That’s our chancellor

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 Im here on financial aid; these people can sue me, ruin me, ruin my family, and he quit the paper. Hes 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.]


6 thoughts on “That’s our chancellor”

  1. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Kelly’s tennis totally improved just because of the athletic restructuring. It’s the only reason she was able to go pro. I don’t know why you insist on criticizing that saintly man, especially after he was so brave to come out as a topless transvestite on the cover of your former rag. Shame, Mr. Grier.

  2. I’ve always suspected that despite the University’s protestations to the contrary, the administration would be quite happy if the Greeks just up and disappeared when residential colleges arrive. I think that by moving the freshmen to the ass end of Peabody, we’re going to see a reduction in the number of “Guess I’ll Go Greeks,” i.e., those freshmen who participate in Greek life simply because it’s a convenient option directly across from Branscomb. I think the number of active Greeks will be reduced drastically soon after the move to Peabody, and I don’t think any of the administrators will shed a tear over it.

    FYI: students haven’t been able to choose what freshman dorm to live in for a couple of years now. They simply have the option of single versus double room.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Joel. You’re right, that is a more limited choice than they had before. It does still leave them with a way to request definitely not Kissam or Branscomb, which are all singles or doubles.

  4. First, while I certainly agree that Chancellor Gee is an image whore, I don’t necessarily think that translates to narcissism. The athletic restructuring may save a bit of money, but it’s most advantageous as a PR move. Residential Colleges as they were originally intended may die an ugly death at the hands of internal university politics, but whatever warped version remains will be most advantageous as a PR move. I think Gee understands the power of visibility and the importance of an image as someone in control of the university and in control of its message. His larger fatal flaw, in my opinion, is that his method of control involves trusting too few people and those people are filtering out what they don’t want him to hear. In other words, style is fine if accompanied by substance but Gee isn’t getting access to the information to make real changes of substance. It’s an unproven assertion though.

    Second, you can’t change the behavior of the freshmen at Vanderbilt by adjusting their housing preferences. The freshmen don’t become Greek by living in Branscomb; they request Branscomb because they were already going Greek and they think it helps. It’s along a similar vein as how Vandy doesn’t create Vandygirls so much as Vandy attracts high concentrations of women who were already Vandygirls. The idea of creating a Freshman Commons at Peabody won’t reduce the Greek population by proximity; it will reduce the Greek population by making it easier for Admissions to separate freshman life from Greek Row in their marketing. What matters isn’t whether or not that’s true, it’s that the University will be better able to portray it as true.

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