LSU Board member Rolfe McCollister: Faculty who criticize LSU in print are unethical

Rolfe McCollister

Rolfe McCollister

By Robert Mann

In a new column in the Baton Rouge Business Report, publisher Rolfe McCollister seems to question whether it is ethical for an LSU faculty member to criticize, in print, the university for which he or she works.

In his column entitled “Two Hats of Bob,” McCollister notes that I serve on the faculty of the Manship School of Mass Communication while also writing a weekly column for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He says my criticism of him and Gov. Bobby Jindal qualifies me as a “hater.”

“Mann is one to take full advantage of free speech and faculty tenure as he pontificates in his columns on all that’s evil,” McCollister wrote (sorry, there is no hyperlink for the column as of Tuesday night). “Hey, this is America, and I respect that right. But I am getting the feeling that Mann switches his hats often and there may be an ethical question with his two roles. Not a good example for Mann to set for LSU students.”

Speaking of two (or three) roles: McCollister, for those unfamiliar with Louisiana politics, is not only a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. He is a newspaper publisher. He is also one of Jindal’s closest political allies. According to NOLA.com,

McCollister is the organizer of a nonprofit political organization that buys advertising to promote Jindal’s agenda. He was the treasurer of Jindal’s 2007 gubernatorial campaign and the chairman of the governor’s transition team, and he’s given $17,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2003. He was on the LSU board from 1988 to 1994, appointed by former Gov. Buddy Roemer.

While wearing his publisher hat (or is it his LSU hat?), McCollister criticizes the fact that I often disagree with Jindal’s policies. I must assume McCollister did not care for my recent column in which I called for the next governor to dismiss the current LSU Board for its failure to defend the university against Jindal’s harmful budget cuts. He probably also did not like my post on Monday, which noted that in 1992 he had advocated the arrest of then-Gov. Edwin Edwards over proposed budget cuts to higher education.

Unsure about journalistic ethics (hasn’t he run a newspaper for more 25 years?), McCollister said that he reached out to an anonymous source, who he identified as “a former seasoned journalist about the ethics of a faculty member who has a second job and writes about his university.” This anonymous person told McCollister:

Every good journalist knows that you cannot ethically cover the institution that pays your salary and the people who supervise the work you do for that salary. The ethical equation doesn’t change if a reporter vilifies those people. Who is to say the reporter’s self-interest isn’t involved? Would the reporter be better off if the person they criticized was fired? Did the administration make the reporter angry one day and now it’s a chance to get even? When journalists don’t recognize this fundamental aspect of journalism, everything they write, on any topic, lacks credibility.

So, McCollister doesn’t actually say that I’m unethical. He just finds some anonymous “ethics expert” — a former journalist who lacks the courage to be quoted by name — who attacks me as unethical for speaking out on matters of public policy.

It’s a rather chilling column.

If you are a faculty member who wishes to start a blog to discuss public affairs, or you wish to post criticism of McCollister or the governor on your Facebook page or Twitter feed, McCollister and his anonymous source think you are doing so unethically. I’m sure that untenured, junior faculty at LSU will take note that one of the governor’s best friends, who serves on the LSU Board, has this opinion of academic freedom.

Did McCollister threaten my LSU job? Not really. He just finds some gutless anonymous source to call me unethical for criticizing a group of public officials.

But he does seem to want the Times-Picayune to quit running my column. He ends his own column with this suggestion to the newspaper’s editor:

I wonder if Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss (who sits on the LSU Manship Board of Visitors) has thought about that conflict? It is obvious Mann hasn’t.

* * *

Postscript: On Wednesday morning, I sent the following email to LSU President King Alexander and Provost Stuart Bell:

Gentlemen,

I would hope that one of you might find time in your busy day to make some kind of statement to the faculty in response to Rolfe McCollister’s column in which he questions the ethics of faculty members publishing criticism of the LSU administration or the LSU Board. The quote Rolfe uses from some anonymous source is a gross distortion of not only the common understanding of journalistic ethics, but an attack on what it means to be an academic with freedom of speech in or outside the academy.

By this standard, the New York Times should not have anyone covering the newspaper business (as David Carr did for many years). It should not have a public editor. The Washington Post should immediately stop covering Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com (its new owners). NBC should never do a story on GE. And ABC news must stop covering anything that happens at Disney.

Whether you agree with my public comments, I do not believe for a moment that you think I am being unethical by speaking my mind about the current affairs of one of the most important public institutions in this state — as a citizen or a board [faculty} member. 

But I wonder about the chilling affect [effect] of Rolfe’s statement (a board member and very close associate and friend of the governor) will have on our junior faculty and potential new hires. 

