A word about the unpleasant EMU news of late…

Here I am, just beginning with Sabbatical Lite, and already I am feeling out of whack.

Most obviously, I and everyone else at EMU has been following the recent news of the president, the chief of campus police, and the VP of student affairs getting fired/”separated” from EMU. It’s a little discombobulating to hear the story I’ve been hearing/repeating on campus and at EMUtalk.org (the campus/community oriented blog I started running last September) for months now showing up on CNN, Fox News, in the New York Times, in the UK’s Guardian Unlimited, and 500-600 other outlets, according to news.google.com.

For folks coming here for more info on this– either regular readers or folks who found me on a web search– I would encourage you to take a look at EMUtalk.org in general, and perhaps at this post, “To first time EMUtalk.org readers/searchers about “Laura Dickinson Murder.” On this page, there’s a link to the category on EMUtalk.org “Dickinson Murder,” which has 64 different posts beginning on December 15, 2006 when the rumor of a dead girl in the dorms turned out to be true.

There’s only two things I’ll add here. First, the basic news story that has appeared in the national/international press recently basically summarizes the story well enough, though there are obviously a lot of other details. It’s been a topic of discussion on EMUtalk.org since December, and very heated discussion since late February when a suspect was arrested and when it suddenly became clear that Dickinson’s death was not “just one of those things” but a murder, and that murder had been covered up.

Second, I think the thing that is most frustrating to me personally and, simultaneously, most interesting about this to me professionally, is that all of this was easily avoided with some simple and clear communication skills. I won’t go into it all right now, but the various reports and investigations suggest that the players involved who came up with the “no foul play is suspected” line that was the seed of the administrative cover-up were working with almost zero actual information about what happened and that the line was more or less a toss-off line to round out a very short web statement/press release. “No foul play is suspected” was as much as anything a sloppy sentence written by a PR person (and apparently approved by Fallon) simply to close out a paragraph, not unlike other toss-off lines like “In society today” or “In conclusion” or something.

Then, after this toss-off and inaccurate line (and I say “inaccurate” because the investigation into the cover-up makes it clear that “foul play” was always suspected by the police investigating the crime) was allowed to go forward, no one in the upper-levels of EMU administration felt the need to correct this. And to be perfectly honest, it isn’t completely clear to me if this did not happen because the principles involved– President John Fallon, VP for Student Affairs Jim Vick, and/or Police Chief Cindy Hall (all now “former” in these roles)– did not want the message corrected for misguided PR and/or investigation reasons, of if these people were just not competent. Fallon, btw, is claiming as his defense that he just didn’t know what was going on, and there have been some cryptic suggestions in the latest reports that he’s got some kind of story to tell and that he was fired because he was about to do something that would have been very bad for EMU. I don’t know, strange.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get at here is this: I think there is little doubt that Vick and Hall got fired because they tried to cover up a murder in the dorms, either because they didn’t want the bad PR or because they just didn’t know what they were doing, and that Fallon was fired because his defense of not knowing what was going on is about as problematic as actively participating in a cover-up. At the same time, it seems to me that a lot of this mess is also simple the result of sloppy writing and thinking, a terrible misreading of audience, and the lack of willingness to revise. Had someone– anyone– at some point gotten to the powers that be and successfully convinced them that EMU should have corrected the “no foul play suspected” line, none of this would have happened. Had someone published on the web site or elsewhere a statement like “We can’t say for sure there was no foul play involved. We’re investigating, and in the mean-time, everyone ought to review basic personal safety information,” etc., etc., this would have never become national news, and none of these people would have lost their jobs.

There’s always the what ifs though.

Besides this most public distraction, there are some departmental distractions too, things I will not go into right now, and some major budget cuts coming about soon. This puts me potentially into an odd place in terms of my sabbatical lite. On the one hand, my own work is inevitably being interrupted by these distractions (I suppose this post is evidence of that), in part because being the writing program coordinator (among other things) means I can’t just ignore these problems. On the other hand, I have already said I’m going to consciously not get “too involved” in some of these departmental distractions because of my writing and research plans. It’s probably too early to tell, but I think this has a chance of working.

In any event, I feel like this post might help me get some of this unpleasant news out of my head and maybe help me think about how to frame my sabbatical lite plans in the long-term. In the short term though, I think I had better get on to the scholarly/BAWS plan I had for the day: organizing my desk/office space a bit.

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