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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where's the Beef?

From time-to-time I like to exercise my own freedom of the press by offering counterpoints to the editorials in the campus paper, the Trinitonian. I will invoke that privilege this week to respond to the editorial about the housing situation. Note that I have a great relationship with the paper and respect its usual excellence. The issue -- releasing students from the residency requirement to accommodate all of our students -- was nicely covered by Trinitonian reporter Kristina Meyer.

The accompanying editorial, however, somewhat unfairly characterizes the work of the Residential Life staff, particularly, that of Associate Director Wanda Olson as "obviously flawed." In addition the piece claims that the Residential Life Office failed to "properly plan." The editorial presents the office as one that has to base projections on guesswork. That part is true. Mrs. Olson looks at occupancy figures and wait list information from previous years and projects the number of students who can be released in advance in order to ensure that we have room for all of our students under the University's three-year requirement.

This is not an exact science. The previous year, when nearly everyone was released on the first pass, the Residential Life Office began the year with 50 vacancies. Predicting "student melt" is extremely difficult. This year we opened with a full house and are still moving people out of triples and upper-class students out of the first year area.

The second issue, articulated in the column, was that the staff is doing nothing but hoping for a new facility to resolve the issue. That isn't entirely true either. In fact, just this week, in conjunction with the Business Office, the staff has worked out a plan to refund room deposits based on cancellation dates. One of the issues Residential Life struggles with is learning of cancellations in a timely manner. The new system will provide incentive for students to notify the University quickly of their plans not to return. A full refund will be issued for notifications by June 1 and a partial refund by July 1. Previously deposits were completely non-refundable. This is a win for students who cancel, and for those waiting for the subsequent vacancies that are created. The plan was proposed by Mrs. Olson last spring, based on research she had done with peer institutions.

My greatest issue with the editorial is that it presents the staff as unsophisticated and uncaring buffoons. In fact, Mrs. Olson, specifically, gives incredible individual attention to students and the room assignment process. She really should be applauded rather than belittled. The assignment process is a complex one, condemning it without thought, though, is simple.


Digital Subway said...

Students and faculty still read the Trinitonian to gain primary information about what's going on at Trinity. And sometimes, it seems as if some article do injustice by giving an opinionated view and often biased rather than simply letting others know that is out there and leaving it upon them to make judgements or decisions.

We frequently (and by this I mean, in every issue) see complaints and grievances from various groups about being falsely represented in the Trinitonian in the following issue. The writer doesn't really know what people think about this article unless he gets feedback. One way to promote this could be by going digital. We could make a copy of the Trinitonian available online too. Currently, only limited (maybe 5/6) articles appear on the website for every issue. If we could make the Trinitonian available online, people could easily send their comments and feedbacks.

This would help to send a message about what people at Trinity think. The stance of the author shouldn't be the main driving force in formulating interpretations.

Many people refrain from sending in feedback because young people hate to send paper mail. This makes it seem as if the people are at Trinity are indifferent to the views expressed in the Trinitonian, no matter how outrageous it may be.

Bob said...

Amen to publishing the entire Trinitonian on-line. Many of TU's peers do exactly that, and the responses from the paper on why they do not (to encourage people to pay for paper!!) are entirely unconvincing. Get with the program and welcome to the 21st century already.

Anonymous said...

Putting all content online for free however is exactly what has lead to the demise of print newspapers today. Why would the Trinitonian want to follow in the same footsteps? Additionally, feedback is not sent via paper mail as Digital Subway said, it is a simple emailed letter to the editor.

Let me also remind you that the article itself was questioned by the Dean, rather, it was praised as "nicely covered." It was the editorial he had beef with, and editorials are in fact "opinionated views."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above me is right. Editorials are OPINIONATED columns. I understand the need to defend the counterpoint if you feel differently than the article but you must understand that it is an editorial for a presents someone's personal views. Also agreeing with anonymous, having the paper entirely published online would push us in the same direction of every other struggling publication. There is nothing like being able to pick up the paper and read something in your hands. Do you really want to lose that??

David Tuttle said...

I hear you. My issue, though, is that the editorial was not based on facts as even presented in the story. It was wrong. Honestly, it even spells the name of Mrs. Olson (Olsen) differently than the correct way it was spelled in the story. I think it wasn't researched or responsible and thus was misleading. I suspect it was a rush job, which is fine, but it did a disservice to a staffer, which was unfair. Plus, editorials often evoke responses, so this post was mine. My issue with the piece being on-line was that last year the papers were put on-line the same day as the printed versions were put out. I am not arguing against the printed version. I just was being snarky about it because the editorial attacked Res Life for being poor managers and yet the Trinitonian is guilty of that charge. I hate letting on how petty i can sometimes be, but I am what I am.