Archive for politics

How Higher Ed Covered The Supreme Court Healthcare Ruling

I was curious today to see how colleges and universities responded to the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. So I looked at the homepages and main newsroom pages of the 61 schools in the Association of American Universities (AAU) to find out. These schools are the leading research universities in the United States and Canada. What I wondered was this: in addition to pitching their faculty experts and doing other media relations activities that have traditionally raised the profile of our institutions, how many colleges and universities chose to be their own publishers and tell their own stories regarding the big news of the day?

The answer is: not that many. Of the 61 schools, 45 did not publish any Web content about the ruling by the end of the day Thursday.

For the other 16 schools, I would say that the online coverage fell into three categories: experts lists or pitches, actual news stories, and real innovative approaches to communicating directly to your audiences about an important national story.

At the top of that last category I would put the University of Chicago, followed by Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. The University of Chicago live-tweeted a discussion among its law school professors hours after the ruling came down. The discussion was Storified and linked to from the university’s homepage. I just think it’s amazing both that they got something so substantive together so quickly and that they were thoughtful enough to include ways for a larger audience outside the room to participate. At Harvard, the Harvard Gazette published a complete package with expert commentary and video, and the School of Public Health will hold a live webcast tomorrow, which I think is a fabulous way of allowing members of your own community (and by extension the general public) to benefit from the expertise of your best professors and researchers. Finally, Berkeley linked to faculty bloggers from its homepage, another great way to show the character of your university while sharing informed opinion to both internal and external audiences.

Of the schools that did their own news stories on the matter, I would say that Brown and Emory were fairly representative. Brown included five different short reactions from professors in various health-related fields. And Emory did the same, with the addition of some commentary from law school professors along with an older “explainer” video from a health policy professor.

Better-than-average story approaches I think came from Duke and Stanford. Duke provided a fully reported and well-written story summarizing faculty reaction from across the university, as well as a separate story explaining that the decision would not affect Duke’s own benefit plans. They were the only school that I saw that did that, and I think that is a great idea: anticipating the questions of your own community and reassuring them right out of the gate. Duke also included a Storify of faculty tweets in the immediate aftermath of the ruling. From its homepage Stanford linked to a story from its School of Public Health that was a kind of rolling blog with commentary from different professors added throughout the day. And once again we see Storify in action, with the university’s law school professors’ reactions added to the mix by the end of the day.

Hmm, that’s three uses of Storify to collect faculty commentary and reaction on an important issue. So far, I have only used Storify for big, student-focused events like Commencement and Move-In Day. It’s great to see some inspiration for using it as a way to capture research stories or academic stories.

Finally, with what I would characterize as the lowest level of content creation and storytelling, were the experts lists that several schools compiled and then linked to from their homepages or newsrooms. Some typical examples include the experts lists at the University of Virginia and the University of Texas.

I’ll be honest and say that these lists feel like missed opportunities, and they kinda depressed me. I should say that here at the University of Rochester I am in the large group of AAU schools who did nothing so, hello, kettle? This is pot. But still, these lists just make it clear to me that the goal of the communications offices that produced them is to get the name of the university into print, and not to help members of their community understand a complex issue, an issue that some members of the university community are experts in. And that seems to me to be a very limited, very “insider” goal. I should also say that I’m not a press officer, so I don’t have a good sense of how successful these experts lists are in achieving media relations goals. But does it need to be a zero sum game? If you are going to take the time to compile these lists, would it be possible at the same time to get a few quotes and write up a simple story that your own community could read and benefit from directly?

With both CNN and Fox News rushing to report today’s Supreme Court decision news (and getting a few details wrong in the process) perhaps there is a place for the smart people at research universities to become another direct source of news?


