UPDATE: Live and learnWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear University of Toledo Alumni Association:
Thank you for the recent notice that my alumni association membership is about to expire. While I greatly appreciate your services, I am not going to contribute to the association this year. I wanted to write to you and explain my reasons.
In mid-February, I contacted the UT Ritter Planetarium staff to request permission to organize a news conference to announce the launch of Toledo Free Press Star in the observatory. It was to be a major expansion announcement for our business, and as an alumnus, I was proud to announce the birth of Star in the perfect setting of Ritter Planetarium.
I corresponded with Nancy Morrison, director of the planetarium, who warmly granted permission for the news conference and put me in touch with the planetarium staff members who could help me arrange the announcement. We wrote back and forth a few times about projecting the Star logo on the planetarium dome and what we would need to do to make the news conference a showcase for Star and Ritter Planetarium.
We invited some community leaders we respect to stand beside us and say a few words at the news conference: Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and representatives from the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP). We invited 75 supporters and sent a news release to electronic media, asking them to join us at the UT Ritter Planetarium on Feb. 25.
One of the supporters we invited was Lawrence Burns, UT vice president for external affairs and interim vice president for equity and diversity. Upon receiving the invite, Burns e-mailed a few questions to Toledo Free Press President and Publisher Tom Pounds, asking how we arranged the conference. On Feb. 23, less than 48 hours before the news conference, Burns e-mailed Pounds and revoked our permission to appear at the planetarium.
Pounds went back and forth with Burns, trying to appeal the decision or understand the change of heart, to no avail.
I fostered a Plan B by arranging to announce that a Star would be born at the Westfield Cinema De Lux movie theater; its owners, Texas-based Rave, were very generous with their time and space.
Being kicked off the public and partially taxpayer-funded campus was unsettling, but there were more disappointments in store. In the hours before the conference, the representatives from the chamber of commerce and RGP dropped out, one citing illness and one citing travel conflicts. The chamber sent a representative to the news conference. RGP did not.
The day of the announcement, we nervously awaited word from Mayor Bell, but at showtime, he appeared, stood beside us and helped us make our announcement. No reference was made to the behind-the-scenes conflict. Once the event was finished, we went back to puzzling about the chain of events. We filed a Freedom of Information Act request for UT President Lloyd Jacobs’ and Burns’ e-mails on the topic of our news conference.
According to the e-mails Toledo Free Press obtained, this exchange took place between Burns and Jacobs on Feb. 22 and 23.
Burns: “Lloyd, Just in case you were unaware of this occurring on our Campus. Thanks.” (news release announcing Star expansion was attached to the e-mail).
Burns: “Very … didn’t know about it until I received the email.”
Jacobs: “Should you or I call mike B. and others? Let’s discuss”
Burns: “I have a call into Nancy Morrison.”
Jacobs: “Good work, Larry.”
Burns: “Thank you.”
By the tone of the exchange, one might believe the university dodged a major bullet by canceling an almunus’ job creation announcement. I am not sure how our small business expansion could be “very risky” for a gargantuan institution like UT. What risk would we curse UT with by announcing Star’s job creation at the planetarium?
Experience and paranoia, in a 90-10 mix, usually lead us to The Blade when something perplexing causes us pain. We knew that Joe Zerbey, general manager and president of The Blade, sits on the UT Board of Trustees. That is an obvious conflict of interest, but are Jacobs and Burns so intimidated by The Blade that they tremble at the “very risky” concept of a Toledo Free Press news conference? Is the perceived threat to UT or to The Blade?
It is one thing for Jacobs to “protect” UT from The Blade by snubbing Toledo Free Press, but think about the hostile aggression he displayed by suggesting he and Burns “call mike B. and others.”
I have no proof that Jacobs, Burns or Zerbey called the chamber and RGP, but I believe someone did, and that someone convinced them to distance themselves from our job-creation announcement. We have been told for a fact that Zerbey called Mayor Bell’s office and tried to counsel/suggest/advise/intimidate him into staying away.
Bell did not cower as the others did, and we are grateful and respectful for his courage.
