"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)

Monday, April 28, 2014

UMM has an interest in reining in "Northstar"

John Geiger, publisher of "Northstar"
April Fool's Day obscured the shock value of the new "Northstar."
The University Register put out its absurd issue in connection with April 1. Meanwhile the alternative "Northstar" presented itself as a mock Register. It called itself the "RegiSTAR." Any casual consumer of UMM media might be confused by all this. For me, the usual unacceptable offensiveness of "Northstar" got diluted. There was so much silliness on printed pages out there, one just wanted to dismiss it.
I have never liked all-out efforts in print to mark April Fool's Day. The best April Fool's Day humor, in my view, is subtle, tucked in with the serious stuff. A friend and I orchestrated one of these many years ago for the Morris community newspaper. All but one item on page 1 were the usual. But tucked in there was a story about a new Runestone having been found.
There was enough humor in the article to make people suspicious early-on. It ended with initials carved on the stone, which, arranged in order, spelled out "April Fool." The article quoted the wayfaring Vikings as saying they had encountered many dangers such as "Lions, Bengals, Bears and Rams." They also noted "There isn't much to do in Kensington."
The April 1 "Northstar" even used the logo of the University Register at top-left. Underneath they put "University RegiSTAR." In theory there's an intellectual property issue there. The University Register would not like to be confused with the Northstar. It took more than a glance for me to get all this figured out.
Should the Register assert its intellectual property interests? It probably won't. The Register has a mild disposition. It's the typical campus newspaper put out by students. I would rank it above average.
I think the Register has learned to quit reacting to the Northstar. Is that good? It's a mixed bag. The mental health of the Register writers is probably best served by not feeling the impulse to rant about Northstar. Northstar has all the refinement of someone farting in church. It's extreme conservatism.
A well-placed source tells me we can look for Northstar continuing into the next academic year. It's a little disturbing that the Register and other campus voices calm down or go silent vs. the Northstar, because this would indicate that the over-the-edge publication is quietly being accepted into the campus media ecosystem.
I am aware of only two student papers on campus, supported by student fees. It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to put out a printed media publication on a college campus. A campus is a marketplace of ideas, constantly alive with intellectual curiosity. It is a shame that privilege is being abused by Northstar. It communicates on a level that might be equated to a junior high cafeteria food fight.
It's dangerous too. It's fine to argue in a reasoned way that white students - we're not really "white" - have been getting the dirty end of the stick, as it were. No one goes out of their way to advocate for white students, one could argue. I wouldn't mind reading a reasoned piece about this.
Is it time to end all affirmative action? It's an interesting question. Has feminism gone over the line to where it grates on people? Good causes can have their excesses. All very reasonable matters to consider. Abortion always hangs around as an issue.
How does the Northstar address all this? Page 1 of the April Northstar gives us this huge photo of Andrea Dworkin, the feminist. This might be a tease for an inside essay critiquing feminism. Maybe that would take too much discipline.
How does Northstar present the photo of Dworkin? It's with the caption "Andrea Dworkin, your average looking feminist." OK, so this individual is "ugly" in the view of Northstar journalists, and can be considered a template for feminists.
Do I need to point out this isn't a respectable way to make a point? That it's not consistent with what I assume UMM to stand for? Would a high school newspaper advisor allow something like this to get by? Haven't we as a society gone beyond the criteria for judging women's looks as presented by the "rat pack" of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.?
I heard someone ask if Northstar as a student organization has a faculty advisor. Hell, I don't know, but there's no evidence of such a thing.
UMM students should be encouraged to respect all the adults who lead them and set an example for them in their campus experience.
I hesitate making points like this, because I learned when very young that I was destined to never be able to understand what makes UMM tick. To never understand why the liberal arts weren't just desirable, they were like a fortress to be defended with boiling oil.
I'm concerned that with this new passive stance toward Northstar on campus, having been mollified, the outrageous publication will slide into being part of the expected "scenery."
Getting racial
The inside back page is headlined "white student union." An article on page 10 refers to "the newly formed white student union." The article announces that a meeting is upcoming to remember Thomas Edison "as part of White History Month." Is there really such a thing is White History Month? The Northstar constantly tells us to look for satire on its pages, so it's hard to know what to believe. Would Thomas Edison want to be associated with a publication like this?