What George Washington Could Teach Higher Ed

I’m currently attempting to read a biography of each of the U.S. presidents in order; it’s a personal project that appeals to both my love of history and my linear, completist nature. And I figured perhaps these leaders of the free world might have some lessons to teach us about higher education, technology, or both. Plus, if car dealerships can celebrate Presidents’ Day for the entire month of February, so can I.

book cover of Washington: A LifeFour Things George Washington Could Teach Higher Ed

from Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life

1. Leaders listen. Washington’s entire management style was founded on a slow, deliberate decision-making process with input from as many experts and constituencies as possible. Unlike the British generals, who chose their staffs and fellow officers based on family standing, Washington chose self-made men like Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, and Alexander Hamilton as his advisers. These men were empowered to speak their minds to the Great Man, and he was open to persuasion, changing his mind when the weight of opinion was against him. In higher ed, we often stick with our own peeps — in Admissions, in Student Affairs, in Communications, in IT — because it’s certainly easier. But without listening for the big picture, as messy and uncomfortable as it can be, how can we make decisions that serve our students and faculty?

2. Leaders lead. After receiving as many opinions as possible — after taking his time and weighing all the arguments — Washington would make a decision and confidently stick to it, inspiring and focusing those around him to the task at hand. From the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse to Alexander Hamilton’s first bank bill, Washington supported his subordinates against swirling controversy and the buck stopped with him. And though he failed to take a lead in ending slavery, he did make the decision to free his slaves in his will — something that none of the other slave-owning founding fathers did. In higher education, the focus on consensus and process can make it seem as if no one is in charge, that no one is accountable. At the end of the day, someone’s gotta make a decision.

3. The non-traditional student is usually the smartest person in the room. Alone among the founding fathers, Washington had not attended college. He felt his lack of education keenly. In early writings, he adopted a highfalutin style that he thought sounded more “educated.” In gatherings, he tended to just stay quiet while orators like John Adams or Richard Henry Lee took the floor. Later in his career, Washington found the fact that people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison underestimated him useful. Washington was a life-long learner. One of the great advantages to working in higher ed is that you are surrounded by an organizational culture that values learning. Why not take advantage of that every day?

4. Leading is hard. Finally, over and over again, Washington lifted the weight of the country on his shoulders, at huge personal sacrifice: commander in chief of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, president of the United States — twice. He didn’t want any of these positions, but he also knew that if he did not take up the challenge, the things he wanted to see happen for his country would not happen. It’s not easy, but if you aren’t going to push and push and champion your own goals or vision, who will?


The Goddess Watches the Iowa Caucus Results (so you don’t have to)

I fell asleep before the final votes were in, but here is how the Iowa caucus played out in my little corner of this beacon of freedom Rick Perry calls, “‘Merka.”

Goddess Redux 2008: The Goddess Explains the Iowa Caucuses

NOTE: This blog post originally ran on January 3, 2008.

The Iowa caucuses begin in just over an hour, and already the talking heads on CNN are creaming their pants waiting for the returns to start coming in. I’m worried.

I’m not worried about any particular result. I’m worried about the media coverage. The journalists and pundits covering this campaign haven’t had anything real to talk about for more than a year. They are like racehorses trapped in the starting gate, straining for the finish line. The language is already scary: “It finally begins!” “It’s a day that’s been circled on political calendars for months.” “It could be anyone’s game and in a few hours we’ll finally know who emerges as the winner in Iowa.” As a result of all this pent-up media energy, a completely ridiculous system involving around 200,000 corn farmers will be blown totally out of proportion.

So just what is a caucus, anyway? The mainstream media have been doing these “So just what is a caucus, anyway?” pieces all week, but they are always done with this “aw, shucks” undertone. “Aw, those cute Iowans, meeting in each others living rooms, bringing cookies and pie and talking to their neighbors about politics. That’s the stuff of democracy.” The BBC America reporters covering the caucuses seem to get particularly swept away with the heady romance of good ol’ fashioned USA democracy in action.

But the Iowa caucuses have a dirty little secret: hardly anyone participates. Part of the romance around the early electoral states of Iowa and New Hampshire is that the people in these small, unrepresentative states take their duty seriously and are really engaged in the process. In Iowa, it turns out that’s just not true. Two million of Iowa’s 3 million residents are registered to vote, and of those only 150,000 Democrats and 80,000 Republicans are expected to participate in caucuses. That’s only about 12 percent of registered voters. So much for participation.

