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Thursday, February 28, 2008

CMU Vs. Dennis Lennox: The Chess Match Continues

I once described this confrontation as a chess match and if it was, then the CMU admin would just have put Dennis Lennox in check, and now it is his move. There is a lot of metaphorical similarities between what is happening now and that great game and this latest move is just one example. Yesterday, the administration cancelled a scheduled disciplinary hearing against Lennox and announced that they would next schedule another disciplinary hearing behind closed doors and they wouldn't even invite Lennox to attend. (In other words, he couldn't even attend his own disciplinary hearing and defend himself)

This whole thing got started when Central Michigan University decided to hire Gary Peters for their distinguished Griffin Chairmanship. This was a controversial choice because Peters had already indicated that he was thinking of running for Congress in a district hundreds of miles away.

From the beginning, Lennox was able to orchestrate a media campaign to track this case. In fact, Lennox' main weapon in this chess match is the media itself. The chess match didn't really get started until this incident between Dean of Students Pamela Gates and Lennox himself. Lennox was not only able to video tape the Dean assaulting him but then downloaded it onto Youtube and started the video's course into the public's consciousness.

The administration's main weapon in this confrontation has been their student code of conduct and their natural position of power. Within two weeks of the confrontaion with Gates, the administration initially brought charges against Lennox. The violations stemmed from an incident in which Lennox passed out literature from the newsletter he created, The Peters Report, inside a university building at about nine in the evening. According to the student code this is a violation of the student code. The incident was exacerbated because a university employee, Peter Kofer, found and confiscated the newsletter. Kofer then confronted Lennox and Lennox refused to identify himself, another violation, in the ensuing confrontation.

Since the beginning of November, charges have been floating around. Numerous times a disciplinary hearing was scheduled only to be postponed. Yesterday, there was supposed to be a disciplinary hearing. I guess the administration didn't expect the entourage that Lennox would bring with him. He had multiple members of the media with him ready to videotape the hearing. Caught off guard, the administration canceled the hearing. They are now threatening to hold the hearing in private without Lennox even being there to challenge the charges. This latest move would have been the check that I referred to in the beginning of the piece.

Throughout the ordeal, what you will see is an administration using the student code of conduct liberally, creatively, and innovatively to try and minimize the effect Lennox is having in driving the Peters story. At the same time, Lennox counters by effectively using the media to drive the story.

Back in November, the talk of expelling Lennox first got started, and he reached out first to conservative Michigan blog Right Michigan and then to conservative national blog Red State. The firestorm of media attention lead to overwhelming numbers of emails, faxes and phone calls from the media campaign to the office of the administration. After the firestorm reached fever pitch, the administration first postponed the disciplinary hearing. (They would subsequently postpone it two more times as well)

In fact, it is interesting and not coincidental that the hearing has been scheduled and postponed multiple times. Back in December, the story of CMU Vs. Dennis Lennox reached a fever pitch at Redstate. Today, it will likely get significantly less attention if any at all (though I will cross post this piece there later). It is hard to continue to drive a story like this for numerous factors. Not the least of which is that it is campaign season and people want to talk about that. Yet, that is exactly what Lennox has to do everytime there is a disciplinary hearing. The problem for him is that you can only cry wolf so many times so to speak. Thus, everytime the administration schedules a meeting only to postpone it Lennox' job in stirring up the media pot becomes even harder.

The University, on the other hand, has been quite creative in using their student code of conduct. First, what they did was poison the waters among CMU staff and other faculty with this email exchange.

Mr. Lennox is not only someone with noxious political and social beliefs, but someone who has mental health issues, and someone who seems to be losing control. The psychologist's advice (he has been following some of this on the news) is the following: "Don't provoke him. Don't initiate a confrontation of any sort, be it email, letter, or a face-to-face. He will respond in kind and escalate. Do not respond to correspondence, taunts, or 'stalking behavior' other than by calling the police


So are you saying that this kid is dangerous? As in Virginia Tech dangerous? Let's not ignore the warning signs

(This email exchange is from two CMU professors who had never met Lennox) Since it would be the faculty itself that would ultimately decide Lennox' fate in the disciplinary hearings, this sort of email exchange is the equivalent of posioning the jury pool. Once the jury pool was poisoned the merely needed to find a way to bring charges in a manner they could control and eliminate Lennox. They used the student code in any manner possible to limit Lennox in getting his message out. For instance, back in November they used this portion of the student code to ban Lennox from using video cameras in public.

