As a former reporter and editor at The Journal, I was pleased as pie to see the discussion among faculty, staff and students sparked a few weeks ago by a guest commentary by Joshua Ritchey. In the interest of full disclosure before I continue, Ritchey and I were (briefly) members of the Webster University speech and debate program together. I can’t say I agreed with everything Ritchey said, but I have a great deal of respect for him and his fellow students, for their willingness to engage in some form of meaningful public discussion.
Whether you side with Ritchey, or take a position firmly in opposition, it is starkly telling that the overwhelming majority of this discussion has taken place between students and not administrators. This should beg the question: where is the administration?
A quick analysis of Ritchey’s piece and the subsequent responses revealed something painfully obvious: the administration is the least engaged of all the parties in this discussion. Chess team representatives, Student Government Association candidates and Journal Editor-in-Chief Brittany Ruess have all weighed in on the issue.
And yet, Barbara O’Malley, the only administrator who seems engaged in the discussion, appears to speak on behalf of the administration in a single paragraph so poignantly watered down and filtered that no real meaning or value can be derived. In her capacity as chief communications officer, O’Malley is doing precisely what all capable public relations workers do: obfuscate and dodge.
Perhaps the most insulting part of her single-paragraph response to the thousands of words authored by students is the following line, referring to Ritchey’s piece:
“…there are inaccuracies and misunderstandings — too numerous to answer here.”
While Ritchey and his respondents (Brittany Ruess, Paul Truong and Katie Maxwell) authored well over 3,000 words in a public setting on this topic, O’Malley dismissed Ritchey’s concerns as “too numerous” to answer, and calls on him to make direct contact with her in a brief and meaningless 172 words.
Nevermind that students — busy with classwork, jobs and personal relationships — took the time from their schedules to write about their university in a meaningful way. O’Malley is employed in a communications capacity, and her brief words in The Journal were not a response. She was brushing Ritchey off and, by proxy, everyone who has written or talked about this issue.
At what point does the glaring absence of words from President Elizabeth Stroble or Provost Julian Schuster become the center of our focus? Does O’Malley believe Ritchey is the only student who shares his particular concerns? And would she rather be contacted, one-at-a-time, by hundreds of students rather than taking an opportunity in The Journal to write a longer, more meaningful response from the administration?
Are Stroble and Schuster so busy and divided from the campus itself as to be incapable of authoring a response to these concerns about financial responsibility? Is it so unreasonable to — at minimum — request that someone author such a response and sign the name of Stroble or Schuster to it, to give the students of the university some measure of certainty that the administration hears them?
Was the chess team poorly handled? Are Stroble and Schuster making questionable decisions? Did Ritchey bear false witness? I don’t know the answer to these questions. But O’Malley’s flippant, single paragraph of empty cue-card language is better suited for a press release, not an important discussion among caring students about the nature of the school’s administrative choices. It shows a shocking and insulting lack of respect for Ritchey and all those that voiced concerns in The Journal. The continued absence of the president and the provost will only further fuel the impression that the administration has kept the students — and thus, their real needs — at arm’s length.