COLUMN: Administrators must take on teaching role by speaking to Central Michigan Life

Joe Strummer, the lead singer of The Clash, once said, “without people, you’re nothing.” The same is true for any journalist.

Without good sources, you don’t have a story. I was fortunate to learn that in my time at Central Michigan University and more so with Central Michigan Life.

Half of this job isn’t knowing how to write, or how to gather information from documents or data. The most important aspect of reporting is your ability to form relationships with sources. It’s about trust, honesty, respect and fairness.

The articles that make the biggest impact on our campus community can all be traced back to great sources. People who set aside 15 minutes of their day to meet with CM Life reporters so they can get their facts straight.

In an era where the whole truth is more difficult to find, these city officials, students leaders, CMU administrators, faculty and staff members all helped us create genuine portrayals of campus issues.

To my sources: I am forever grateful for your help, and I implore each of you to give other CM Life reporters what you freely gave to me. You are playing an active role in our education as young journalists.

Too many of your colleagues don’t share your willingness to speak to us, which I’ve always felt ran counter to the overall mission of CMU.

At last month’s budget forum, administrators and professors spoke at length about the student experience.

What they didn’t talk about was my student experience. For CM Life reporters, this means attending long and often boring meetings. It means reading a hundred pages of meeting minutes and budget documents. It means hours of transcribing interviews to make sure you’ve got it right.

If I had a dollar for every time a CMU administrator or faculty member denied us an interview on the grounds of past inaccuracies, rejected our Freedom of Information Act requests or simply said they didn’t have time to meet with us, I’d have my first two student loan payments paid off.

Each time I interviewed President George Ross one-on-one, I asked him if he reads CM Life. He always tells me he’s too busy. Too busy to read the conduit that would help him understand the needs of students.

Ross does have time, however, to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal instead. Anyone but us. He’s said that to me twice.

Too busy. Not enough time. Right.

I’m graduating at the end of this week. I earned my degree by talking to people, and finding a way to make them talk back. 

Two years ago, I was covering the city of Mount Pleasant. Students and residents were at each other’s throats over excessive partying and over-policing. It all had to do with a complex zoning issue that many residents and students still don’t understand.

My job was to dissect it and then write about it. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without great sources. People like Mayor Kathy Ling, who met me low key at The Malt Shop when she was still just a city commissioner to explain the history of that contentious borderline. She invited me for a ride along the M2-R3 border so I could see what it looked like on the ground.

People like Tom Idema, director of Student Conduct, who let me call him at 10 p.m. on his house phone to fact-check the biggest story of my college career — an investigation into a rogue fraternity accused and then booted off campus for misbehavior.

He had just tucked in his kids. It was late. Still, he made time.

To those administrators who think we’re a pain: I know we call you constantly. I know we may ask the same questions over and over again. I most certainly understand that we make mistakes.

That’s why we keep calling, to make sure we know what we’re talking about when we finally sit down to write. It all goes back to teaching, and learning — the reason why we all came to CMU.

If you’re not here to teach, no matter if your job title is associate professor or vice president, you should probably reevaluate why you wanted to be in higher education.

We aren’t just thorns in your sides. We’re not actively trying to “take you down” like some ill-begotten amateur versions of Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein. We’re simply trying to explore the craft of journalism.

We’re also paying CMU more than $20,000 a year to do so. Last time I checked, that money pays for administrator salaries, too.

I could be wrong, but I think that buys at least 15 minutes of your time.


About Ben Solis

Ben Solis is the Managing Editor of Central Michigan Life. He has served as a city and university ...

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