Two stories have so far defined this semester at the University of Wisconsin: an important search for the institution’s new leader and a much less important debate over someone who believes he holds control over the entire UW community.
But the university’s search for a new chancellor, possibly the most important debate we have encountered since former Chancellor Biddy Martin’s insistence on promoting administrative flexibilities for the Madison campus, has mostly fallen on deaf ears. I’ve noticed this first hand on the back end of the Herald’s website.
I’ll avoid divulging specific numbers on the statistical differences between the stories. But it’s certainly fair to say that the few stories or columns this newspaper has run about the UW-Madison Confessions brand, an online cesspit of contrived and often bigoted bullshit, have far outpaced the much more consequential debate about UW’s future.
For the last month, both student newspapers have devoted significant page space and bandwidth to the chancellor search. We have deservedly devoted significantly less space to the Confessions. But in keeping with the journalistic maxim that people read the newspaper for the comics — or in our case, the Shoutouts and the comics — more people have engaged with our scant coverage of Confessions than the in-depth looks into the four candidates vying to replace interim Chancellor David Ward. This isn’t surprising, and I think the Confessions have a small place in news coverage. But public interest shouldn’t be so lopsided.
Here’s why you should care about the chancellor search, and not the Confessions:
The chancellor search process will affect job prospects. It will affect the financial life of the entire university, the economy of an entire state and the scientific discoveries that could help millions. The leader the Board or Regents selects will shape the way we pay for tuition, how UW spends our money and how we interact with the state government. And hopefully, they will do all of this while maintaining a central characteristic of the university: the joie de vivre and educational enthusiasm that Confessions has unsuccessfully attempted to portray.
The Confessions have hurt the name of everyone who attends this university. The page’s quixotic administrator, who calls himself The Creator, often claims the administration has clandestinely encouraged him to continue promoting UW through the confessions. This is a laughable claim. Everyone in Bascom Hall will at least privately admit to UW’s “work hard, play hard” mentality being central to our uniqueness as a world-class university. But the content the Confessions regularly approves and publishes would have the average observer believe, among other things, that Abe Lincoln’s statue is regularly stained by male ejaculate.
The Creator is right about one thing. This is a special place. I’m prideful UW students can receive a world-class education without the pretension that characterizes peer institutions; I’ve gotten the same chills during a Big Ten Championship game and had the same kind of memorable moments anyone else here has experienced.
But imposing a lopsided focus on what makes UW great will be our undoing if it continues.
This is the place, after all, where an unnecessary chant at football games is constantly repeated despite its negative effect on our reputation. The reason? It’s not because “Eat Shit, Fuck You” is a special Wisconsin football tradition. Instead, it’s simply because of a form of overhype and overcompensation that fuels the masses of undergraduates to prove Wisconsin’s sexual and social superiority while forgetting the academic core of UW’s greatness. We are becoming the asshole fans.
Other universities throughout the country have been successful in finding a cultural balance between academics and the debauchery that accompanies putting thousands of 20-somethings in one dense area.
It is becoming clear the student body’s continued detachment from the real conversations could be a problem for UW. I’m all for sex positivity, the ephemera that make college memorable and the university’s completely unique culture. But we shouldn’t confuse any of those things with the qualities that have made Madison what it is today.
Ryan Rainey ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies.