"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

St. Francis school board creating spectacle

Amy Kelly (ABC Newspapers photo)
Maybe cigarettes served a purpose we didn't all understand. An op-ed writer opined this once, wondering if cigarettes as a sedative helped keep us more relaxed than we seem to be today. People have trouble overlooking the slightest oversights or flaws in human nature.
So we have that minister in Rochester shooting and injuring his granddaughter who he thought might be a burglar outside the house. He's charged with a felony. Police are busy not with basic issues of the public staying safe and property being secure, but with giving citations on matters where no immediate dangers can be perceived.
All this is a prelude to the main topic I'm addressing in this post: the St. Francis school board. I have no connection to that Minnesota community. I have written about that board once previously. I could have sworn that would be the only time.
But oddly, that school board is in the news again on the same matter that brought it notoriety not that long ago. Maybe if this board met in a smoke-filled room, they'd all get along a little better. Remember how the World War II generation smoked? And drank? They were also very good at keeping matters in their proper perspective. Having dealt with the Depression and WWII, they knew what real problems were.
Today we have kids suspended from school for playing "cops and robbers" in which they merely point fingers as simulated "guns." Such playing has been common from time immemorial.
Maybe it would be good for all of us to have a super-duper depression again.
The St. Francis school board burst into the news initially by ousting a member. This wasn't a recall election, it was an ouster. An election I would respect.
Board members there have the obligation or "chore" of submitting columns for a newsletter. Board member Matt Rustad got the heave-ho for lifting some paragraphs from a blog, or I guess it was a "comment on a blog," and he had fingers pointed at him for the "p" word: "plagiarism."
Oh, and it seems he wasn't totally forthcoming about this act when confronted with the accusation.
There are certain questions I wouldn't care to be forthcoming about. "Have you ever taken a pee along the side of a road?"
I hope some legal wheels are still turning on behalf of Mr. Rustad, and that this isn't a completely settled matter now. David Lindberg, the St. Francis district's human resources director, makes the pronouncement about why exactly Rustad had to be excised. Lindberg proclaims that the accused party "lied" about his actions.
Don't we all lie when we want to deny a minor infraction? A politico on TV asserted during the campaign that a politician is in fact justified in lying "if the question is unfair."
Rustad was not lifting paragraphs from a commercially published book. He saw some interesting material on a website, material he wanted to share, and apparently lifted some sentences for his newsletter submission. The Internet is all about sharing. Wikipedia entries are prepared by people not motivated by wanting to make money from such entries - how would they make money? - but by people with a passion for wanting to share information.
There needn't be an economic motive for wanting to share information. Young people understand this as they constantly broaden their grasp of new media. Older people have gotten over some of their mistrust of the new media. But only some.
It's also older people that are keeping newspapers alive for the time being. Media analyst Allan Mutter wrote recently that based on data, a trend just since 2010 has seen the average newspaper reader become markedly older. Sorry newspaper guys, we're just reciting facts.
It's a cliche that "information wants to be free." It's a cliche based entirely on truth.
The "overhead" once required in sharing information, i.e. a printing press, is out the window. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming.
I'm a former newspaper writer who has found new life online. I could hardly have predicted it. What started as a blog that I felt might just have a handful of personal friend visitors, has developed into something more. I don't make money but I don't spend any either. Such a media universe could never have been foreseen when I was a kid.
Writing was a rather narrow specialty when I was a kid. Today it's ubiquitous. Information flows all over. And while a writer would never want to steal a section of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and present it as his own, one can "share" from the endless sea of impulsive thoughts, commenting and reporting out there, and not have a Federal case made of it.
A majority of the St. Francis school board is stuck in the old days. Or, more likely, a majority is uncomfortable with this Mr. Rustad for other reasons, and is using a trumped-up charge.
Was Mr. Rustad not an elected public official? Yes or no? If he's not, if in fact he's a "school district employee," I'll eat my hat.
We want schools to be overseen by elected officials because we want the proper checks and balances. Elected officials will look after the interests of the public and their collective pocketbook. Boards have enough trouble as it is. Look at the University of Minnesota and its board of regents that can't seem to keep an eye on things.
What's with the chutzpah of the St. Francis "human resources director" making such a vicious pronouncement - "lying" - about a young man who simply wanted to serve on a small community school board for what can be presumed to be the right reasons?
This whole kerfuffle has now taken on a new wrinkle. On page 5B of the January 17 Star Tribune, via a big headline, we learn - gasp! - that a second member of this notorious school board has now been accused of plagiarizing. This individual is the board's new chairwoman, Amy Kelly.
Holy copy and paste! What's going on here?
Kelly was fulfilling her obligations for that school district newsletter, the Courier, which I would suggest is now more trouble than it's worth. This was a column  in August, 2011, which presented the story of a boy who threw a starfish into the ocean. A plagiarism-checking Internet site was used to identity this alleged ethical faux pas by Amy Kelly. It was found that Kelly's column was "67 per cent plagiarized."
Kelly is going to have to explain herself at a January 28 school board meeting. Does this board realize it's becoming kind of a laughingstock?
Kelly so far has offered a very lame defense of her actions. She asserts that she "assumes" other people had heard this story numerous times previously, i.e. that it was in popular circulation. I'm offended by that. I have a B.A. degree and consider myself to be pretty well-read and worldly, and I cannot recall ever hearing this story. If I have, I've forgotten it.
So it would have been nice for Kelly to attribute to a source. In this case the source is a book entitled "The Unexpected Universe," from 1969. So it's not like it's old folklore from The Brothers Grimm or anything like that.
The author who got ripped off here is Loren Eiseley.
Kelly could have taken the trouble to give the proper background. She had actually been critical of Rustad.
Rustad does have his defenders such as board member Marsha Van Denburgh who felt Rustad wasn't treated fairly. Another sympathetic party is Suzanne Erkel who simply felt the Rustad issue was "overblown."
The perceptive Van Denburgh isn't calling for Kelly's removal or resignation but she sees a problem with precedent, which is something that elected officials must be attuned to.
Again, are school board members elected public officials? A synonym for that is "politicians." Aren't politicians accused of "lying" all the time? Heaven help us if politicians could be removed from office simply because of a "lie."
Didn't Michele Bachmann campaign for re-election by asserting with no subtlety that her opponent, Jim Graves, had "lied" about his involvement with the United Way? If he in fact did, would he be ineligible to take office as congressman? I mean, after all, the St. Francis school board has made a determination like this.
Let the voters decide. Unless you find that to be inconvenient, St. Francis school board members.
The topic on which Rustad was sharing was "paperless schools." Maybe this represents too much of a change in our education system for many board members to comprehend or enact right now. So maybe they feel uncomfortable.
I am absolutely cheering for the continued retreat of the "paper" media. Change can be unsettling. Maybe we could all handle it a little better by just "lighting up a smoke."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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