Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Took the Kids to Student Senate Tonight

It's a standard exercise for basic reporting, a really good introduction to the responsibility of being where you don't want to be listening to things you find utterly boring while laboring under the requirement not only to hear but to understand. It's one thing to ask rude questions -- and about half of my beginning reporters feel any question is inherently rude -- when you care about the answer, but when all you want to do is escape not just from the place but from a world in which there are such places....

Do they still teach Sartre's "No Exit" to kids. They really should.

But back to tonight's student senate meeting, where I took my basic reporting class kicking and screaming back behind their eyes where it all really happens.

But for once *it was splendid*. A guest dean explained the ins and outs of financial aid at USF -- $41 mill total aid, about $4 mill for athletic scholarships and so on and so on and then the senators started work on a resolution to be presented to president and board of trustees urging that tuition not be raised.

The senate had done surveys. It had accumulated anecdotes. It was ready to make the case that enough students would be driven away by one last back-breaking tuition increase that such an increase would not actually increase revenues. In short, they had taken the initiative and were willing to confront power.

No, it wasn't the Sixties. I'm not even sure it was the Fifties, by which I mean all the white males would have figured there was a deal to be worked behind closed doors. It was polite. It was idealistic: We'll make our case, and we'll matter. But it was heartening anyway and an opportunity for the reporting students to get it and to realize that it was something they should care about and then to sort out how they should write about such an issue, tracing that narrow path between advocacy and moral sloth, behaving "professionally."

Let's step back a step. They need to realize that they are the pathfinders. They have to decide where that path is. Paths are like shoes. One size does not necessarily fit all feet.

I'll cut them some slack. I'm still not sure where that path is.
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