I would think some statement or reaffirmation of academic freedom on this campus would not only be appropriate this week, but necessary.

Sincerely,

Bob Mann

Another postscript: LSU Provost Stuart Bell called me on Tuesday afternoon to say that he and President King Alexander fully support my right to write and speak out as I do. He promised that no one in the LSU administration would retaliate against me in any way for what I say or write. I thanked him for his call and for his support. I did say, however, But you cannot call every single faculty member with that message. The faculty at LSU needs to know that this school values academic free speech. I urged him and Alexander to issue a statement to that effect. He indicated that something might be in the works, but there was no promise. Seems pretty simple to me: just tell the whole faculty what he told me.

 

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27 Responses to LSU Board member Rolfe McCollister: Faculty who criticize LSU in print are unethical

  1. Pingback: LSU Board member Rolfe McCollister: Faculty who...

  2. Fredster says:

    Give ’em hell Bob!

    Like

  3. Your enemies choose themselves. And this one is full of it. Mealymouthed running dog of anti-intellectualism. Tossing xhit at a wall in the hopes of fooling people. I’m a Newhouse grad. his crap is old as the hills. and just as bogus.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. earthmother says:

    McCollister is not a journalist. He owns a business publication. True journalism, objective news, attribution of quotes, etc., are not necessary in his publication. Obviously you have hit a nerve and rattled Rolfe’s cage. Who is a better example to students than their teacher? That you practice what you teach should be the finest possible example to your students. You do not give up your First Amendment rights because you teach in a university, which by the way, you have not criticized. You rapped McCollister and jindal, not LSU. It is typical of powerful people who don’t like a message to attempt to silence the messenger.

    One thing you have not done is made up nonsense quotes attributed to pretend people. Too bad Rolfe never went to journalism school. A course in ethics and the media probably was not part of general studies. And then there’s that pesky Constitution with it’s Bill of Rights and that First Amendment thing.

    I feel very certain that you will not be intimidated. God bless you and keep the legitimate journalism coming.

    Like

    • Fredster says:

      You do not give up your First Amendment rights because you teach in a university, which by the way, you have not criticized. You rapped McCollister and jindal, not LSU.

      Excellent point there earthmother.

      Like

    • Robert Mann says:

      Thanks. I don’t think Rolfe made up the quote. In fact, I’m pretty sure I know who it was: a current faculty colleague who is very close to him who hates what I am writing. (His words to Rolfe almost perfectly match what he told me himself more than a year ago.) Thanks for your encouraging words.

      Like

  5. refchef says:

    You know when they get snippy that you’re doing something right.

    Like

  6. For the good of the state, LSU, and the endurance of academic freedom, Mr. McCollister should immediately resign his position on the Board of Supervisors. Threats against the livelihood and reputation of an accomplished, award-winning professor who has done more than almost anyone to champion and serve the core mission of the academy- the free abd open exchange of ideas- threats against a man who has published scores of books, essays, and insightful analysis and commentary- merely because Mr. McCollister is embarrassed by the exposure of his own hypocrisy and his blind political allegiance to an elected official- are absolutely inexcusable and antithetical to the academy.

    If he cared about LSU and his own credibility, he’d apologize and resign tomorrow.

    Threats- implicit or explicit- of retribution such as his should be treated seriously by LSU’s accrediting authority and should be reported.

    At a time in which LSU needs all of the help, resources, and talent it can possibly find, Rolfe McCollister is doing irreparable damage to recruitment and retention by demonstrating how those like him think of LSU as their own political fiefdom and not a welcoming university for those who care more about academics than the whims of political bullies. Bob Mann’s work is a credit to LSU, and his name itself lends status and immeasurable goodwill to the academy, even among those who disagree with his opinions. That’s part of the point.

    Like

  7. liznola716 says:

    So absent a “free media,” what are we supposed to do? There is nowhere to voice our dissent.

    Like

    • Robert Mann says:

      In Jindal World, we’re just supposed keep quiet. A few years ago, Kyle Plotkin, now Jindal’s chief of staff, told me in a tweet that if I had a problem with his boss I ought to run for office. In other words, run against us or shut up. That’s the way they think.

      Like

  8. Louis says:

    In the simplest of terms, as you are open about all that you are doing, there is no violation of any ethics.

