A contemplation on patience, or the lack thereof

So far this term, I’ve been forced to take my writing process into consideration. I do not enjoy taking my writing process into consideration. I enjoy writing. Especially when it comes to poetry. But that is a different rant for a different day.

The writing process for TKS works better, more efficiently, and more sensibly than does my personal writing process for creative work. The latter is scattered, informal, and makes me feel like a Type B person when I’m pretty sure I’m not a Type B person. However, this mode can still apply to TKS sometimes, and for reasons that I cannot control.

Last Wednesday, on publication night, it felt like all our well-planned deadlines (a nod to Anna Meier for changing them this year in such a way as to make everyone less insane) and well-organized systems had been tossed to the wind. My lovely co-editor had asked a writer for revisions on Monday night, but we did not get them on Monday night. We did not get them on Tuesday night. You can probably imagine that we got them on Wednesday night, of course, since that’s implied. But when? Was it right at 4 p.m., the beginning of our publication process? No. Was it right after dinner time? No. How dare I be so optimistic.

We did not get revisions in until 8:45 p.m. I was overjoyed that we actually got them, but until that time, I was fuming. I’m pretty sure everyone in the publication office was afraid of me. Actually, I know this for a fact; they very graciously took a “by all means!” attitude when I declared that I would most definitely be going to the Quickie to buy a pack of cigarettes, in spite of quitting and in spite of their support of my quitting. (Note: I didn’t end up getting cigarettes after all.)

I think that timeliness is important. Incredibly important. I blame this one on my family: they are always, perpetually 10 minutes late, so I am always, perpetually five minutes early. “On time” to me means five minutes early. So, when most people are actually “on time,” I’ll already consider them to be late.

But what I (re)learned from being crazy frustrated and forced to wait is that we cannot control everything. No one can. It’s a waste of time to think otherwise, because things almost always go wrong. In considering my creative writing process and even my movement process in dance, it’s essential to remember that things will change as I go, and I must change with them. Last Wednesday night, there was no way we could have gone without that story simply because we didn’t have it in. We had to keep our options open.

We, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, had to make it work.

Budget forum, digest version

In case you missed the budget forum tonight: it went for about an hour and 40 minutes. A lot of information was presented. Not all questions got answered, including those that were asked. Here, in brief, is what I think you need to know:

The Facts

  • At the beginning of the fiscal year, the college faced a $3.6 million deficit. This has been partially closed thanks to a Board of Trustees-approved dip into the endowment of $1.7 million and $750,000 in expense reductions. After all of this, we were still $1.2 million short.
  • Three times each year, the college goes through its budget line by line to see where cuts can be made. This was done this year as it has been in the past.
  • This deficit existed in the first place for a plethora of reasons: federal financing for higher education has decreased, the cost of education is rising across the board, we have a teensy tiny endowment, our retention rates aren’t what they could be, no magical gifts from donors fell out of the sky, Knox has been poor since the dawn of time, etc.
  • The comprehensive fee for next year (tuition, fees, room & board) will be $47,352. This is a 5.9 percent increase from last year. Almost half of Knox’s revenue comes from tuition.
  • Aside from the tuition increase, other plans to address the budget shortfall include cutting retirement contributions for faculty and staff through June 2014, growing the student body from 1,400 to 1,600 students over the next four years, a capital campaign with the goal of eventually raising between $150 and $200 million (this has not been officially announced yet), and increased efforts by administrators to reach out to donors.
  • The college is committed to reviewing each student’s financial aid package in order to help meet growing need in the face of rising tuition, although President Amott did say that the college is not completely covering the need of every student right now and will likely not be able to do so in the near future. FAFSAs are due to the Office of Financial Aid this Friday. Any student who feels as though his or her financial need is not being met is encouraged to talk to the staff in Financial Aid; the office is located on the second floor of CFA. Financial aid decisions can also be appealed after award letters go out, which may happen earlier this year than in previous years, though no guarantees were made.

