The Spinning of the LSU Search, and a description of Mann in a Hayride

Spin fascinates me.  I think my first real lesson in spin came as a kid tossing a softball with my Dad.  I wasn’t following the ball all the way into my glove as instructed, and he taught me quickly the importance of that fundamental.  Even with the larger softball, my Dad with his powerful hands could throw a knuckleball just as easily as he could a normal throw from any fielding position.  Whether handling a quick throw like 2nd base to 1st or one from deep right field to 3rd base to cut down a runner, the movement of that softball minus its rotation left an imprint on me in more ways than one to practice the fundamentals of catching.

Later as a teen and into my college years when I played a lot of recreational tennis, I used spin to my advantage.  Aside from watching tennis on TV and a free magazine subscription, I had no formal tennis instruction.  I was not a true Spin Doctor, but imitating the Steffi Graf slice backhand along with mixing lofting heavy topspin forehands, some flat, and chipping a few allowed me to change the pace of a volley which often threw off the timing of some real tennis players who relied on pace to generate their pace and taking the ball on the rise above the net.

Those are one type of spin.  Another is spinning facts to try and make an argument move in a particular direction.  I’ve seen noble and truly legitimate attempts, but I don’t believe it is truly possible to present an argument that is centered directly on that dividing line.  Even my Dad’s knuckleball or professional ones such as the Niekro brothers had during my early childhood are influenced by wind, speed, and how one is able to “doctor” the seams before the pitch.

Regardless of direction, an inability to control spin or lack of spin becomes a lit fuse for an impending explosion.  The length of that fuse varies and often it can be cut or extinguished prior to initiating detonation.

Here is an article written by Professor Robert Mann for his column in the New Orleans Times Picayune.

You can find more examples of Professor Mann’s writings on his personal blog “Something Like the Truth:  On Politics, Louisiana, and Life” here.

My Disclaimer

I will say that in the course of my career I have had some interactions with Professor Mann.  When I was a “lowly” graduate student working on my MA, as the even lower on the hierarchy graduate student pursuing a doctorate, during some public service work between the grad school stints, and later with my first assistant professor appointment, our paths crossed or I contacted him seeking advice on resources.  Regardless of my level or interaction, my experiences with Professor Mann were positive.  I doubt that he would recognize my name as the number of those interactions can be counted on one’s hands over a period of 20 something years, but I do have positive personal experiences which may account for a level of bias.

I’m also a fan of his research.  My favorite book of his remains his first, Legacy to Power:  Senator Russell Long of Louisiana, but I have assigned others such as The Walls of Jericho and When Freedom Would Triumph to students because of the degree of content in each.   While I have a lesser professional interest in his two works which focus more on wartime, they are sound scholarship in my opinion.  His latest, Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics, is an excellent and fascinating read on the specific advertisement and serves as a nice addition to existing scholarship on the actual campaign and election.

OK, I’m already spinning in favor of Bob Mann.

Still, I’m confused by the arguments in this attack of the column linked above.

These attacks appeared in “The Hayride:  News and Commentary on Louisiana and National Politics.”  The author and publication have every right to disagree with Mann.  Even with my positive interactions and respect for his scholarship, I’m certain that Professor Mann and I would find some topic to which we disagree.  In this case with “The Hayride,” however, the object of the attack is honestly of no concern of mine.

My Concern

The argument that a particular entity should not be liable to a law which has been applied to others merely because the law is not practical unsettles me.  The promotion that one should remain silent if your employer has skirted the law may be good advice, but does it advocate for the society of which I want to be a part?  There is a difference between biting the hand that feeds you and biting a hand that is harming others.

The LSU search

You can find information about the LSU job search and state law regarding access to records on “The Hayride,” “Something Like the Truth,” and numerous other outlets.  I can’t add anything to what I’ve read written by others.  Personally I am not in favor of “secret” searches.  I understand the argument and appreciate and have experienced some of the repercussions when it becomes public knowledge of your name being connected to another position.  In many cases, however, an institution or someone on behalf of the institution initiates contact with you as opposed to you contacting them first.  Personal opinion aside, you abide by the state law if you want to be considered for these types of positions.  If one can give a reasonable explanation as to why they would like to be hired for a new position, any loss of respect or trust with their current employer leaves me with the question of how much respect and trust does one actually have with one’s current position.

Is it logical to be upset with someone who is seeking a step up? There are also logical explanations for a lateral move such as moving closer to family and even moving to a lower level position in order to pursue additional interests, health reasons, and so on.  As long as the individual is performing to his or her best at the current position, is there any justification to complain unless previous agreements had been established?