Nowhere to go
Despite the malicious example set by UT’s pseudo leaders, Toledo Free Press has continued to cover as much UT news as possible; Pounds has kept his philanthropic obligations; and I kept all of my sponsorship and speaking commitments. The week after the news conference, I spoke to three different UT journalism classes in two days.
Until you contacted me, UT Alumni Association, I had nowhere to take my grievance about Jacobs’ and Zerbey’s abominable behavior. How could I complain to the UT Board of Trustees when one of its members, and the institution’s president, not only condone such offensive behavior, they initiate it?
Any complaint on my part, as one lone alumnus, would surely result in the UT Board of Trustees circling the wagons around ersatz public servants Jacobs and Zerbey, not result in the investigation, sanctions and apology the situation would merit among honorable men and women.
At the very least, it is incumbent upon UT’s Board of Trustees members — except Zerbey — to reflect upon this interaction. You are paying Jacobs and Burns a combined $633,000, but are they the ones in control? What other decisions are being made, not with UT’s best interests in mind, but with The Blade’s best interests in mind? How many community leaders — in government, development, media and other walks of life — have been victims of this fearful, spiteful and malevolent confederacy of poltroons? How much on-the-job time does Jacobs spend scheming to appease his chieftains?
If one of UT’s missions is to help Toledo evolve into a “university town,” part of that mission must be to unite the community, not divide it. Jacob’s belligerent and hostile actions offer no indication that he wishes UT to be anything other than a tool for the change-resistant network of corruption that cripples any forward momentum Toledo dreams of.
One of the great lessons I learned while attending UT was the importance of speaking out against corruption, even if no one else has the courage to stand beside you at first. I want to assure you that any further aggression against or unfair exclusion of my or any other alumnus’ enterprises on behalf of Jacobs’ abject alliance will be promptly and prominently reported, across as many media forums and outlets as possible.
Live and learn
Pounds saw Jacobs at a meeting a few days after the news conference and tried to talk about what had happened, but Jacobs cut him off with an arrogant, “Live and learn, Tom.”
I told this sorry tale to a UT official I respect and trust, and he responded that while Jacobs’ and Zerbey’s actions were reprehensible, it would be a mistake for me to “punish the institution for the failings of its temporary caretakers.”
But I have to tell you, UT Alumni Association, I felt a bitter wave of distaste when I opened your letter requesting I renew my membership. How am I supposed to be a proud, supportive UT alumnus when UT isn’t proud or supportive of me? I wonder how many other alumni, after reading this, will feel that disappointment, and respond accordingly. I wonder if you even care. I wonder what it will take to make you care.
On one of my visits to speak at UT, I saw a poster in University Hall that displayed the “core values” of UT’s mission statement.
It includes the following ideals:
- “Treat every individual with kindness, dignity and care; consider the thoughts and ideas of others inside and outside of the University with a strong commitment to exemplary personal and institutional altruism, accountability, integrity and honor …
- “Provide a collaborative and supportive work environment, based upon stewardship and advocacy, that adheres to the highest ethical standard. Provide services that meet students’ and regional needs and where possible exceed expectations; be … a center of excellence for cultural, athletic and other events …
- “Engage in reflective planning and innovative risk-taking in an environment of academic freedom and responsibility.”
Perhaps, UT Alumni Association, you can use another alumnus’ donation to buy and install a “core values” poster inside Jacobs’ office. He obviously has not read the one in the hallway — I’d rather believe that than believe he holds your “core values” in such contempt.
Sincerely, Michael S. Miller (Class of ’96)
From video of June 22 Town hall meeting with Jacobs:
Burns; “What was the risk you referred to in an e-mail to [Larry Burns] regarding to having TFP event at Ritter Planetarium in February?
Jacobs: “As I see it, a university venue should be used very carefully … We have been very careful about what university venues we allow to be used for public events. We have never used the planetarium to promote for-profit undertakings, with a couple of exceptions that were university spin-offs. In my judgment, using the planetarium, where seating is unusual … and parking is minimal for an undertaking not … integral to what a great university does, constitutes risk.”