The Details

  • Retirement benefits are being cut because this does not affect faculty and staff members’ take-home pay. This is an alternative to further reductions in salaries (which are already low compared to peers at other ACM schools) and cuts in faculty and staff. The college is committed to maintaining the 12:1 student-faculty ratio and will continue to hire faculty as the student body grows. Which departments receive additional faculty members will be based both on demand and curricular gaps. 
  • A limited amount of full-tuition scholarships will be in place starting with the class of 2017. The size of the overall financial aid coffer was not decreased due to the addition of these scholarships.
  • Increasing the student body to 1,600 by 2016 will result in an increase of between 50-60 students per year. Amott feels confident that the college can handle this influx next year but that the following years would provide a challenge with current facilities.  The college is looking into purchasing the St. Mary’s Square facility at the corner of South and Cherry Streets, which would also offer additional cafeteria space. Other plans include getting rid of the admissions suite and double singles for RAs, turning other under-utilized areas on campus into student rooms, and possibly adding another Grab ‘N Go or annex to the Hard Knox Café.
  • Other small, tuition-dependent colleges have ended need-blind admissions. Knox has no plans to do this at this time. Amott said she believes future classes will look very similar to current ones.
  • Many projects that some students feel are extraneous or unnecessary, such as landscaping improvements, are the result of donations especially designated for these purposes.
  • Renovations to the interior of Alumni Hall will not begin until all of the approximately $11.5 million needed is secured. (Currently, we’re at about $9.5 million.) Eventual plans to move offices such as Admission & Financial Aid and the Career Center into this building will free up space for classrooms and housing around campus.
  • In the late 90s and early 2000s, an endowment spending level of 16 percent was declared unsustainable. The level is currently at 5 percent, which will of course increase with the $1.7 million approved by the trustees. Amott said she would never let endowment spending approach even 12 percent.

The Unanswered Questions

  • How exactly the capital campaign will proceed is not yet known, as it is still in the planning stages, and an explanation of how capital campaigns work in general was declared too “boring” to detail.
  • While the college is undertaking extensive market research to determine what leads students to apply to Knox and decide to attend, what leads current students to choose to leave is much less clear. The issue of retention was repeatedly declared a “complex” one, but a solid plan for examining and addressing Knox’s low retention rate (about 75 percent last year) was not presented.
  • It is not clear how the college will communicate the changing state of the budget shortfall as these plans move forward. It was mentioned that Knox is already much more open than a lot of schools when it comes to these issues: TKS is allowed at faculty meetings, for instance, and student observers are present at all Board of Trustees meetings, which is not common. Still, there was no indication of how the administration will continue the transparency it has begun with this student forum.

Did you attend the forum? Did I miss anything? Tell me in the comments.

Opinion column writing in a few easy steps

The key to writing a good opinion column is having lots of opinions. This sounds simple, but there are many weeks where the deadline is drawing near and there is nothing that you want to do less than have an opinion on something that is not your pillow. Luckily, there are weeks where you have opinions during break, which works out well because that’s also generally when you have free time. Stock up on opinions then.

What sort of opinion is best? Log onto Google News and look at the top stories. What are you outraged about? Nothing? Really? Try again.

Still nothing? Are you sure you should even be writing an opinion column?

Do you have an opinion now? Good. Now start your column with a joke, anecdote, or quote that is only tangentially related to your topic. If you’re having problems, open the Wikiquote page of George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill. That will generally do it.

With your opening lines in place it’s time to express yourself. Let all of your love/hatred/passionate ambivalence flow. Ask as many rhetorical questions as possible. Make a comparison to either Classical Rome or Kim Kardashian somewhere. That’s a bonus point. And remember, you can never put in too much sarcasm.

Now go through and delete at least 75% of what you wrote. It’s probably pretentious, irrelevant, uninteresting, or possibly all of the above. Repeat the above process until you reach a point where the majority of what you have written won’t make you embarrassed to see it in print.

The final key is to expend lots of effort on making your title into a pun, although that should almost go without saying. There is no column I am as proud of as “Some Romney that I used to know” and I can barely remember what I actually wrote about. (I am reasonably sure that it involved Mitt Romney.)

Title pun in place, your work here has come to an end. I’m proud of you. We’ve been through a lot together over these last few paragraphs, but it’s time for me to go. I need to log onto Google News and see what outrages me this week.



threat to journalism

Channel 12 news (the former employer of a friend of mine) in El Salvador recently received a wave of threats to its journalists. This is a big deal. It will effect not only journalism but also free speech in the country and the way journalists adhere to rules of ethics. You’ll also note this isn’t being covered by Western media (U.S./Europe). Column to follow next Wednesday.

On keeping and spilling secrets

“So-and-so told me, and I’m rather loud.” – how information gets spread around the pub office

Perhaps it’s not a secret that journalists are bad at, well, keeping secrets. Providing information to the public is part of the job. Of course, there are rules: classified information is classified for a reason, for instance, which is why Julian Assange got in so much trouble (aside from his sexual trangressions, of course). But by working in journalism, you affirm a commitment to the idea that most information belongs in the public eye. How the government or any other official body is using public money? Check. When laws are being broken? Check. If someone in a position of authority is saying one thing but doing another? Check, check, check. Accountability is our charge, and honesty is our creed.

