Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shooting Fish in a Barrel?

I am aware that some journalists and newspaper publishers argue that a columnist's job is to stir the pot, provoke discussion and sell papers. And if the columnists at the Oregonian did that, I don't think I would have nearly as many complaints. Now, the Oregonian is not widely known as a home for brilliant, erudite columnists and I don't expect that to change any time soon. But damn it, the Oregonian is the State's biggest daily newspaper. The fact that I see better reasoned argument in the Daily Astorian is frightening.

Here is the column that has me irked this evening. (Lucky for me I don't have a big enough readership to worry about driving up Mr. Duin's statistics by linking him.)

I want to make two things clear at the outset. First, as just about everyone reading this knows, I am a Duck Sports fan. I own season football tickets. Second, I agree the U of O needs to significantly renovate it's residence halls. But the basis of Duin's column isn't research, or reasoned argument. He throws out short, sound-bite style paragraphs, tosses cheesy innuendo at the University and chooses to blame a popular scape-goat in the academic realm: athletics.

It seems that about 800 incoming freshman at the U of O have been told there will not be space for them in the "residence halls" (as I no longer work for Campus Housing, I will be calling them "dorms" from here on out). He then points out the recent spending on the U of O's new basketball arena. It's clear that he sees these two as not just happening at the same time but as a cause and effect, though he won't come right out and say it.

Perhaps most galling to me is the lack of context of the current housing issue on campus. My freshman year (that would be 1999-2000) there were so few students (not just freshman) in the dorms that an entire hall in Bean was closed after the first month of the year (it had briefly housed freshman that were waiting to rush and then moved into a frat/sorority house). My sophomore year, there was talk that there wouldn't be enough students living on campus to keep Earl Hall open. An entire hall. There were open rooms in the UI (now Barnhardt hall). It was easy to buy a double room and use it as a single. A large number of incoming freshman were choosing to live off-campus because, they told me, it was cheaper. Duin makes no effort to discuss what the living situation has been in years passed or how it has changed recently.

On top of failing to discuss the recent changes in housing demand (or investigating a root cause), Duin fails to mention that the U of O opened a new dorm this past year. Presumably such information would get in the way of laying the blame for this on the stoop of the "pampered athletes and boosters." This doesn't even take effort to discover. It is a huge new building, right there on campus. They took out the outdoor tennis courts to build it. Instead he leaves the impression that the U of O is spending all of its resources on new arenas and leaving these freshmen to freeze.

On the other side of the issue, Duin neglects to discuss or mention the baseball stadium that is scheduled to break ground this winter. Frankly, I can think of no explanation other then shear sloth and shoddy reporting (columnizing?). A ready-made bolster to his argument is left rotting in the dustbin. Did he consider his argument too airtight to need a supporting point?

I know it is easy to Monday-morning quarterback these things. I'll admit I haven't dug in and researched the issue. But I am also not paid to do so. This is Duin's job, his chosen profession. If I took a case to trial with this little research and preparation I would deserve to be disbarred.

I can't speak to Duin's qualities as a human, or even the majority of his other writing, but this column is crap. It adds nothing to the important discussion of the needs of higher education in this state and the spending priorities of this "state run" school. This is an important issue that deserves well researched and well reasoned positions. Duin adds nothing to the pot.