Last week, I published a frustrated tirade about the latest social media blunder of East Stroudsburg University’s president Marcia Welsh. As you know, Welsh tweeted out a picture of her posing with a group of half-clad male students calling themselves “The Hawthorne Hotties.” The Hotties are a group of students who perform an “exotic dance” routine – apparently mimicking scenes from the film Magic Mike – to raise money for charity.
In that post, I was not all that concerned about students shaking their thangs for charity – that’s well within the realm of expectations on U.S. college campuses, for sure. What I found exasperating was that it seemed like another example of Marcia Welsh’s “itchy twitter finger” and textbook public relations blunders. In “normal” times, her misdeeds would probably fly shamefully under the radar. However, these are not normal times as she has been hell-bent on gutting programs and slashing faculty for the past two years. The result is being felt in very concrete ways by students.
Chris Powers, writing for the student newspaper, The Stroud Courier, reported that the number of students in sections of general chemistry nearly tripled from “40 to 58 students” to “131 and 152 students.” Class sizes have dramatically increased in other science classes as well – at the very same time there is a national cry for higher quality STEM education. Dr. Elwood of the physics department told Powers, “We have gotten rid of all gen. eds. not required by other majors, like Physics 101.” To anyone paying attention to the importance of higher education for today’s demanding workforce, this has got to look like a move in exactly the wrong direction.
Tweeting out a pic of herself with half-clad male students seemed like a potential public relations disaster that could only further hurt the university – all because she just couldn’t keep her fingers off her smart phone long enough to consider the potential effects on the university. Well, it seems like my concerns were misplaced. You see, after a series of media outlets picked up our story –the Patriot-News, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and even Cosmo — it seems that the right-wing may be gearing up to come to her defense. On Friday, Campus Reform ran an article on the controversy. Campus Reform is a project the deep-pocketed right-wing Leadership Institute. According to Campus Progress’s 2009 report on the birth of the new right-wing project,
Just last year Blackwell’s nonprofit organization, the conservative Leadership Institute, spent $4.6 million to conduct training seminars for college students and to assist with launching right-leaning newspapers on campus, Internal Revenue Service records show. But according to a public video shown to Institute supporters in September, CampusReform is the “largest program ever created” in the organization’s history. CampusReform’s staff also consists of 11 regional organizers, all providing services and resources to campuses across the country.
Campus Reform’s article (like some of the mainstream reporting on my original post) shifted the storyline to focus on whether it is appropriate for students to perform exotic dancing to raise money for charity. That is, they want the issue to be about sex, not the much more narrow issue of Marcia Welsh tweeting out a picture of herself with half-clad students. The issue I raised in my original article on Marci Welsh’s tweeting a pic of her with half-clad students had to do with her careless decision-making. In particular, that tweeting out a picture of herself with half-clad students could have very bad consequences. Given the deep conservative streak in Pennsylvania, I opined that Welsh – the president of a state university – tweeting out that photo might just “give the right-wing ammunition to run to every talk-radio station and fundamentalist church this side of the Delaware River to point to and say: ‘This is what your tax dollars are paying for!'” I had scenarios playing out in my mind of Pennsylvania parents seeing that picture and wondering if they really want their kids going to a university where the president thinks it’s fun to tweet out pics of herself with half-clad students. ESU — like several other PASSHE universities — was having issues of declining enrollments well before my post after all. My follow-up was this:
Maybe I am just not in the holiday spirit, though. Maybe Welsh is just building up the ESU brand with pecs, abs, and biceps. Maybe I have it all backwards. Maybe ESU’s public relations team thought the best way to say “Happy Holidays” to students and their parents is showing just how close Welsh is with the student body…or should I say bodies. I mean, what’s a little skin between the president of a university and her students anyway?
Yeah, I was in a mood. Well, turns out that at least some on the right are not concerned at all about risqué displays of sexuality or public university administrators posing with half-clad students just this side of the age of consent. And…they are generally no so good identifying sarcasm and/or satire either. Nope some right-wing activists are not only rallying troops in support of Welsh, they are feeling their oats by turning the whole conversation into a discussion about sex. I should have seen the repression angle.
This morning, for example. the right-wing blog DownTrend.com picked up Campus Reform’s article with their own piece targeting yours truly and furthering the story line that the issue is about faculty being “offended” about sexuality – which, again, is surprising coming from the right-wing who frequently get their own panties in a bunch when it comes to sexuality on campus. But, this is the 21st century after all.
Never mind the fact that ESU has just gone through a very high-profile, disturbing legal battle surrounding an administrator accused of sexual misconduct with students and workers. Never mind national discussions about the crisis of sexual assault on campus. Nope…those should not figure into how an administrator relates to the public at all. Let’s just talk about sex, baby.
But, look, the fact is that the right is not really rallying behind Welsh’s right to pose with half-clad students. Nope. Welsh’s right-wing allies just think it might be easier for her to continue wreaking havoc to public higher education at East Stroudsburg University if the battle can be fought under the banner of a concocted culture war. One more way to justify gutting high quality programs, faculty, and staff for the austerity agenda. Yeah, I get it.