Here is some food for thought. A human rights activist – Elaine Brown - visits WSU by request of the ASWSU to speak about race, gender, and class disparities in the United States. About a hundred people are in attendance. Lane Rawlins (the standing President of WSU) asks her – as she put it - what her “problem” was in coming to speak before the university. She said she didn’t have a problem. A day prior, national television anchor Peter Jennings speaks before an audience of over 12,000. He ridicules and debases the university and its guests. And the Murrow School of Communications hands him an award for it.
“[Peter Jennings] truly is the torch-bearer of the Murrow tradition,” said Alex Tan, Director of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication [see Evergreen 4/14/04].
On Thursday, April 15th, in the CUB Auditorium, I had the pleasure of hearing the articulate and inspiring Elaine Brown. She focused on the continuing struggles and oppression of all people by a privileged few. “We are talking about how Martin Luther King died for us, and we got a seat on the bus… …how can we talk about freedom and liberation when half the people in America are oppressed?”
On Wednesday, April 14th, in a packed to capacity Beasley Stadium, I had the displeasure of hearing Peter Jennings, a rather affected and self-involved man.
Angie Dormin, a Doctoral Student of History at UI and a high school teacher in WA asked Mr. Jennings why the national media has passed over the “middle America silent majority types." We know five boys that are in Iraq right now.. [One] young [man] called his mom because a bullet just whizzed by his head… [He had] joined the national guard so he could get a discount to come to the university.” Mr. Jennings sidestepped the issue by pushing the responsibility of coverage to local media. When she pressed Jennings further, he replied indignantly “can I go onto someone else… be fair now, there are a lot of people here.”
A young Christina Ramento, a freshman at WSU, approached the microphone to ask the Mr. Jennings a question regarding media consolidation by large corporations (specifically that of Disney and Comcast). In her nervous state, she mistook Clear Channel for Comcast. Before she could finish her question, an exasperated Mr. Jennings turned his back to the crowd; then interrupted her. “They told me that these WSU people were really smart… they said it wasn’t all about football you know.” Nearly 12,000 people laughed in unison at this young woman for daring to ask a question.
What we have here is an institutional approach to academia ripe and infected with hypocrisy. It goes deeper than the dining center’s “fried-chicken” celebration of black history month, or the misplaced ads of recent Evergreen publication. What kind of administration awards a condescending Mr. Jennings in one breathe, and demeans the struggles of a human rights activist like Elaine Brown in the other? Peter Jennings observed President Rawlins’ “good ol’ boy” approach to life. It seems to me that this “good ol’ boy” approach has infected the very foundation of Washington State University.