Boo On You, MSU

For the winter commencement at Michigan State University, where I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, they have selected Michael Moore–which makes sense since he’s from Michigan and has focused on issues affecting Michigan during his career–and George Will, the Washington Post columnist, to speak.

Normally, I might ignore the selection of the second commencement speaker. I avoid Will’s columns because life is too short to regularly read rage-inducing columns, but the school he is speaking at is what is causing me to comment.

MSU is currently under federal investigation for Title IX violations because they have allegedly mishandled sexual assaults on campus.

Will notably said this in a column on sexual assault on campuses:

[Colleges and universities] are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.

Translation: People want to be sexual assault victims because it gives them privilege. Because that privilege is totally why a lot of sexual assault victims don’t report incidents out of fear of retaliation, stigmatization and people flat out not believing them.

A school under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases has a commencement speaker who said that victimhood “confers privileges” and the Obama administration’s efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses “vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.”

(Side-Bar: Can we create a bingo card for columns? I feel like something needs to be marked off every time Millennials are called “privileged.”)

Either this is the perfect choice of a speaker because it shows just how MSU truly feels about sexual assault cases or it is the most tone-deaf selection of a commencement speaker in…a really long time.

MSU’s selection of Will as a speaker is for his contributions to journalism and opinion writing, according to a statement given to Media Matters. Which makes sense since, as I said earlier, the other commencement speaker has made notable contributions to film, among those contributions, highlighting problems in Michigan. Since Michigan State has the image of wanting its students to go out and solve the problems affecting Michigan and the rest of the world, Moore makes perfect sense as a speaker.

Similarly, Will is a columnist who is well known and works at a prominent newspaper. But he wrote that column. He made those remarks. It feels like no one looked at George Will’s Wikipedia article before selecting him to be the commencement speaker to find out what could potentially cause a controversy with selecting him.

I understand that MSU is not trying to make a political statement, they are just picking someone notable and giving him an honorary degree. But this is a slap to sexual assault victims who attend and have attended the school. By selecting someone who has trivialized rape to speak at commencement and receive an honorary degree it in turn trivializes the very real and painful experiences of students who have walked those halls in East Lansing.

I commend the Council of Graduate Students for condemning the selection of Will as the speaker and wanting the resources used to giving Will an honorary doctorate to be used for hiring more sexual assault counselors at the MSU Counseling Center. I can speak from experience that in general the MSU Counseling Center was in a state that could not even adequately meet the needs of a school of the size of MSU. I have seen on Facebook that representatives with the Associated Students of Michigan State University are working quickly so they can have a meeting to denounce Will being a commencement speaker, which is also commendable and I hope the efforts succeed.

Unfortunately MSU has no intentions of dropping Will as a commencement speaker. I hope they change their minds. If they do not, I will never donate a penny to the university and will leave its alumni association because going forward with Will tells me how they feel about sexual assault and how they treat a pretty vocal amount of people criticizing their decision for a good reason. It tells me the voice of students, faculty, staff and alumni united around an issue does not matter.

I encourage you to raise your voice and sign a petition Ultraviolet has calling for Will to be dropped as the speaker. Tweet, write on Facebook, spread the word. If you’re an undergraduate student at MSU, email your ASMSU representative(s) and tell them how you feel. If MSU keeps him as the speaker, go to the protest that will be held.

Regardless of what happens, it is shameful MSU selected him in the first place.

Update: ASMSU passed a resolution on Dec. 9 condemning Will as a commencement speaker.

Some Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage in Wisconsin

A United States district court judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage last Friday, which initially seemed like a really great thing.

In various counties same-sex couples have already gotten married, while other counties have declined to issue marriage licenses largely because they find the language in the ruling to be too vague. There is also the issue that country clerks could face serious legal repercussions.

But let’s go back to 2006 for a moment to provide some context about same-sex marriage laws in Wisconsin.
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Will Rahm Really Be a One Term Mayor?

For a while there’s been talk on the internet of making Rahm Emanuel a mayor who only serves one term because people are displeased with what he’s done while mayor, most recently serving as mayor while 50 public schools are approved for closure.

