Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Faculty Trust and Fresno State's Media Spin on Tree Cutting

I have had three moments of acute clarification about Fresno State over the last year. All of them have to do with trust. 

The first came on December 15, 2011, when Bill Covino published the following email:
Dear Colleagues,

I have asked that the recently published anonymous email comments about Budget Task Force recommendations be taken down from the Senate web page, after receiving several strong complaints from faculty and staff about the offensive tone and content of some of the comments.  I initially authorized their publication, but will have to reconsider this.


William A. Covino
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
California State University, Fresno
This occurred in a context of several frustrating attempts by the faculty to get budget information from the university, and it's slow and incomplete provision, all with the survival of two schools hanging in the balance. At this point I thought that censorship had not only come to Fresno State, but that the necessary information faculty needed to rationally discuss budget issues was being deliberately withheld. Although the next day, the Provost announced (after a flood of outraged email) that he would not censor the Senate website, the shock didn't go away. The evening the Provost's email was sent, I considered trying to organize a hunger strike: "Starving for Information." I still think something along those lines might be necessary. 

The second came after the trees went down last week. I really thought that after this year, and all of the senate discussions and resolutions about lack of consultation on the budget, cohort hiring, and the logo, some attempt at reconciliation would be on the way, that at fall semester's academic assembly, surely President Welty would say something to try to mend fences. But when I saw the trees coming down last Wednesday evening and Thursday, I realized that Fresno State had a darker, uglier side to it than I'd ever imagined.

The third came when I watched Amy Armstrong on TV and read the stiff and emotionless responses of President Welty and Cynthia Matson to the campus and the media. But it was Amy Armstrong, on TV, who carried the administration's message to the public at large, and it is worth watching, once again, both Channel 26 and Channel 30's coverage of her statement:

KMPH Coverage of Parking Lot Devastation

These interviews of Amy Armstrong, conducted at different times, are quite similar, showing that she stays on script very well. Here are her main points:

1. The parking lot was full of potholes;
2. The ponding basins were taking up unused space
3. "Several" of the trees in the lot were diseased and dying
4. Information was shared at various groups and committee meetings, so the implication is, consultation occurred.

Let's take these one by one:

1. Parking lots with potholes can be repaired without destroying the trees. See Magda Gilewicz's picture of Fresno City College, currently repairing its lots:

2. "The ponding basins were taking up unused space." OK. There were no trees in the ponding basins. Fill them in, pave them over, and get a lot of extra parking without cutting the trees.

3. "Several" of the trees in the lot were diseased and dying. According to John Constable and John Bushoven, plant biologists, only 2 of the 160 trees taken down had any disease at all and even those could have been saved. Anyone who walked through the lot knew the trees were flourishing. They were mature enough that their roots had gone into the water table--they didn't even need to be irrigated.

4. "Information was shared." Rhetorical points for deceptive use of the passive voice. Shared by whom and what information and exactly to whom? This is extremely deceptive because apparently NO ONE on the faculty knew this was coming, but the public has been given the impression that consultation did occur

I don't especially blame Amy Armstrong for delivering the script. It's her job, though she might think twice about how long she'll feel good about herself if she sticks with it.

And this brings me to my third moment of clarification: We all know, because we are closer to the facts than the public at large, how deceptive that statement was. Most of the time, we read newspapers with skepticism, but it is unusual to be close enough to the facts to see a lie as it forms, a lie by a government entity to the public.

I keep saying that I have no confidence in the administration of this university. There are actually many people in this university's administration who I admire--who care about students and go the extra mile in trying to help them. But I have lost trust in President Welty and Provost Covino because this year they have given me an education in deception, manipulation, and bureaucratic intransigence. 

To have a working relationship with people you have to have a certain level of trust. Amy Armstrong's message to the media sums up why I no longer have that trust in Fresno State's administration. No confidence, senators. It's now or never.

[May 31. In the comments section I've added an email from Manuel Pena to Helene Joseph-Weil about the use of present parking at Fresno State. It adds some interesting facts to the case.]


  1. There are certain individuals that are referred to around here as "students" You may have heard of them, although it seems you haven't had too much experience with this particular group. In many cases, these students have to park in dangerous areas to the West and South of campus to have the privilege of hearing you moan about academic freedom. I really think you should tell the generally FEMALE former and potential victims of crime that they should walk to their cars off-campus to preserve the scenic beauty OF A PARKING LOT. Are you serious??? Do you have any idea what it means to have a GREEN parking pass? DIDN'T THINK SO. Have you ever TALKED to a student about their concerns? You're a big time elitist that couldn't care less about the people THAT EMPLOY YOU -- THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. YOU'RE A PUBLIC SERVANT.

  2. Well, the problem is no one provided any information on this action to the general public nor the students it would affect nor the majority of the faculty. How do we know filling in ponding basin's wouldn't have added enough parking for student over flow? The outrage doesn't come from the removal of the trees. The outrage comes from the removal of the trees without any real production/release of information nor the discussion of that information. No one is discrediting or even discussing the need to insure further safety for all students, especially the most vulnerable. Everyone can agree on that. However, we don't agree such a large scale decision being streamlined right past the very students and faculty it affects.

  3. With permission, I'm adding the following to the comment section: Manuel Pena's observations about the use of parking we have now in an email to Helene Joseph-Weil [Craig Bernthal]:

    Hi Helene,

    Thank you for the info on the parking construction, and for sharing the various emails with me. As I was reading about the justification for the construction project and the infamous "arboricide," it occurred to me that if the administration wanted to increase parking for students, they had no need go to such extremes as the destruction of so many precious trees.

    As you know, I have been bicycling for exercise over university byways and park-ways for several years now, and walked in the same areas for many years before that. I noticed that in the discussion about the administrative decision, no one has mentioned the actual need for demolishing the old parking lot (along with the trees) in order to make room for more student parking. In actuality, there are already 160 (ironic number, no?) student parking spaces available in the solar panel lot--parking spaces that have gone largely unused, because they are for reserved parking only, and students seem unwilling to pay whatever hefty fee required to qualify for those 160 spaces. In short, in all the years I have biked around that area (since the lot was reconstructed and the panels added), I have noticed that not more than 8 or 9 of the spaces are occupied on any given day. That means that there are probably no more than 20 or so permits issued per semester, leaving 140 spaces unassigned. And, to make matters worse, just recently they added another 30 reserved-only spaces (which brought the total to the 160). When I asked one of the parking patrols why they were adding more spaces, when the original ones remained mostly unused, he just shook his head and said he wondered why himself.

    The point is, Helene, that the administration could easily have added additional parking for students, simply by opening up the unused reserved spaces for general parking in the solar panel lot, and filling up the two ponds that were in the now-demolished lot. I would imagine that would have added an additional 250 to 300 spaces, obviating the need for the $4 million project. All they needed to do, in addition to filling in the ponds, was to resurface the existing black top, and perhaps fix up the concrete tree-watering wells. The trees would have been left untouched.

    Since you're in communication with other concerned faculty, maybe you can share this information with them. I think it's worth bringing up for discussion with the unversity administrators. It's a point that I would imagine students would be eager to bring up.

    Hope you're enjoying your vacation. And I hope you're not too heartbroken over the trees; I know how much you love them.

    Manuel P. (professor emeritus)

  4. I wonder how much a parking structure would cost? It saves space, provides better security and could be placed closer to the center of campus. Was this option considered? Wouldn't the $4 million better be used for a permanent multi-level parking garage?