There are other issues with the Iowa caucuses that make them less the bastion of participatory democracy that they are portrayed to be.

  1. The caucuses begin at 7pm sharp. If you can’t be there at 7pm, you can’t participate. So anyone who has to work at 7pm (oh, let’s say nurses, police officers, bar and restaurant waitstaff, couples who can’t get a babysitter, the babysitters of couples who could get a babysitter, etc.) are left out in the Iowa cold.
  2. When you attend a caucus, you are asked to publicly choose which candidate you prefer, usually by physically moving to a certain area of the room. If your candidate does not garner 15 percent of the participants in his or her corner, you can either leave or move to one of the other groups. It is this “neighbors persuading neighbors” bit that’s always romanticized by the pundits, but what if one of the people doing the persuading is your boss? Or your minister? Or a party activist, promising you a spot at the state’s convention delegation if you come over to their side?
  3. Those initial counts — when everyone first says who they support — are not reported to anyone ever. It’s therefore possible for a candidate to come in third or fourth in the preferences of participants overall without anyone ever knowing it. For example, if you attend a caucus of 60 people a candidate must get at least nine supporters to be considered “viable.” So if six people support Dennis Kucinich, 27 people support Barack Obama, and 27 people support John Edwards, those six people in Kucinich’s corner will be asked to support another candidate. The fact that they initially supported Kucinich is never known by anyone. Multiply that across the 1,781 precincts in Iowa, and you’ll never know how many people in Iowa actually thought Dennis Kucinich would make a good Democratic presidential nominee.
  4. Forgetting all that nonsense for a moment, even after the Kucinich supporters in our example above move on to support, say, Obama, those vote totals are not reported either! So if there are 60 people in that room, the result coming out of that precinct is not “Obama: 33, Edwards: 27.” Those totals are plugged into a mathematical formula that no one ever explains! except to say “it’s reaaaallly complicated, Wolf!” That formula decides how many state delegates each of the two candidates in our scenario will receive (not national convention delegates; those are different). Our hypothetical precinct might have only three or four delegates, and that’s the only number that counts in the end of this “democratic” process.

My rule of thumb: if a system requires this much explanation, it’s probably not that good.


UPDATE: My mistake above. My post from 2008 was referencing the Democratic caucus rules. The GOP caucuses work differently. They do have a secret ballot, and there is only one vote with those raw vote tallies counted and reported. I was right about the participation rates though; they are abysmal.

Sarah Palin’s America — Um, I Mean, Alaska

I don’t know what channels I’m watching lately, but I can’t seem to escape the ads for the new TLC series Sarah Palin’s Alaska which starts later this month.

Now I know that Sarah Palin is not intended for people like me, and I know that she is not pitching her show to me and my fellow latte sippers. And yet I cannot help but find her pitch as grating as mama grizzly claws on a chalkboard.

When watching the ads, I can’t help but complete Palin’s unspoken subtext in my head.

“Family comes first here.”
Unlike here in New York, where we raise our children for fuel.

“I’d rather be out here being free. ”
Cuz if you’re not gutting fish on a glacier, you hate freedom.

“I’d rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office.”
At last, Sarah Palin and I agree on something. I would rather you our were on a glacier gutting fish, too! You’re right, Sarah — politics is stinky and stuffy. Never forget that. The next time someone tries to take away your freedom and put you in some stuffy old political office, you just say, “no siree, mister.”


Unflattering Politician Photo of the Week: The Morning After Edition

President Obama looks sadC’mon, little camper! Remember what we used to say? Yes we can! C’mon, you can say it: yes we can! Yes we can!

Oh fine, nevermind then.

Seriously. In this shot from President Obama’s post-election press conference in Thursday’s New York Times it looks like he just had to put down his dog Bo with his Pappy’s hunting rifle.


The Goddess Watches the Mid-Term Elections (so you don’t have to)

I have to be honest and admit that I have not been paying as much attention to the political scene as I once did. After last summer’s healthcare town hall screech-fest, I just kinda lost my liking for it. But the pizza is in the oven, and the wine is on the table, and I feel like it’s going to be a long night.