A good question is if he’ll really be a one term mayor. Unless someone really good runs against him, I have a hard time seeing he’ll be a one term mayor. The main reason of this is that a lot of things activists are upset at Emanuel over are things a good chunk of voters might not care about because they didn’t affect them, such as the school and mental health clinic closures. Those who live in communities affected by these things and are aware of the affects from these decisions might be more likely to vote for anyone who isn’t Emanuel.

But for Emanuel to really be defeated, a good candidate has to run against him. And by “good candidate,” I mean “Someone better than Gary Chico, Miguel del Valle and Carol Mosley Braun.” The names that were floated by the Chicago Reader for potential challengers that seem like the people who could likely beat Emanuel are current Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, Ald. Robert Fioretti of Chicago’s Second Ward and Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Let’s examine the situation of “what would happen if any of these people ran.” If she would run, Preckwinkle seems like the most likely person to beat Rahm. She’s a known politician with a track record people are familiar with. (Sorry, Fioretti and Lewis.) Preckwinkle was outspoken against the school closures and has wanted to reduce how many people are in the Cook County Jail. At a time when liberals are worried about Democrats who label themselves as “liberals” focusing on privatization and helping big corporations out, Preckwinkle has a track record I think has shown people she is a true reformer rather than using a nice buzzword to get votes.

Fioretti could also do well because he’s usually among the small handful of people willing to vote against Emanuel. He was also very outspoken during the school closing hearing process and even participated in a march to save the schools. However, Fioretti might stay on the city council and the thing I think could would hurt him is that he’s not as well-known as the other people I’m mentioning in this post.

Finally, there’s Lewis who could make the election very interesting. She’s someone who’s definitely known in Chicago for taking a stand against Emanuel. However, there were people in Chicago who were displeased by the CTU strike and she might be viewed as too fiery. And if a woman is passionate and fiery in politics and the labor sector that’s a negative to some people. Plus, Lewis might want to be a force for change through fighting for the teachers and the schools rather than being the mayor. Although it would be interesting if Chicago had a former chemistry teacher as a mayor.

Those are the only candidates I could see making Emanuel’s service as mayor of Chicago only last for one term. Maybe someone else will emerge and end up being a good candidate. Maybe Miguel del Valle will run for mayor again and this time get public speaking lessons from nine-year-old Asean Johnson. February 2015 is still quite a ways off. Unfortunately it will take a really strong candidate to defeat an incumbent who can raise lots of money.

The CTA’s Ventra-Sized Problem

Over the past two weeks the Chicago Transit Authority has been dealing with a backlash and revelations regarding their new fare system, Ventra. At first glance, Ventra seems like a great idea since it would cover both CTA and Pace, potentially making the use of the suburban buses more appealing to Chicago residents who want to visit the suburbs. Ventra also allows for use of debit and credit cards to pay for fares.

Tracy Swartz of RedEye revealed single rail rides using Ventra would cost $3. On the CTA’s page for misconceptions about Ventra, they address this with the following sentence:

CTA vending machines currently do not provide change, so those without exact change are already paying $3 for a single ride.

The CTA later says that only the card costs $3, but apparently people already pay $3 for a single ride so it’s no big deal.

Swartz also reported fees which would be tacked on for people who would use a reloadable Ventra card. To get the Ventra card, one must first pay $5, which will be refunded as transit funds after the card is registered. If a user of the Ventra card does not use their card for 18 months, $5 is deducted for every month it is not in use.

The more troubling news about Ventra came from Jon Hilkevitch at the Chicago Tribune. Hilkevitch reported on numerous fees added on if users of the Ventra card also use it as a prepaid debit card, a feature the CTA has been touting on their website.

The clear option CTA users have is to try to reject the debit card option, use a 30-day pass or use their own debit card or credit card to pay for fares. Although a 30-day pass recently went up to $100, it’s still a cheaper option for people who regularly use the CTA for more than commuting to work.

