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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Today Amherst, Tomorrow the World

Dateline: Downtown
Dateline: Downtown

While reviewing summer clips of the Globular press attention our beloved crater has received, I was struck by a phrase: “I feel even more determined to see these things through,” said [UMass President Jack M. Wilson]… “There are always difficult issues that many people will try to avoid, but sometimes there’s a benefit to confronting them. I don’t run away from the tough ones.”

With all this talk about centralizing power in a new Politburo in Amherst, the no-confidence vote slapped to President Wilson’s procedural methods in June, the resulting chancellor shuffle, and the change of faces in the State House, the very combobulation of our school is at stake! Our faculty is winning Nobel Prizes while our facilities are crumbling. That may be a good way of understanding our precarious present situation; hope for the future, even as the mistakes of the past bear down.

The change in the State House might not seem so immediately affecting, but it is. Romney took several pound of flesh in budget cuts while puffing up his tax busting resume for his presidential vanity romp, dolled up as a fake conservative. But, one favor Romney did us was removing Billy Bulger from office, and this should not be overlooked. While we could build a new academic building and a space elevator with Bulger’s severance package, the alternative was perhaps fifteen more years of hackocracy until he passed the job on to a nephew. Deval Patrick is, yes, a Massachusetts Democrat, but while he works among the flourish-nosed backslappers that have run our state from time immemorial, he is not (yet?) of them, and so doesn’t have any cousins to hire.

The thing about unseating entrenched power bases, and bullies like Bulger, is that chaos follows, in Massachusetts or in Mogadishu. Everyday corruption brings order, of a sort. The greasy hand gets you along as you go along. If Bulger were still President, we’d have continued along in our funk. The future would be wretched, but it would at least be certain.

Now, though, everything’s shook up crazylike. Enter Jack Wilson with his zany plan to combine the two top jobs in the school and then to filter all funds from all schools through a new Party Central apparatus in Amherst. He wants to take our academic nerd serfdoms and organize them into a collective dorkenproletariat.

It’s this big thinking about The Future that got Wilson into all the trouble. The faculty’s problem wasn’t necessarily with Wilson, or even his plan, but how the first steps were implemented. In the middle of the night, in a soundproof room, with the details of the plan sketched out in the blood of martyrs. And boom, Lombardi’s gone from Amherst, Collins is swapped out to Worcester, Motley’s back in Boston.

Wilson, the Globe waxes, “to his supporters…is a bold, pragmatic leader, someone willing to shake things up and shrug off criticism to make the state system great.” One wonders about what shimmering Shangri-Las our schools, centralized in Amherst, would become. But I don’t know. It all seems so ripe for authoritarianism. Would we fit our psych majors with electroshock headbands, disappear people who thought about transferring out? (The press would be the first to go, but I’ve got my bunker beneath the Quinn building.) I don’t trust it.

The idea that by each school pooling their resources into a central school, crowned the ‘flagship’, our system can compete with, say, California’s, seems grandiose, yes? It may be a magnificent plan. But why unilaterally move pieces around?

And doesn’t the timing seem odd; the new chancellors are named right as everyone is about to leave for the summer. The outgoing Amherst chancellor, John Lombardi, was described in the reports as a little rough around the edges, “tough talking” and “irreverent”. As a result of the decision, he himself was subject to some brusque treatment. But let me get this straight. He’s gone from his job. Now, it so happens, they’ve combined the President’s office with the Chancellor of the, aherm, ‘flagship’? Is this a bold leap to a unified campus, or a power grab? Messrs Motley and Collins are each logical fits, but harebrained schemes can have felicitous unintended results, just as good schemes can have unintended bad ones. That’s why making the biggest school bigger makes me chary. At least with a comparatively decentralized school, raw human idiocy and/or corruption has a smaller sphere of influence.

So does magnificent performance. That might explain why Wilson wants so desperately to see this thing through. He has big ideas about facilitating big ideas (or, someone was holding a gun to his head).

In response to the loggerheads the faculty and the administration find themselves at, with the professors set in like mules, refusing to see the magnitude of the magnificence of the glorious plan of our benevolent Leader, a ‘task force’ (consultants) have been hired to diagnose a course of action for the school to undergo. Six months, they said in June, and this task force presents its findings. Until then, let’s just go to school like everything’s normal.