We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
ALTHOUGH I FOUND Michael Dolan’s “Big Man on Campus” (10/14) amusing, if not downright hilarious at times, it is unfortunate that some factual details were sacrificed for the sake of humor. More specifically, I was a party to the closing comedic scene (“Mr. Sensitive Pony Tail Man” and “Debate Boy”) during George Washington University (GW) President Stephen Trachtenberg’s open office hours.
Aside from the fact that both Debate Boy and I were not told a reporter was in the room—which obviously has some ethical implications for our journalist and Trachtenberg—it seems to me had Dolan taken the time to review his tape of the meeting (he did record, didn’t he?), he might have recalled the event differently. Our notes of the meeting reveal that what was said does not exactly correspond to Dolan’s depiction.
The stated purpose of Debate Boy was three-fold: 1.) to apprise Trachtenberg of what’s going on “below” him, 2.) to request the clarification of student grievance procedure, and 3.) to illustrate the need for written codification of procedure so that students are protected from any punitive “retaliation” that may come as a result of a student voicing his/her concerns. Debate Boy did not “enumerate” any grievances beyond those above. Furthermore, no “petition” was presented to Trachtenberg. Rather, what was given to Trachtenberg was a copy of a grievance filed with another department, along with various sundry memos from officials as evidence that students are put into an ambiguous procedural cloud when trying to formally voice their concerns.
The discussion about the “debate coach” and “national ranking” were extraneous issues more or less initiated by Trachtenberg when inquiring about the offered “evidence.” It seems to me Debate Boy, at least ostensively, expressed that his primary purpose was an appeal “for a clearer delineation of the process by which he might pitch a bitch about his coach,” as Dolan puts it, not to complain about his debate coach or confront Trachtenberg with claims of statistical manipulation.
In addition, Dolan’s sardonic depiction of such scenes is indicative of the flippant attitude students often confront when dealing with the administration of GW. It would seem that Dolan appeals to the same philosophy that characterizes the glossy, PR power moves he so painstakingly attempts to document: “[I]nfighting is so vicious because the stakes are so small.” However, to some students and faculty, the “infighting” exists because what is at stake are academic careers, salaries, tuition, and academic integrity, stakes that are not necessarily small or insignificant—especially for students who spend months, if not years, just figuring out how to pay for their education. Dolan’s characterization of students as “soft chin[ned],” inarticulate, fuck-war rebels with superficial causes does nothing but help perpetuate the “generation X” stereotypes that forever prevent effective solutions to legitimate problems (not to mention that pairing terms like “buck-up,” “sensitive,” and “man” are highly gender restrictive). Moreover, Dolan spends a considerable amount of space outlining the achievements of Trachtenberg, implicitly commending him, yet simultaneously belittling those students who are working to achieve goals as equally valid—as if our political and career goals are without merit.
In short, it seems Dolan’s characterizations are more indicative of his minoxidil-induced fantasy world than reality, more motivated by his generational status than the desire to uphold the bastion of journalistic integrity: accuracy in reporting.
Student, George Washington University, Foggy Bottom