    Like

  9. La. Ed. Watcher says:

    McColister continually uses his publication as a bully-pulpit to scare those who disagree with him into submission. One example — Tammy McDaniel, former gubernatorial appointed member of BESE. As a teacher, when she realized that the Jindal-directed BESE was on a path to implement policies that would be detrimental to public education, she began questioning those tactics and policies. Jindal asked her to step down, but she refused. So, he sicced old Rolfy on her. The Jindal staff fed McColister confidential information about a meeting McDaniel had with the staff, and he published that info. in his column along with his opinion that she was unethical and a horrible person to question Jindal’s motives and actions regarding K-12 education. Of course, she ended up resigning a month or so later because they kept bringing the heat, but his column on her was nothing more than a hit-piece designed to ruin her reputation and career. God forbid a veteran educator should question the great and all-powerful (at the time) Jindal on his education policies.

    McColister is not a journalist. He needs to look in the mirror for a great view of an unethical person in all his glory.Pretty sure the only people who take his “column” seriously are the people who read The Hayride and think there is no such thing as global warming and believe that Ted Cruz is the second coming.

    Like

  10. Now you have their attention.

    If you remain silent, the entire world that exists (unknown to LSU BOS) would wonder what you are covering for. When a public University system loses 90% of its funding, the allies of the governor who facilitated that abdication of fiduciary responsibility get their feelings hurt? Give me a break. I cannot think of more of an appropriate response for the LSU BOS than to shed crocodile tears about their failure to protect LSU.

    It’s like the kid who murders his parents and then begs for mercy because he is an orphan.

    Like

    • Robert Mann says:

      Charlie, I do believe I have their attention. For good or bad.

      Like

      • Junior says:

        Rolfe is a coward and men like him are the reason Baton Rouge isn’t more like Austin.

        This town has more talent than many, but nearly everyone worth a damn moves out of state or down to New Orleans. Hell, I’d move my folks down to New Orleans if I could.

        Mark these words: Louisiana is pretty much a lost cause. And it’s because of men like Rolfe and Bobby. They get the poor whites to think the poor blacks are taking everything away, while the pot of every color have more in common with each other than with the rich.

        Like

  11. leekhoury says:

    I woke up on this April Fool’s morning expecting pranks full of good humor. After reading Bob Mann’s article and the criticism made by a LSU Board of Supervisor left me wondering (no laughing matter)
    if I am truly living in the United States of America. Freedom of Speech in a true democracy state cannot be used at the whim of any set person who gets to decide what is or isn’t freedom of speech. I cannot help but wonder if Mr. McColister has been following the news of Article 66A in the country of India. Revised to 69B, states as follows,” Allows administrators to block websites that may disturb communal harmony and social order.”(My India News publication.)
    The bully pulpit of which you stand, Mr. McColister is an attempt to stop Mr. Mann from reporting on our political climate is not for you to take away for any reason. And this sir is no laughing matter.
    A quote best describes the message of the wonderful world of politics, ” One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are.” Cal Thomas

    Like

  12. In my business, as they say, any news coverage is good.

    Like

  13. James says:

    Dr. Mann:

    Hold Fast and keep up the good fight. Hypocrites really have a dislike for the light and the truth that inevitably show them for what they really are…….McColister really is a piece of work: How far he has traveled personally and politically in those 22 years between Higher Ed crises. How can he possibly rationalize this monumental flip-flop on Higher Ed support especially in his role as a member of the Board of Supervisors he knows better. LSU deserves a better fate and certainly better leadership.

    Jindal is by far a worse disaster than any inflicted upon our state by God or the Federal government. Jindal is eviscerating Louisiana for crude personal political ambition. Shameful enough but how can McColister sleep at night knowing he is aiding and abetting the gutting of Louisiana’s future…..?

    My heart breaks for the good people of Louisiana and LSU…..Up the Rebels!!….James

    Like

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  16. Milford Fryer says:

    I used to think I was a pretty good judge of character. Then, I used to respect Rolfe a lot, and Jindal some. I’m loathe to discuss Rolfe’s column without reading its entirety, but what you quote from it appears as disingenuous as would John Dillingerdecrying crime. If you can’t refute the message, vilify the messenger. Write on.

    Like

  17. Chili Hopkins says:

    hell, McCollister drove away the only voice at the BRBR who actually wanted Baton Rouge business politics to change. Can’t have a liberal creative class taking over the city with their technology companies – make sure the people stay dumb and angry!

    That man has been writing about how up is down for years, and by now most folks who read his rag have got vertigo.

    Like

  18. roger says:

    I would love to know how ol’ Rolfe “helped” his daughter get in to the LSU business incubator a some years back and how much grant money she got. nothing nepotistic here.

    http://www.lsureveille.com/gem-femme/article_2e0e2a4e-3222-57b6-8a91-d7472562547f.html

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