I swore I wouldn't write any more about the recent Red & Black mess, but having attended Friday's "open" meeting and hearing the Board's statement, I found myself this morning thinking again of Conrad Fink.
If Fink had still been with us, he would've stopped this with a "See Me" to members of the Board.
He's the only person who could have done it.
I've written a a few words in favor of the students. I may have tweeted once or twice, given an interview or two, maybe talked to a couple of national journalism organizations. Standard stuff, none of likely to influence the Board itself, and one of it really exceptional.
Let me be clear. I'm no Fink.
No one is.
I'm a guy who teaches 3410 and tries single-handily to keep Jittery Joe's coffee in business. What I might manage in a thousand words, Fink could do with a single look. For 20 years I had lunch with Fink a couple of times a week. When we talked about The Red & Black students and stories they were working on, after I gave my opinion, I could see that inside his head he was thinking: "Okay, maybe I can repair any damage Hollander does in Ethics class."
So I can't speak for Fink. No one should. My hunch, though, is he would've summoned everyone to his office, told the Board to back off, and then told the students to get out and find some news for the next day's paper.
Assuming editorial control now rests with the students, there remains some unresolved issues. For example, will the board jerk around the students in terms of filling the top editor positions? There's a certain logic to saying the positions are technically unfilled so you have to re-apply, but there is only one decision here and that's to put people back where they were before the Board created the problem in the first place.
And then there's the Board itself. It's time to revisit the bylaws and reconstitute the Board. Existing members should slowly rotate off, maybe a third at a time to provide some institutional memory. A former editor-in-chief should be an automatic member. I am not comfortable, however, with a member of the Department of Journalism serving on the Board. Yes, my boss Kent Middleton, chair of the department, serves. He's done so since before he was chair. This placed him in an awkward position, but he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to resolve the issue (and I'm not saying that because he's my boss -- the joy of tenure and being a full professor is I can say whatever the hell I like). Members of the journalism department made it clear to him our support for the students. The Board could include a retired faculty member, for instance, rather than one presently employed by UGA. There are a few in Athens or nearby and any one of them would be fine, or at least do no serious harm.
Some good came out of this. The UGA community responded with support for the students, who learned some important lessons. It took courage to do what they did. As they met Friday morning, I whispered to them that I was 65 percent confident a solution would be reached by that afternoon. I actually thought it was more like 90 percent, but I didn't want to slow them down. They were already plotting out stories, thinking about how to create a print publication, working out space and equipment needs. You don't get that kind of training in a classroom, you get it in, well, the real world. And that's what they got this week, a dose of the real world ... in all its ugliness, in all the joy that came from the support of their peers, their professors, and most of all the alumni of the paper who rushed to their defense.
Okay, gotta leave this on a high note, even when talking about Fink. I'm convinced that when he isn't taking a red pen to God's copy, he's playing lead guitar for the Athens band Widespread Panic. Video below, give it a minute or two before the guitarist gets featured.