7:01 – The one hope the Democrats had to pick up a GOP Senate seat is gone right out of the gate, as the first Tea Partier of the night — Rand Paul of Kentucky — is projected the winner. Paul wants to get the federal government off our backs, but would criminalize abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. So he’s one of those guys.

7:30 — More projections. With 0% of the precincts reporting (huh?) Rob Portman wins the Senate race in Ohio.

7:40 — CNN’s “Best Political Team on Television” is more like “The Most Dysfunctional Committee Meeting on Television.” They’re  jumping all over each other, speaking all at once, not even listening to each other, and just waiting to get their turn to be the cleverest kid in class.

8:00 — “Everyone remembers Christine O’Donnell. She’s the candidate who said she was not a witch. She’s not going to be a US Senator either.” Ooo, that’s cold, Wolf. As cold as a witch’s tit.

8:45 — CNN projects the gun-totin’, rootin’, tootin’, cap-and-trade shootin’ Joe Manchin is the next Democratic senator from West Virginia. That’s a relief.

9:00 — New York polls close and — surprise! — Schumer, Gillebrand, and Cuomo are in. In sad news, the awesome Rochester mayor Bob Duffy will now become the pointless lieutenant governor of New York.

9:46 — Christine O’Donnell’s concession speech is a long list of things she asked her opponent to do during what I’m guessing was a very awkward phone call.

10:20 — Haven’t heard much about my home state yet. My parents’ Bucks County, PA, district has once again been held up as a bellwether race for the soul of the suburbs, or something like that. All I know is it’s one Irish Catholic running against another.

10:40 – Well, crap. I asked for news from PA and I got it. PA governor goes to GOP, Senate race 50-50. C’mon, West Coast! I need some good news.

11:00 — OK, gotta switch over to the Daily Show.

So after a bottle and a half of wine and a GOP takeover of the House, I think it may be time for bed and the hope that the Republicans stated top priority of repealing the meager healthcare reform bill stays the stuff of nightmares.


My Inauguration Boots

Those are my Inauguration boots.

Every time I wear them I say to myself — sometimes silently, sometimes out loud — “these are my Inauguration boots.”

One year ago today, my Inauguration boots saved my life (or at least my toes) as I stood in them for 12 hours straight along with thousands of my fellow frozen citizens to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

One year later, the warm and fuzzy feeling of my Inauguration boots hasn’t faded, even if the warm and fuzzy feeling of the Inauguration has a little bit.

A lot has happened in that one year: troop increases in Afghanistan; unprecedented bailouts of the financial, insurance, and automotive industries; a stalled healthcare reform effort; a climate change summit that went nowhere; an aborted terrorist attack; and now a natural disaster in Haiti and an electoral disaster in Massachusetts.

A lot can change in a year. And my Inauguration boots remind me that winters do end.


The Goddess Watches President Obama’s Afghanistan Speech (so you don’t have to)

Critics have accused the president of “dithering.” Supporters say it’s been a period of “thoughtful reflection.” Whatever the case, this speech has been months in the making (the war in Afghanistan has been eight years in the making). So I have a feeling the speech won’t be one of those seven-minute George Bush specials. I’m predicting 35 to 40 minutes of thoughtful reflection.

8:02 — Lots of handsome dress greys in the audience.

8:04 — The president starts with a succinct and effective recap on the events in Afghanistan so far, from 9/11 through the war resolutions in Congress to the NATO commitment – as cadets break out their digital cameras.

8:06 — “Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here.” You’re so right, sir. Let’s not bicker and argue about who invaded who…

8:12 — “I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.” Did the president just honestly admit that he opposed a war in front of a military crowd? Very classy, sir.

8:15 – The president breaks it down: We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government … We will meet these objectives in three ways.”

8:16 — Way the First: 30,000 troops will deploy in 2010 to target the insurgency and get more Afghans into the fight.

