Chris Carroll, the director of student media at Vanderbilt, is quoted in a recent Reason article about censorship in campus media:
Deplorable in itself, a repressive atmosphere on campus can breed a pernicious self-censorship. Chris Carroll, director of student media at Vanderbilt University and a former president of College Media Advisers, an organization that monitors collegiate censorship, worries that young journalists are increasingly “submissive.” He cites a troubling case at his own university: “I had a freshman who was on something that I think could have been a story, [concerning] our current chancellor, with some of his affiliations with corporate boards outside the school. He kept digging and learning more and more and more, and he talked to the chancellor, who scared the living shit out of him….He said, ‘You know I’m here on financial aid; these people can sue me, ruin me, ruin my family,’ and he quit the paper. He’s gone.”
Chancellor Gee putting style over substance, friendly on the outside but agressively protective of his image behind closed doors? That sounds just about right. Students I know from a liberal advocacy group at Vanderbilt reported a similar attitude when they finally got a meeting with him. Kudos to Chris for getting Mr. Gladhand, as one of my profs called him, some negative press coverage in a national magazine (and we from Vandy all know how much Gee loves press coverage).
This is another fun Gee tidbit from an email he sent out to the Vanderbilt faculty and staff email list about buying tickets for school sporting events:
Almost a year ago, Vanderbilt helped chart a new course for intercollegiate athletics that generated a lot of attention, in Nashville and around the country. Many of you applauded Vanderbilt’s leadership, and today I am pleased and proud to say that our efforts are being rewarded. Last spring, Vanderbilt’s student-athletes competed for national championships in every sport, and we ranked among the best and most successful college programs across the board. Our students excelled, both in the classroom and on the field, and made us all proud to be Commodores.
That is so typical. Vanderbilt athletes have an amazing year, and Gee opens his letter with a comment on his restructuring of the athletic department. Of course, that restructuring had nothing to do with athletic performance in the same year it happened. No coaching changes were made and there was no time for recruitment to have been affected. I actually think Gee’s idea has potential, but I wouldn’t pretend that it had anything to do with last year’s fantastic results. No, wait, I take that back. It did have one great result: lots of media attention for our beloved chancellor.
To his credit, the school did manage to hold on to its coaches under the new system and realized some cost savings. The City Paper has a balanced article about the current state of the program here. I’ll be curious how the restructuring works out over the next few years.
Alas, even if all goes well I suspect the success will be overshadowed by his wasteful residential college transformation. Taking an “If you build it, they will come” attitude, this program’s leaders seem to think that the key to attracting better students is making nicer dormitories (and then not giving students the option to choose which one to live in). Unless this is all a covert operation to undermine the Greek system, spending even a fraction of these resources on better professors and stronger academic programs would seem to make a lot more sense.
On the other hand, undermining the Greek system may be the plan exactly. The Hustler reports that as early as 2008 all freshmen could be housed in dorms on the Peabody campus. That will put them much further away from Greek Row, even with the convenience of the $1.9 million bridge crossing 21st Avenue (the one that made such a good photo-op for you know who). Perhaps that will create a less Greek-centered community among the freshmen. Or perhaps it will just eliminate the convenient social sorting that having students choose between the Branscomb, Vandy-Barnard, and Kissam Quads currently provides. For now, color me skeptical.
Oh well, enough ranting. I’ll just have to settle for withholding donations to the university until they get someone at the helm who will care about more than image. Take that, Vanderbilt! This is one street performer who won’t be sharing his tips with you!
[Thanks to Renee for the Reason link.]