Given all of that, you would suppose that we have a very difficult time keeping information under wraps, and I’ll admit that I twitch a bit every time I receive a press release prefaced with “EMBARGOED.” (Pro tip: organizations, particularly government organizations, can send out information that you are prohibited from printing before a certain time; this is done with things like the monthly unemployment report.) But, interestingly, I’d argue that journalists are also some of the best people at keeping secrets.

And perhaps that’s because of how we get a lot of our information. There are all sorts of ethical quandaries surrounding anonymous sources quoted in stories, and I won’t address them here. More often, though, what happens is that we receive tips on what questions to ask from sources who we then protect. These sorts of sources take cultivation: relationships are a product of years of personal and professional encounters. I’ll fully admit to having several carefully chosen sources located around campus that have helped me do some of my best work over the years. It’s not about weaseling information out of people; it’s about learning what questions to ask about topics you otherwise wouldn’t know exist. And it’s about respecting the trust of those sources and keeping their identities confidential.

And that’s my two cents for the night. Back into the crazy world of making a paper. Want to know what was said at the faculty budget forum today? Wondering what information is shared there that might not be shared with students at their respective forums? The story online later tonight; more to appear as it develops in the coming weeks.

A look beyond the president’s paycheck

Former Knox President Roger Taylor didn’t charter planes or fly first class.

At the Ingersoll House — the college’s three-story presidential mansion —he didn’t employ any maids or butlers.

And for the 1.3-mile drive to Knox, he drove himself: no chauffeurs or limousines.

Taylor, who earned $214,691 in his final year at Knox, did have a few perks, though.

The college covered travel costs accrued by his wife, Anne, who helped with fundraising activities.

Knox also footed the bill for Taylor’s clubhouse membership at Soangetaha Country Club, which costs $1,734 annually, according to the club website.

TKS recently ran Matt’s investigation of presidential salaries in the ACM, in which he found Roger Taylor at the bottom. Read the article here: Knox president lowest paid in ACM

Fact Checking Your Tweets

At the dawn of the 2012-2013 school year we as a newspaper made a push to spread our presence on social networking sites. This included having many section editors, including myself, establish Twitter handles for the first time.

Up until a week and a half ago things had gone off without a hitch. I live tweeted many home football games from the press box during the fall and shared various athletic thoughts with the rest of the world. Over the winter break I continued to live tweet, this time Knox College basketball games via Internet feed, and this is where I made my first real Twitter snafu.

The problem with watching Midwest Conference Basketball games online is the fact that the commentators for the games tend to be average students that work for the host school’s athletic department. These guys are no Al Michaels, so I tend to mute the action listening to the audio only when I need an update on the score. My preference to do so cost me during the Knox women’s victory over Illinois College on Jan. 9.

With Knox up six points and just over a minute to go I did a quick scan to see which players were on the floor and to my surprise I did not spot sophomore Jessica Howard. Howard, Knox’s best free throw shooter, seemed to be an obvious choice to play in a situation where the other team was forced into fouling the Prairie Fire. I tweeted the following:

“I don’t understand why up 6 with 1 minute to go Jessica Howard, who shoots over 90% from the line is not on the court”

Followed by:

“And if I’m the coach Howard doesn’t leave the court in this situation and is the only person allowed to have the ball”

Knox would ultimately come out with a 92-87 win, but I was still baffled why Howard never saw the court in the waining moments. Luckily for me one of my buddies was in attendance and through a series of texts explained to me the source of my confusion. Howard had fouled out with over four minutes to go, and I never heard about it because I had the game on mute.

After wiping the proverbial egg off my face I knew immediately I had to address the issue, because as Co-Sports editor of TKS I am followed by many Knox coaches including women’s basketball coach Emily Cline. While I am completely in my rights to critique and analyze during the game it is just as important that I fact check myself as every Tweet of mine also reflects on TKS as a whole.

I immediately tweeted an explanation and an apology, later hearing that coach Cline would go on to read every one of my Tweets from that night on the team bus ride home. The next day as I passed Memorial Gym there was coach, palms up saying “Come on Jackson! Of course I would have played Jessica!”

The jibe came in a joking tone and I know that coach understood, but the fact remains that what happened is clear evidence of impact Twitter has on reporting. The ability to spread information quickly and as the event is happening is a wonderful thing, but it also increases the possibility of misinformation. Lesson learned, as best as you can, think before you Tweet.