8:18 — Way the Second: Pursue a civilian strategy with the Karzai government. “The days of providing a blank check are over.”

8:19 — Way the Third — We will recognize that our success is linked to Pakistan.

8:22 — To recap (the president has obviously taken a public speaking class) — “These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”

8:24 — Obama takes on some of the critics of the war in Afghanistan. To those who say this is another Vietnam, we were attacked first! To those who say we should leave the troop levels where they are, this would just be “muddling through.”

8:25 — And to those who say we should have a more expansive, open-ended commitment? “As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, our or interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one.”

8:26 – PBS keeps catching cadets nodding off in the audience. Did these guys have a 14-mile march before the speech or something?

8:31 — Time for the president to wake this crowd up! “Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for — what we continue to fight for — is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.”

8:35 — Bring it home, sir. “It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack …. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. … We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. Thank you, God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America.”


The Goddess Watches the Obama Healthcare Speech (so you don’t have to)

I’m worried about Obama’s speech tonight.

I’m worried that he’s going to listen to the pre-speech pontificating I’ve been hearing and go all hyper-specific about the kind of healthcare reform he wants. He’s been pretty quiet on this score and that hasn’t worked, this line of reasoning goes. Time to give the American people the 4-1-1.

I think this approach would be a mistake.

I think a litany of details on public options, Medicare expansion, and healthcare co-ops would lead to a slow death by boredom in living rooms (and newsrooms) across America. Instead President Obama needs to be a cardiologist, not a neurologist: he needs to address the heart, not the head.

I want a full-throated, emotional outpouring from the president as to why healthcare reform is a moral issue. And I’m not an emotional gal. “Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s me. But in this case, we need the president to fire us up, not bog us down with minutiae.

Here we go.

8:06 — First lady, guests arrive. I  wonder if there will be a “Skutnik Row” of “ordinary Americans”, like they have at state of the union? In this case, I hope so.

8:11 – As the president arrives, PBS is providing a thoughtful analysis of what it means if certain senators applaud. Or not.

8:17 — I like the beginning so far. The tone is combative. Good start.

8:20 — Nice! The badass Obama showed up! “But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. … I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”

8:23 — The President makes the controversial move of acknowledging that there are, like, other countries and stuff. “More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won’t pay the full cost of care. It happens every day. … We are the only advanced democracy on Earth – the only wealthy nation – that allows such hardships for millions of its people.”

8:25 — “I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn’t, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch.” That one gets the first (and maybe only) bilateral standing O from the hall.

8:30 – “Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.” Please be true please be true please be true …

8:31 — “The plan I’m announcing tonight would meet three basic goals: It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. ” Sounds like a plan to me!

8:32 — “As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most.” What I can’t believe is that this isn’t against the law now.

8:37 – The president calls the death panel charge, “a lie pure and simple” and GOP ain’t standing. Wow.

8:39 – Whoa! One congressman shouts out “LIE!” when the president says the plan won’t cover illegal immigrants. Is this a town hall meeting all of a sudden?

8:45 — A Ha! We have a public option sighting. “Some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring.

“But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can’t find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.” (Sorry for the bold italics, but I love it when someone finally calls attention to the fact that right now insurance bureaucrats stand between you and your doctor, and no one seems so incensed about that.)

8: 46 — State schools get a shout out from Obama! Nice analogy, sir! “It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.”

8:47 — Obama throws some red meat to the base. Yummy! “Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for – from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.”

8:50 — Republicans asses are nailed to their seats. They’re not even standing for reforms to Medicare that will help seniors pay for catastrophic perscription drug costs. Aren’t they worried? I’m sorry, but I feel this speech is going over very well. I wonder how they are going to spin this on Fox.

8:53 — FINALLY! “But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.”

8:55 — I was worried at the beginning of the speech that the president would not bring the emotion. I needn’t have worried. You can hear a pin drop in the chamber, Nancy Pelosi is crying, as the president recalls the late Teddy Kennedy:

“He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick; and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance; what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent – there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.

“That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.”

Can I get an amen!

Better yet, can I get a healthcare reform bill?