Toward the end of a thorough ass-chewing via text with Senator John Whitmire over a student housing proposal, UH President Renu Khator did what public officials who screw up have done from time immemorial: she blamed the messenger.
You see, according to Khator's text, the media "misled" people by reporting that the proposal was "a done deal." Maybe the media can be forgiven for interpreting the words "UH Freshmen Will Be Required to Live on Campus Beginning Fall 2015" on an August 15 press release as somehow suggesting that UH freshmen will be required to live on campus beginning in the fall of 2015. We'd link to that press release, but it's no longer on UH's site.
Yet the Chron's headline for the story, which ran the same day the statement was issued, reads "UH could require freshmen to live on campus," which to us seems a lot more clear than the University's own press release. (By the way, scrubbing that release from the website was just a straight-up dumb PR move. It suggests culpability).
The last two sentences of the press release's first paragraph, in plain old type, clash with the large, bold "will be required" jazz. They say the plan will be presented at a Board of Regents meeting "as an information item. No action is expected."
We think that's the linguistic equivalent of crossing one's fingers behind one's back. If no action was expected, then what's up with the provocative headline about an "initiative" that "targets academic performance, timely graduation"? Why didn't the headline simply state "No Action Expected on Information Item Regarding Student Housing"? What it lacks in pizzaz, it more than makes up for in accuracy!
We asked a University spokesperson if we could talk to Khator or Richard Walker, vice president for student affairs, in order to figure out how exactly the media "misled" people. Unfortunately, we were told they were not available. But we emailed questions about how to avoid misleading people in the future. (We'll update if and when we get a response).
For example, we received a University press release headlined "UH Professor Named Fellow by International Astrobiology Society." Below, it states "George E. Fox One of Four Recognized at Meeting in Japan." But what does that mean? Does that mean that George E. Fox is one of four people who will be recognized at an International Astrobiology Society meeting in Japan? Until Khator and Walker straighten it out for us, we just don't feel comfortable reporting it. It's just too soon to speculate.
Whitmire saw Khator's blame-the-media line for what it was, texting "Don't blame concept and proposal on media."
Not to excuse Khator, but after the text-drubbing she just took from Whitmire Saturday morning, we can understand why she wanted to pin at least some of the responsibility on someone else. If you read the entire conversation (which was first obtained by the Chron), you'll see what we mean:
Khator: You will read about UH requiring freshmen living outside 20-mile radius and not married to live on campus. Easy waivers to others. It is to change the culture and create new expectation. Applies only to full time freshmen. Darrin sent our statement to your office yesterday.
Whitmire: Sounds like we need to talk. I think you have overstepped on this one. Expect lots of push back. Quiet frankly sounds nuts to me. Twenty miles is nothing in greater houston. Cost of living on campus is issue. Single moms. Etc. gay people can't marry. Somebody aint thinking. Expect a lot of hell from many derections. .i understand you want to fill those private dorms but you can't make people pay extra to live on campus You already got tuition unaffordable. This ain't Perdue or Stanford. Or even UT o AM....
Khator: ...Waiver is for anyone who gives any reason at all--any reason including financial, religious, family. Eleven other universities in Texas (not UT and A&M) are successfully using them. Students are fully supportive.
Whitmire: You and somebody did not think this through
Khator: It is on board agenda. Has not been done yet. Will think more so we do the right thing. Sylvester totally in support. Students in support.
Whitmire: Please . Your student sampling is small and largely kids already living there. UH is a commuter school unlike other schools you reference. You get them to live there by a good affordable campus housing experience. Too much to text but I cannot believe legislators and constituents allowing such requirement. Certainly I think a bad idea and will attempt to stop. You totally discount people like me that lived in an apartment with my mother and worked. You are very insensitive to UH experience
Khator: So sorry. Don't mean to. Will go back to the drawing board.
Whitmire: The single community will think your insensitive and gays will know you not looking out for them. Some or in closet and don't want gay emption. You just gonna run kids away from UH and start a firestorm. You need better advisors I don't care what Sylvester thinks. He obviously did not understand. I know what his community thinks
Khator: I am in not in Houston, but Darrin will reach out to you. Please allow him to seek your guidance. We won't do it if it is not the right thing to do. The reason for waiver is as broad as "It is counter-productive to my learning." Hays can opt out easily but I understand your point about how it could appear to them. It is not on agenda for board action anyway, so not too late.
Whitmire: I would like to know who came up with this I will stop dead and pass leg if I need to. I really dissapointed and don just told me to stop it and he's rich I want to talk to board before it gets it gets on agenda....
Khator:....Are you still upset? The issue was going only as information/option to board and I have already killed any further consideration on it. Can you please not forgive? Is there anything I can do to ensure you it is killed from consideration? You are the best critic/friend I have so I killed it on Saturday itself.
Whitmire: Well the [Houston Chronicle] article totally set me back. It is so unfounded with lack of realism of the people I represent and UH serves that I am not going to stop till your administration understands their mission. Furthermore you totally mishandled presenting this to me and legislators. And Sylvester does not support. And I cannot believe you talk about other universities like North Texas. Look at minority make up of other schools and social economic make up of other schools . and to compare rice experience to UH is a sin. I don't have confidence in your team. You have done great things but this is not one of your finer moments. Ask John Moores could he have lived on campus and gone to UH Your team needs a sensitivity course. Please send my office immediately what it cost a freshman to go to UH this fall. Tuition books fees parking and then what the additional cost of living on campus. But bigger than that the life style and support they receive at home or provide to family while at home. I know this is dead but your team should learn. What other dumb ideas are you all working on
Khator: We will learn. Media has misled everyone by portraying it as if it done deal. They love to create sensation and we were idiots to allow it. Anyway, it is now killed even from consideration and we will listen and learn. Thank you.
Whitmire: But I still believe your team needs to hear from a real person. And I am the real person. And I am very serious Don't blame concept and proposal on media. And walker needs a new position. And not bouncing off me and others is unpardonable Plus you have wasted a lot of my time on one of the dumbest ideas I have heard in gov in a long time. People at your teams level should not have to learn. They should know and draw big salaries to know
Khator: I apologize. It will be an honor to have you come and guide us.
Whitmire: Too much to text. But half my district would get to live at home my Baytown kids hall to live on campus. Gay couples split up because no marriage option. Big deal many Hispanic families want daughters at home etc etc. but mostly cost. And many people think your campus unsafe. But I equally disturbed nobody in your shop understands the uh students hardships.