Thursday, April 15, 2010
Chart continues to pursue the Cowardly Lion
The recent battles of Missouri Southern State University's newspaper The Chart as it continues to do battle with University President Bruce Speck have served to remind the people of this area of the long and rich history the newspaper has.
While the newspaper has spent the last couple of years putting Bruce Speck's feet to the fire, it is not the first time the student journalists have lived up to Mencken's credo of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
I remember an incident from about 16 1/2 years ago when a man claiming to be a Southern graduate was appointed to a leadership position in an area business. The Chart, however, did not just accept this man's claim that he went to the college and sure enough, a check of the records showed no man with that name had ever graduated from MSSC.
An intrepid Chart reporter phoned the man, who had just been appointed managing editor of The Carthage Press, confronted him, and totally caught the man off guard.
"We can't find any record of a Randy Turner ever graduating from Missouri Southern," the man said.
And I had to admit he had me nailed. Fortunately for me, while Randy Turner is the name I go by, the name on my degree is William Turner, with Randall being my middle name, as I explained to the reporter.
I felt weird after the phone call. I was happy to straighten out the misconception, pleased the reporter had checked with me to get the facts, but I have always hated to see younger reporters lose out on big stories.
There is no mistake on this latest story. Bruce Speck's record of creating dissension on the previously placid campus is a matter of public record. Since his arrival, the Chart has chronicled his exploits, ranging from his efforts to dismantle the university's international mission, and his bullyboy tactics with campus employees, to the incredible lack of sensitivity he displayed when he sang his self-penned ditty "The Pink Slip Blues" at a time when all employees wondered how long they would have jobs.
The Chart has also been there when Speck misled the community with bogus pronouncements that a Joplin medical school was nearly a done deal. And the newspaper has paid the price for playing the Toto role and pulling the curtain on this man who claims to be the great and powerful Speck, but more often ends up playing the role of Bruce the baboon, albeit a baboon with a rich tenor voice.
The Chart has also done its readership and the university proud with its exploration of just how this man from Tennessee came to Southern. Its coverage has included the lowdown on the botched Dwight Douglas-led search that ended up hiring Speck, the only man who was interviewed for the post. The newspaper also compared that search with a similar one that took place at Missouri Western, where multiple candidates were interviewed, thorough background checks were conducted, and Speck's candidacy for that position fell by the wayside.
For its courage in tackling the big man on campus, the Chart and its reporters have paid the price. One of Speck's lieutenants removed all copies of the newspaper from a job recruitment fair in the fall of 2008, because it had a story that did not convey the message Speck wanted visitors to MSSU to have. When he was attacked on First Amendment grounds, Speck said the lawyers needed to decide it.
The attacks on the Chart were ratcheted up after its coverage of the faculty's no-confidence vote in the president and the shenanigans involving the proposed Joplin medical school.
Reportedly, Chart advisor T. R. Hanrahan was raked over the coals and threatened. And through all of this, the young journalists have continued to do their job, unbent and unbowed.
And that courage and devotion to duty led Speck to take the drastic step of cutting off all access to the media and going beyond what any other public university would have the temerity to attempt- implementing a policy that would prevent the Chart or any other media outlet to interview anyone, administrator, faculty member, or student, without going through the university's public relations department.
Forget my analogy comparing Bruce Speck to the great and powerful Oz, for like the Bert Lahr character who joined the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman on a journey down the yellow brick road, Speck appears more like the Cowardly Lion, threatening someone he thought was weak and then cowering in his office until the Chart reporters finally grow weary and give him a chance to sneak out the back door.