Because I don’t always read Mike Masterson, I missed that he gave his column over to University of Arkansas Student Body President Bo Renner on Nov. 30 (paywall). Possibly figuring that a lot of other people skip Masterson, the UA university relations email account sent out a note from Renner with his column attached this afternoon. It’s on the jump.
Renner explains that he tried, to no avail, to convince the Democrat-Gazette to publish his defense of the university against the D-G’s criticism. So he turned to Mike Masterson, who “expressed concern” (sound familiar?). In the column he gave over to Renner, Masterson closes it with, “Why do I have a feeling that outspoken Bo Renner is a young man about whom we’ll be hearing more in years to come?”
Maybe. But this column doesn’t commend him. It’s spirited, but utterly naive, of the “why are you talking about the bad stuff, when we’re doing so much good” variety of complaining. Renner writes that he’s “no journalist,” so I guess we should forgive him for not seeing that a $4 million budget deficit that’s led to the ouster of two top officials, a prosecutor’s investigation and an ongoing legislative audit doesn’t warrant reporting and commentary. Curious that the university relations department thought this was a good idea. A little good pub in advance of Brad Choate, the vice chancellor who’s chiefly been blamed for the budget deficit, appearing before Legislative Joint Auditing on Friday?
As Student Body President of the University of Arkansas, I seek to represent the interests of all students. After reading many news columns criticizing the University of Arkansas, I contacted the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in early October to request column space to address these recent editorials. As someone elected to serve as the voice of 25,000 students, I felt that it was appropriate that I speak out from a student perspective to this consistent wave of criticism.
It was not difficult to make initial contact with the editorial board, as they enthusiastically encouraged me to submit such an essay. However, after sending the letter I had written, I never heard from them again. After several attempts to follow up regarding the status of my letter, it became very clear that they were not interested in printing the perspective of a student who attends the institution they seemed so determined to undermine.
In late November, I contacted Mike Masterson, a columnist who used to work at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and whose columns still appear in the paper, to get advice on how to move forward. He not only expressed concern with my situation, but also decided to publish my letter himself in his regular column. My dedication to this effort was simple — I wanted to inform past, present, and future Razorbacks of what is really happening on The Hill. I hope you will take the time to read my letter below and see that nothing is sinking here, but rather just the opposite – it’s soaring.
Student Body President
University of Arkansas
The Soaring Flagship
There is always that point on an airplane when the kid behind you keeps kicking your seat so hard, for so long that you just have to say something. In many ways, this is where I am as the Student Body President at the University of Arkansas. I’m sick of students being kicked and I am done being quiet.
In the past several weeks, some at our state newspaper have viciously attacked our state’s flagship institution, or what they dubbed “UA-F,” (for Fayetteville, I’m assuming) in a seemingly forced and oddly vitriolic manner that reads like a personal vendetta. While I’m not in the business of selling newspapers, I am in the business of standing up for students, particularly and especially when their degrees are being devalued by the use of spiteful language to describe our state’s largest and most respected university.
I’m no journalist, but I have always believed a key component of a reporter’s job is to gather facts and report them to the public. And because the University of Arkansas, which editorials have referred to as the “sinking flagship,” seems to be a significant story these days, I thought I’d mention some facts that they failed to:
*Five years ago, 19,200 students were enrolled here. This fall: 25,431, making us the 13th fastest growing institution in the entire country.
*Over 43% of the incoming freshman class had GPAs of 3.75 or higher.
*A record 18% of the incoming freshman class had a score of 30 or higher on the ACT.
We set a self-record of 45 invention disclosures this year, spending $120 million in research for the third year in a row.
*Graduation rates exceeded 60% for the first time – the highest in the state.
*For three straight years, we’ve fundraised over $100 million annually, arguably putting us in the best financial shape in school history.
*In 2011, we were one of 108 schools nationwide to be elevated to the highest possible research status by the Carnegie Foundation.
*The School of Law jumped to its highest ranking in history (36th, public).
*Named one of nine up-and-coming public universities by U.S. News and World Report.
*In short, I just wanted to clear the air and inform Razorbacks, past, present, and future, of the reality: while they’ve been publishing negative articles, we’ve been publishing research. While they’ve been busy attacking our school, we’ve been attracting the brightest students. And while they will do whatever it takes to make news, we’ll continue to make records in retention.
Whether it is ignorance to facts mentioned above or sincere disregard, there is failure to report some of the most exceptional students in the entire country. I find it disheartening that a student can make the front page for committing a crime, but a Truman Scholar gets very little press. These students don’t achieve for the sake of recognition, but that does not mean they are undeserving of it. I am not asking that anyone at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette disregard bits and pieces of news concerning this institution, but I’m asking that it doesn’t disregard facts and noteworthy accomplishments either.
I really do appreciate and respect the profession of journalism… just not when the work is done at the expense of students. Reading the paper, as a student and a third-generation Razorback, is degrading nowadays; not only to me, but my constituents, classmates, and the entire Razorback community. Quite simply: The U of A is not sinking – it’s soaring. So, while I do not know what is going on at “UA-F,” here at the University of Arkansas, we’re doing just fine.