$1.2 million controversy triggers knee-jerk responses, continues trend of university blunders

A jumble of motives led hundreds to attend the “Bat Rally” at 29 Park Place to voice a host of concerns related to Ohio University spending.

From comments on the Facebook page for the event, one would think the rally formed in opposition to buying a giant new house for OU’s President Roderick McDavis after bats were found in the President’s historical on-campus home. To some, it seemed that the rally was just one big joke, an excuse to make all of the bat puns ever and dress up in general disdain for “the man.”

Protestors and spectators lined the sidewalk in front of 29 Park Place, filled the median strip and took up stadium-like seating on the layered entrance to Alden Library. Speakers shared a megaphone from the fountain on the median.

As Ryant Taylor’s first mention of “$1.2 million” was met with a chorus of “Fuck that!” the rally proved to be all about money. Speakers voiced a common theme of outrage that $1.2 million will pay for a house two miles away instead of being spent toward other projects at Ohio University.

Dave Logan, union president of Local 1699 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), lamented 73 colleague lay-offs in McDavis’ time. He highlighted deferred maintenance and recent renovations to the home on 29 Park Place as evidence of absurd money-spending decisions.

Vice President of Student Senate Caitlyn McDaniel spoke to the crowd and quantified the opportunity costs of a $1.2 million home, previously published as a poem in The Post. McDaniel listed a selection of alternatives, from paying tuition costs to providing meal plans.

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The new presidential mansion uproar is merely the latest event that highlights the strange, distorted priorities of the university. The $1.2 million controversy and other strange spending decisions brought up at the rally are easy to get riled up about. But, the spending decisions are a symptom of the university’s overall disconnect with students.

Professor Kevin Mattson voiced concern at the Bat Rally that the opaque decision making of the OU administration took place in a “bubble” and was a threat to democracy. Lack of accountability diminishes the pressure for decisions to be made based upon the interests of students.

In 2013, I wrote a column for a class assignment. The theme was “alcohol at OU.” I started my search in the “health promotion” section of the Campus Involvement Center, where there is a sidebar tab titled “Alcohol.” This is what I wrote in 2013,

When moused over, the tab presents a menu linking to ten different pages related to Ohio University’s stance on Alcohol. The universally-loathed Alcohol EDU tops the list. Below are advocacy coalitions such as CARDD, links to University policy, information and resources for parents and faculty, strategies, initiatives, and supporting research. There’s even a history lesson outlining the last few decades of alcohol and OU.

The Research page contains the hard data foundation of OU’s argument, and links to seven resources “useful in trying to understand high-risk drinking on college campuses and the relative effectiveness of various strategies intended to reduce it.” It’s all a bit exhausting. If the university is putting this much effort into this, what are we ignoring?

The answer to that question was a few tabs down from “Alcohol.” In 2013, Fuck Rape Culture had just held some of the group’s first rallies, so examining the “Sexual Assault” section of OU health promotion seemed pertinent. I moused over expecting a drop-down menu like there was for Alcohol. When none came, I clicked and was directed to a page that briefly defined six terms related to sexual misconduct. It totaled 242 words.

Yes, it is in fact the exact same page today. Down to the last word. HAVEN, the required sexual-assault companion course to Alcohol EDU, is a barely visible tack-on to the latter program and only appears at all under pages titled for Alcohol EDU.

While the OU Women’s Center website provides the selection of programs and resources one might expect to find, it may lose some tabs on its sidebar. At the Bat Rally, Jessica Ensley, a senior studying journalism, brought up the uncertain budgetary future of OU’s Survivor Advocacy and Survivor Advocacy Outreach Programs. While OU Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit has assured in a letter to The Post that there would be office space for the programs in the upcoming year, the Athens News has reported community concern for future funding.

The university’s intense focus on the projects and capital of its “Master Plan” may be distracting from its commitment to students. In a bid to superficially compete for funding while divorcing the institution’s goals from education, the OU administration has violated one of their so-called “Values of OHIO” (aka the “5 Cs”).

Besides commitment, the university could use a little work on community. At the Bat Rally outside of 29 Park Place, Logan said “99 percent of people in Athens County would gladly live there.” Mattson warned that “what we spend money on sends the message that that’s what we care about.” The OU Foundation’s decision to lease the house was quietly announced on the “Compass” website. The institution of higher education that purports to be a boon to the surrounding rural area could be perceived as more of a money mill.

The spending decisions that drew ire at the Bat Rally seem to exclude “character” as one of the upheld values, as well. Its entry on ohio.edu references the first sentence of the university’s mission statement: “Ohio University holds as its central purpose the intellectual and personal development of its students.” That might be hard to enforce when trying to hide decisions about the enticement of new presidents and their future fundraising capacity.

Another C, citizenship, claims that, “The OHIO citizen gives more than they take.” Maybe that one still holds true for the President and Board of Trustees. It doesn’t specify to where the citizen gives, so giving internal pay raises or money to prominent local businessmen counts as much as giving a scholarship to a student.

Numbers can tell a lot. When they don’t add up, something is wrong. On this campus, even the university’s own values come up short. The Bat Rally offered a comprehensible target of criticism in the form of overspending, but as speakers voiced their plethora of concerns, the $1.2 million represented the surface of a burgeoning legacy of missteps that lie beneath the bats and deeper than McDavis

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