Violation of other university regulations, policies or established
procedures may be treated as an offense under these regulations.

If you are confused about how this particular part of the student code bans Lennox from using a video camera in public join the club. The way this portion was explained to me is that this gives the administration to set any other rules as they see fit in order to maintain order. They felt that Lennox was being disruptive with the video camera and they told him to stop.

To counter this, Lennox brought in the strangest of strange bedfellows, the ACLU. The ACLU stepped in on Lennox' behalf and threatened to sue if the school continued with their ban.

Back and forth this chess game has gone. Every time Lennox would raise the stakes through the media, the administration would counter by raising the stakes using the student code of conduct. The administration's strategy is simple. It really comes down to basic debate tactics. If you have the facts, you argue the facts. If you don't, you shoot the messenger and turn them into the story. There is absolutely no reason why Peters should simultaneously work at CMU and run for Congress hundreds of miles away. This hire was political and released emails back up that assertion. There are even indications in the emails that this hire was made to gain special favorability with the Democratic governor.

As close as he (Gary Peters) is to the governor (Jennifer Granholm), it might lookbad for CMU if he is not offered the position after such a recommendation."

Thus, there was nothing proper or legitimate about this hire. The story could never be about Peters if the admin wanted to win. For a while their strategy amounted to ignoring the story and not answering any questions or concerns. That all changed with the incident I alluded to earlier involving Lennox and Dean Pamela Gates. From then on, the strategy shifted and the admin was determined to make Lennox the story. They succeeded. Even I have mostly focused on that angle of the story. The way they did this was by trumping up charges and then playing sleight of hand with disciplinary hearings. By continuing to hold these charges out there, for months now, the admin has effectively turned that confrontation into the story and Peters, himself, has faded to the sideline for the most part. (Only to be brought back into the foreground whenever Lennox is able use the media to successfully turn the story back onto him. I have listed examples later in the story)

Since the middle of October, the story has largely not been about the hire of Gary Peters but in the confrontation between Lennox and the administration. The administration first scheduled a formal disciplinary hearing in early December only to postpone it. They did it again in January only to have the preceedings snowed out, and now they did it a third time yesterday. In the meantime, the story has evolved from the hire of Gary Peters to the confrontation between the two sides.

As the administration used the student code to turn the story away from Peters and onto Lennox himself, Lennox was forced use the media not only to keep the Peters story alive but to defend himself. For instance, he reached out to blogger and activist Chet Zarko and Zarko was the one that helped get all of those emails released under FOIA. He recently worked the Michigan Republican Party to create Where's Gary Peters. I already mentioned that he enlisted several journalists to join him at the disciplinary hearing yesterday.

Moving forward Lennox needs to orchestrate things so that this story, which likely only has a natural 24 hour span, into a story that will continue to have legs through the weekend. The wheels were set in motion when a regional television station out of Saginaw filed this report. We can expect some further print coverage today and tomorrow, and the blogosphere has contributed with page coverage at such relative heavy weights as Right Michigan and Outside Lansing. What Lennox needs to do is take the momentum created by this confluence of media attention and create another firestorm only this time he can't let the story die until it reaches its rightful conclusion. Even if he is successful, that would only spare him from being disciplined. Lennox still has to then put the spotlight back on the hire of Peters. Even if he is able to orchestrate one more media campaign and create outrage over the administration's last move, most of his media allies will likely be exhausted and want to move onto other things. None of this is lost on the administration and thus you have yet another piece of the chess match going on.

If he is unsuccessful in driving this story to fever pitch, the administration will wait until the media attention has died down and then bring formal charges at a secret proceeding that they have already asserted Lennox can't even attend.

The irony is that Lennox also has two tests today. It is rather remarkable that he has been able to do all this in the middle of being a college Junior. He has done radio interviews, spoken at CPAC, and he even followed CMU President Michael Rao to a Senate Sub Committee hearing. I don't know exactly what he learned this semester in his classes at CMU but he certainly has learned a lot by confronting CMU in this manner.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link.

FYI, I just did an update about Lennox's disciplinary hearing (or lack of it) on my blog: said...

H/T over at RM too. This story just keeps getting weirder and weirder. The levels the administration seems willing to stoop to to quell any conservative point of view are astonishing.

Great coverage!