Of course that’s the ideal world.  With some you will face repercussions regardless of what happens.  Still, I’ve have typically experienced that someone who holds a grudge about any action is likely to find something else if they really want to make your life more difficult.  In this case, institutions at higher levels, lower levels, and peer levels conduct far less secretive searches.  A few people hired turn out to be exactly the type of individual the hiring institution expected.  More often than not, the person hired either does better or worse at the institution than various boards, alumni, current employees, students, and others believed would happen.  I know little of F. King Alexander, and have never had any direct or indirect interactions with him.  He may have been the best applicant.  He may turn out to be the greatest chancellor and system president in LSU history.  Again my reaction is not a result of Alexander, Mann, or even “The Hayride.”  It’s this justification of a selective incorporation of rules for different people which others seem to encounter more frequently along with its acceptance.

To quote from the piece:

LSU’s reason for not wanting to release the records has to do with preserving the integrity of its hiring processes – when an institution like LSU attempts to make a high-profile hire, it usually would prefer to steal a high-profile candidate from another high-profile job. Those candidates will want whatever discussions they might have with LSU to remain secret so as not to damage their reputations or current job security. Therefore, strict adherence to state laws on transparency in hiring processes is quite counterproductive and LSU does what it can to get around them. And when LSU finagled its way out of conducting a true public search in advance of hiring Alexander for the presidential job, it was slapped with open-records actions by both the LSU Reveille and the state’s two major newspapers.

Does that which was written to justify the criticism of Professor Mann’s piece, paint LSU in a positive light?  Whether common or not, what image does “prefer to steal” and “finagled its way out” promote?

“The Hayride” continues:

“Legally, LSU might well be wrong. As a practical matter, trying to get around a state law which makes it more difficult to hire the best people for high-profile job openings is prudent practice. As such, LSU hired a search consultant who did all the work and sent back a sole recommendation that the university hire Alexander, making him the only official candidate for the job.”

Is LSU engaging in some new form of Civil Disobedience?  What qualifies, and how or why is a search consultant doing “all the work” and making a sole recommendation?  Do you really get “the best” candidate when that candidate is “the only official candidate for the job?”  Who is actually in control of the university?  I guess it really isn’t Les Miles along with Cabinet Members Cam Cameron and John Chavis as some alumni, current students or employees, and many media outlets think.

Finally from “The Hayride”:

“It’s also interesting that in Bob Mann’s capacity as a writer at the Times-Picayune he doesn’t have a problem with filing a suit which would cost LSU money in legal fees and other costs, but does have a problem with LSU, which pays his salary, attempting to defend its own interests in court and therefore incurring those costs.”

Am I the only one who interprets that as even though LSU broke state law, someone aware of that infraction should just sit quietly and accept the illegal action?  If someone is paying your salary, you should want that entity to be above the law?

LSU is in the position where it is incurring legal fees and other costs through the decisions of those chosen to represent the university not following the established state law.  Did Professor Mann or any faculty or staff member at the flagship campus or any campus or school within the LSU system force LSU to not adhere to the state law?

If someone disagrees with the state law, challenge it.  Get a discussion on the Floor of the State legislature on the agenda, push for an amendment to the State Constitution, work to get a change on the ballot.  LSU should not be able to pick and choose which laws apply to them.  Neither should Professor Mann, an RN or MD over at Baton Rouge General, a sales clerk at a store in the Mall of Louisiana, that construction worker out on Airline Highway, a teacher at Denham Springs High, a parent at home caring for a sick child, the fan watching the Tigers and Bulldogs later today, the farmer back home in the Hungarian Settlement, you, me, and yours and mine.

Perhaps we will learn that LSU was influenced from the outside and forced to ignore state law.  That would most likely necessitate some spin never before seen on campus.

While considered basic, a 2 seam or a 4 seam fastball can be very effective.  For some reason the LSU search will not take the form of a fastball.  It’s not even a knuckleball or the mythical gyroball.  I think the only time knuckle might be written is in reference to someone biting their own or as a preface to the word head.

I might be wrong, but I don’t recall any member of the LSU pitching staff who threw a knuckleball either and that includes both baseball and softball.  I wonder if Emily Turner over at NBC33 ever attempted to throw a knuckleball during her pitching career at LSU.  If any member of the LSU Board of Supervisors could get a clean hit off her fastball and changeup, perhaps they could win one of those Get Out of Jail Free cards from a Monopoly game.  That would probably necessitate less spin than trying to justify criticizing someone for criticizing someone who even their supporters acknowledged that “prefers to steal.”

For the record, I attended schools in the University of Louisiana System and not the LSU System for both BA and MA degrees before leaving the state to continue graduate school.  I’ve never been employed by LSU, but have made substantial usage of its libraries and special collections, attended many games in Tiger Stadium including the famous “earthquake game” as a teen.  I’ve been on the floor of the PMAC, ran the bases at the old Alex Box, and attended numerous softball games and track events.  I’m a fan of purple and gold and have been taught by numerous individuals who received their degrees from LSU.  Sadly, even with my love of the state and connections, I could not name a single position that I would apply for in any of the higher education systems at this time.  What only a few years ago would have been on my “dream job” list, would not interest me today.