The article ends as follows: "Edison is only one of many other white figures to be remembered by the (white student union). Other key figures are George Washington, David Duke, John F. Kennedy, Jim Crow, Joseph Stalin, Jesus and Gandhi."
Why would a UMM campus publication wish to cite David Duke as emblematic of anything good? He's the KKK man. "Satire" is not a sufficient cover for this. Jim Crow? Was Jim Crow an actual person? I know the name is anathema to anything considered credible in academic circles.
What's the point? If you have a valid point to make - and you probably do - why not do so on the kind of level commensurate with UMM's intellectual standing? Why bring in hateful names, terms or symbols?
I really hate to even bother making the following observation, but the inside back page has the Confederate flag. Real classy, Northstar. The Confederate flag is not a legitimate symbol for anything good. It really died as a meaningful symbol in the 19th Century. The Confederacy lost. Since then it gets propped up by causes wanting to extinguish centralized authority, the kind of authority that isn't friendly to bigots.
The flag stood for the right to legally subjugate non-white people. Today it's an actual threat when presented - not innocuous or funny. What will visitors to the UMM campus think when they see the Confederate flag symbol, under a headline announcing the "white student union," in a student publication? 
It's absolutely not called for. It's irresponsible.
Abortion is an issue that should be approached delicately. The Northstar is predictably like a bear with boxing gloves, asking "Who needs a baby when WE have a coathanger?" It asks: "Don't wanna wait 'til marriage? Or wear a condom? Come HANG out with us!"
What does the Northstar feel it is accomplishing with its outrageously crude journalism? Why is the door staying open for it to publish next year? Might a new editor come along to "tone it down?" Apparently no one can give responsible guidance. What happened?
I have a theory that maybe the UMM administration got caught off guard. UMM perhaps had some innocent and common sense policies for student publications, which weren't sufficient to prevent the aggressive conservative regime taking hold and abusing their position.
Apparently the Northstar has its own lawyers. What about the University of Minnesota lawyers? On the cover we read that the first copy of Northstar is free and all subsequent copies are $5. At first I thought this was meant to be funny. I am informed that this conclusion is wrong.
If I wanted to pay for extra copies, who would I pay? The worker at the coffee kiosk on the main floor of the Student Center? Where would the money go then? Does UMM have an interest in knowing where the money goes? Isn't it just assumed that a student publication supported by student fees is free-circulation?
UMM can no longer assume anything about the intentions of a faction of UMM student journalists. Maybe policies will have to be made more complicated. UMM has an interest in ensuring that publications on campus adhere to a certain level of civility. Right now, maybe, the U's own attorneys or administration have been cowed by the Northstar's attorneys.
Conservatives pursue their interests like an enraged wild badger. Extreme conservatism may be reaching the stage where it's "jumping the shark," as demonstrated by the Cliven Bundy thing in Nevada. The May issue of Northstar, if there is one, will probably try to make that whole Bundy thing seem cute. And it'll be labeled "satire."
I have never been on the same wavelength as the University of Minnesota-Morris. But if I'm off base with my assertions, I'll eat my hat.
John Geiger is publisher of the Northstar. I wonder if his parents know what all he has been up to here at our "jewel in the crown," the University of Minnesota-Morris.
The editor is Andrew Geiger. Are they brothers? I remember a major league baseball player in the 1960s named Gary Geiger. The managing editor is Rachel Wingenbach. I'm surprised that both a publisher and editor are needed. Usually with a campus paper, "editor" is the top of the totem pole.
Let's get past graduation. Let the flowers bloom on the U-Morris campus.
Time of the essence
It could be the UMM administration with University lawyers have a plan to ensure there is no Northstar next year. They wouldn't want to divulge details.
There is actually much at stake. No college wants as part of its environment the kind of language and symbols presented in Northstar.
If Northstar does return, UMM staff might start to accept it. Staff defers to administration. The staff are privileged to work at UMM. They could learn to accept the Northstar as in behavioral psychology's "learned behavior."
Too few people think for themselves today. They certainly did in the 1960s with the war protests. Now it's time to think clearly again. Can you believe that the Morris community newspaper accepted Northstar as part of its own product twice? What does this say about the Morris community paper and its Fargo owners?
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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