The CTA meanwhile has to roll out a campaign for damage control after the recent articles. For the people who still read the Tribune and RedEye, they’re aware of this and it might make them wary of using Ventra. The potentially bigger problem with this situation is the Ventra system is no longer looking like a great situation. The fare system already had numerous options that were confusing to some users. I was recently talking to a friend and we discussed how confusing Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus can be. This was a system rolled out in the mid-2000s and it’s confusing for people from the Chicago area. Imagine how confusing Ventra will be if the CTA doesn’t properly educate the public about the program.

Time will tell if the CTA and RTA regret using this program–both systems are using the fare system, but I imagine this will affect the CTA more. There’s no turning back, but the CTA has to think fast to not have this turn into an even bigger disaster for them.

I’m mostly annoyed because I just replaced my Chicago Card.

Michigan and Proposal 2

This is a quick post to answer a question I keep getting in recent days. That question is if Michigan will pass Proposal 2, which would make collective bargaining constitutionally protected in Michigan.

The honest answer is “I don’t know.”

The only poll I’ve seen is from the Detroit Free Press and it’s showing that it’s likely Proposal 2 won’t be approved by the voters in Michigan. But some people might say that polls can lie and it could pass. After all, one of the most famous union leaders in history is from this state. How could it not pass?

The simple answer I can give is the money being poured into the campaign to defeat it.

A majority of the political ads I’ve seen on TV seem to be anti-Proposal 2, with ads in favor of Proposal 6 as a close second. Those ads seem to run more frequently than ads regarding the presidential election. Now, attack ads might not always be effective, but the ads against Proposal 2 have taken interesting strategies. There’s the one with the unionized police officer who is opposed to Proposal 2, which can give the message of “If union members are opposed to this, why should we support it?” But overall, the message of the ads has been the classic “Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children.”

The ads argue that if Proposal 2 is passed, it will be easier for drug addicts, alcoholics and pedophiles to be teachers and that union leaders don’t care about children. When you use children as the target of ads and their safety as the key issue in the fight, that changes the conversation completely. Additionally, it could create a panic among parents who fear for their children’s safety.

But even though there’s a pro-Proposal 2 billboard that I pass everyday on I-496 on my way to MSU, the amount of mailings opposing the proposal are numerous. On Saturday I checked the mail and found three anti-Proposal 2 mailings. The only pro-Proposal 2 mailings I’ve received have been from Teamsters Joint Council 43.

Yes, if Proposal 2 is rejected, it will probably be the result of thousands, maybe millions of dollars poured into the opposition campaign. Then again, if Proposal 6 is approved, it will also probably be the result of millions of dollars poured into that campaign. (Gov. Rick Snyder explains in a video on YouTube that the proposal is really just the result of a special interest, which it is.) It would probably be premature to assume that Michigan has suddenly become hostile to unions, because it just seems like people were persuaded through what they heard on the radio and on TV, saw in their mail and read in the papers.


If there is one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that President Obama is still a terrific public speaker.

It was a great speech and it was no wonder that congress seemed to be leaping to their feet every five minutes. They were more standing ovation crazy than Iowans, but with a good reason. The speech did manage to inspire in the midst of the difficult times. I was even optimistic as I watched and listened to it. And if a speech can make me optimistic it has to be good.

The remark about the Democrats not needing to run to the hills after losing Massachusetts did need to be said. I was disappointed by the results of that election, but the Democrats still have the majority. The speech felt like he was trying to say, “I’m trying as hard as I can, give me a break.” Although the mention of him working with Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell did make me stand up and cheer. (Please deliver on this. Thanks.)

He did address student loans at one point in the speech and discussed a plan for student loan debts to be forgiven if a person decides to enter public service. Which makes me wonder this: Is becoming a theater critic public service? (I’m kidding.)

And I was watching the State of the Union address on MSNBC, which means that I got to hear Chris Matthews say, “I forgot he was black tonight for an hourlive. And, yes, it did make me want to bang my head into a wall.

(Also, Whet Moser of the Chicago Reader has other stupid things said after the State of the Union address.)

Any other thoughts?