Archive for October 2008

The Palin Protester

October 17, 2008

Elon hosted Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin this week, six months after hosting former President Bill Clinton speaking on Hillary’s behalf during the primary season.

These days, protests accompany campaigns just as the moon follows the sun. During the Palin campaign rally, an Elon sophomore who held an Obama sign and began shouting was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Elon’s student newspaper, The Pendulum, did an excellent job in covering Governor Palin’s speech and related stories (see the video of the student’s protest and subsequent arrest at the bottom of this entry). In the Pendulum story, the student is quoted as saying in his defense: “I think that we have a freedom of speech.”

In that particular context, did he?

Legally, the answer is no.

Elon was a neutral host, permitting the Republican Party to use the baseball field for a ticketed event. Those who secured free tickets were told in advance they could not bring posters into the ballpark.

The First Amendment generally protects free speech in a public setting (limited by time, place and manner restrictions). Free speech rights are stronger on the Mall in Washington than on the baseball field at Elon. Free speech is not a “right” in someone’s private setting, unless expressly granted. In this case, Elon designated a “free speech zone” for those in opposition, and protesters there received substantial news coverage as well.

The student protester, then, had a choice. He could come to the Palin rally without his sign or go to the free speech zone with his sign.

The campus appearance by former President Clinton last spring was not a ticketed event, and no prohibition on signage was announced. I remember seeing opposition signs in the crowd. Even so, if someone had started shouting during Clinton’s speech and did not stop, that person would have been hauled away, too.

We need to think deeply on matters of free speech. A court would ask if a person has ample opportunity for political expression, short of disrupting someone else’s free speech.

Precipitating the scene shown in the video above was an effort to halt the student from holding up an opposition poster at the ticketed event, which can be seen here.

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A Voice from Iraq

October 16, 2008

He was a sculptor in Baghdad until his art school burned down in 2003. Proficient in English, he became a translator for American Public Radio’s Dick Gordon, then became a Baghdad blogger for The New York Times. But he’s most famous for his audio stories of life in Baghdad called “Ahmed’s Diary.”

Ahmed's self-portrait

Ahmed Fadaam's self-portrait

For the next two weeks, students in a number of Communications classes will benefit from hearing the stories and insights of Dr. Ahmed Fadaam. Last night, he began his two-week Elon residency with a presentation alongside Gordon, who praised Ahmed’s ability to tell a story clearly and compellingly.

“We had to use his middle name instead of his last name for fear that he might be kidnapped or killed because of his honesty,” Gordon said.

Ahmed’s audio diaries tell about day-to-day life, such as taking his son to a hospital or going to the market to buy food and being faced with life-threatening danger.

I found the backstory to the audio diaries inspiring. After Gordon had edited Ahmed’s draft into a five-minute story, Ahmed would wait until his kids were in bed, would start up the generator because his home had no power in the evenings, and would wait until the sound of helicopters had abated before taping the next entry of “Ahmed’s Diary” that became so awaited by American radio audiences.

Ahmed has a simple, narrative style of storytelling. Take a moment and listen.

Click here for Ahmed’s blog and diary.

A Day in the Life Of…

October 16, 2008

During my 10 years with UPI and The Associated Press, people found my occupation fascinating. They wanted to know about my latest interview with then-Governor Bill Clinton. They wanted to know about my all-nighter covering a missile silo explosion that catapulted a nuclear warhead (thankfully undetonated) out of the silo. I could regale party-goers with my bureau’s coverage of the death of Elvis.

Now it is “And what do you do?”

“I’m an academic dean.”

“Well, that’s interesting. Uh, there’s Joe… I better go and say hi. Good talking with you.”

Frankly, most people have no idea what a dean does. So here’s what I did yesterday:

–Started the day with an Academic Affairs Council discussion on crowd control and media coverage at the upcoming Sarah Palin rally on campus.

–Participated in a graduate school task force discussion on admissions and scholarships for our new M.A. in Interactive Media degree.

–Contacted a theologian about speaking at Elon’s first Media & Religion Conference regarding religious imagery in contemporary films.

–Huddled with a student facing financial need, exchanged emails with another planning to study abroad next spring in Singapore, and congratulated a hardworking senior in person for receiving a prestigious broadcast award.

–Evaluated dozens of files, as co-chair of the Provost Search Committee, of those applying to become the university’s new academic leader.

–Consulted with the team that I’ll be leading on an accreditation visit to Wisconsin next month.

–Recommended faculty for an intellectual property (copyright law) task force to draft a policy for the university.

–Dealt with about a dozen budget issues, from computer software purchases to our program that provides students free daily copies of The New York Times, USA Today and two local papers.

–Came back to campus in the evening to hear an Iraqi blogger/journalist talk about life in Baghdad.

Okay, maybe it’s not as exciting as covering Clinton, nuclear warheads and Elvis. But a dean’s job is stimulating in its own way.

Brain Activity

October 11, 2008

College students are fast readers, and research shows that their brains are particularly adept at focusing on relevant information for a term paper or the next exam.

As we age, studies show that our reading speed slows down. But a new volume of “Progress in Brain Research” reports that older adults are better at broadly comprehending what they read, according to a Parade magazine article reporting on the research this week.

In the studies, college students and older adults were asked to read material that included seemingly extraneous information. While the older group took longer to read it, the older adults performed better than the students in overall comprehension that included the extra items.

An older brain, then, takes away more overall meaning through reading. But college students still have the advantage when it comes to cramming!

Reliving Vietnam

October 9, 2008
Pendulum photo by Lindsay Fendt

Pendulum photo by Lindsay Fendt

We hosted a fabulous speaker today. Jurate Kazickas went to Vietnam at the age of 24 with $500 in her pocket that she won on the game show “Password.”

She told the audience about spending nearly two years as a freelance reporter and being one of the few female war correspondents in Vietnam.

Click here for The Pendulum’s story about her campus presentation.

After her presentation, we had 20 minutes for Q&A. Frankly, I used to get nervous at Q&A time because student questions sometimes showed lack of knowledge or preparation. These days, the questions our students ask make the faculty proud.

The ability to ask a good question reflects a good mind. A questioner wants to push a speaker to a deeper, more reflective answer or to take the conversation in a wholly fresh direction.

For years I’ve heard people say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”

Sure there is.

One humorous example is when a student contacts a teacher after being absent and asks, “Did I miss anything important?”

I’ve been known to shake my head sadly and reply, “We did absolutely nothing of value in class that day. You were fortunate to have missed it!”

Come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I heard an Elon student ask that question. We’re seeing the ascent of good questions and the decline of bad ones.