poems, coming out, he’s very prolific. But this one, 10,000 Lives, is coming from a press called Green Integer.

Q: A follow-up to what you said a couple minutes ago when you said you’re working on a public and a private poem—when you say private, do you mean for yourself, not for publication?

Hass: No. [The Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University] had this big colloquium on the state of the planet, and they got all these earth scientists and climatologists together. And they asked me to write a poem on the state of the planet. So I wrote this poem and I had to finish it on time, and I was not very happy with it, though it was published in the New York Times science thing, so I’ve been trying to find a way—you know, this is kind of the question of what is poetry for, after all?—to rewrite it so that it made sense. It’s the kind of poem that has large general themes, tries to talk about climate. Public in that sense.

And then you might, say, come away from the summer with the image of your granddaughter chasing a California turquoise butterfly through a field of corn lilies in a Sierra meadow with her hair streaming, while you’re thinking of time, life, love, and death, and how much time you have left, and what nature is, and, you know, trying to get all of that into a poem. And that’s what I mean by private.