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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Dateline: Downtown

I come not to praise Awotona, but to bury him.

When I took this job, I was thrown into it cold. It seemed to be a cursed position; the previous editors were either run out of the job or simply disappeared. Well aware that I would have equally good prospects trying out as the drummer for Spinal Tap, when offered the job I took it. I had no writers to work with and, phobic about wire stories as I am, I set about writing a column that topped two thousand words each week.

It wasn’t such a tall order. Damon Runyon would get liquored up and bash out five thousand words in a night and hand in the copy as he had written it, immaculate, in the morning. At one point in the ’20s, H.L. Mencken was writing a daily metropolitan newspaper just about by himself. I had an editor elsewhere that covered for one of my mistakes by smashing out a brilliant and hilarious 2,000 word article overnight. It can be done, but I don’t want to fill this section by myself. I see myself as a conduit for the intellectual energy of our assembled studentry, and am happiest when I am writing least. You don’t need to hear my voice every week.

Over time, I have collected a few faithful writers. I love them all dearly and would do anything for them, up to and including flipping out with the blue shakes at four in the morning demanding to know where my copy is. And giving an occasional creepy, unsolicited backrub. Heh, heh, heh. Just get comfortable.

But when I started, there was nothing. Previous editors either flamed out gloriously or forgot to show up to work, and so I scrambled every week to fill up column space. I was all alone here but for the charity of my old underboss, Devon Portney.

One of the first submissions I received was a letter (3/27/06) addressed to President Jack Wilson but sent to me, entitled “CPCS STUDENTS ALLEGE ADMINISTRATIVE INACTION”, from something called the “CPCS Student Union”. It was my second semester as a member of the College of Liberal Arts, and while I had heard mention of conflict surrounding the College of Public and Community Service, the letter might as well have been written in Koine Greek (I was studying Attic Greek at the time) for all I could discern of it. It began with a few grievances that seemed like, well, just another academic turf war.

Which it was, in the same sense that the Trojan War was just another ethnic skirmish.

Our former Provost, Paul Fonteyn, had “made allegations that the CPCS Constitution is invalid”, so the letter claimed, without bothering to quote Fonteyn as saying so. Suddenly a “Dr. Awotona” was brought into the conversation, and he was alleged to have “made several unilateral decisions that directly resulted in a public outcry from all constituents of the CPCS community”. Some shadowy document called the “CPCS Constitution”, which was alleged to be “valid” without saying who bestowed this validity – CPCS? The University administration? Charles the First? – was for some reason something “the administration” (which administration?) had “no right to disregard.”

The tone of the letter rose and further grievances were ticked off, none of which seemed to me to be particularly galling. The letter concluded with a small scale meltdown claiming “ZERO RESPONSE” to the problem, imploring UMass President Jack Wilson “TO LISTEN” and “ACT UPON” what they wanted him to do.

It was a little curious, and I had no idea what they were going on about. My mother taught me to stay away from people who write in all caps, but I ran the submission anyway. Little did I know what was to come.

A good controversy is the life’s blood of any opinions section. Some weeks, this job is the easiest money on campus; the adrenaline will be flowing when I show up with my edited work, submissions will pack my section, and letters will be flying. It’s just fun.

Constitutionally, I’m not the type of person that thrives on other peoples’ misfortunes, but it is a brutal truth that trouble makes for great newspaper reading. And the CPCS imbroglio had everything: angry hordes, idle gods, shadowy antagonists. Last July there was messianic crowning of Professor, now Dean Ferguson in McCormack that completed the cycle. Since then I have heard nary a peep from any quarter. It is time to say goodbye to a narrative that carried my section for a long time.

The CPCS brouhaha was unusual because it was so one-sided. The foil, Dr. Awotona, never responded to interviews, never wrote in to defend his position, and what fun is a one-sided argument? I ran submission after submission, semester after semester, from CPCS faculty and students about the guy and I still never really got a clear idea of what was so bad about him.

Last semester (4/14/08), I wrote, “Students should be provided stability; ideological wrangles can be fought out at faculty meetings,” and that I still hold to be true. (My lead for that article, by the way, was “There weren’t always bad times. Sometimes, there was turkey.” It remains the hook I’m proudest of.) Whether the problem started with Fonteyn not being responsive enough to student concerns, whether the problem was exacerbated by senior CPCS faculty not wanting to cede an inch to the University as regards class content or College organization, whatever the problem was, I know several students who expressed exasperation, dismay, and anger – and not just at Adenrele Awotona or Paul Fonteyn. One person said they felt as if they were being recruited to fight CPCS’ battles for them, and quit when the pressure became too much. I can attest to the circled wagons attitude given off by CPCS, and could not and assume cannot write about it or them without being threatened with a lawsuit or at least harassed with angry emails no matter how much care I take. After the first time I wrote about the issue, and received the attention of numerous students and professors who tried to bully me into echoing their viewpoint, I stopped caring and began to focus on Joe CPCS student.

And I didn’t like at all what I heard from many of those students. The impression I got was that a cluster of professors were more interested in gathering mobs to make placards and buttons and march in front of 225 Franklin Street and surround Awotona in the hallway than teach. I’ve witnessed people being ganged up on and threatened with lawsuits for distinctly non-actionable behavior. I have had professors attempt to bully me into silence. I have heard UMass faculty – I won’t say who – describe CPCS as “cultish” and “Maoist”. I speak for many people when I say that the entire situation was tiresome.

My coverage ends here. I will heretofore go dead on CPCS until I hear good news. If I receive anything from anyone in CPCS that is in the least bit abrasive or confrontational, I will drop on them. I paid for this privilege several times over, with dozens of column inches and several semesters of fair-minded, some would say “non-critical”, commentary. It is time to say my piece, and I defy anyone to find any line I have ever written as regards this situation that would not be repeatable before the assembled CPCS students and faculty or before God. News may run something, who knows, but Cuf himself can send me a piece and if it even remotely relates to any grievance whatsoever, I simply will not run it. Awotona is gone, Fonteyn is gone, we have a sympathetic Chancellor and a delightful interim provost. The ball is in your court now, CPCS, and if you can’t run with it, it isn’t Fonteyn’s or Awotona’s fault. It is yours. I will no longer be your publicist, not until I hear something positive. That is all.

***

Addenda: Two quick arts- related notices. (It’s been a slow week for random oddball gossip.) One: “All the World’s a Page: 400 years of Shakespeare in Print”, a joint production of the Boston Public Library and our English department, wraps up on September 30th. Get thee there. Two: For some reason, they made me co-editor of the upcoming edition of the Watermark literary magazine. I’ll be working in tandem with the wonderful Bonnie Stewart. I don’t know exactly how things will be structured yet, but details shall emerge presently. If you’re interested in working as a reader or an editor, contact me care of this paper or by my regular email, [email protected].

About the Contributor
Dan Roche served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2006-2007; 2007-2008; 2008-2009