A presidential evasion
Tripathi wrong to avoid addressing Heights neighborhood
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 20:10
Last week, in his State of the University address, President Satish Tripathi gave another of his now infamous cookie-cutter speeches.
He talked a lot of fluff about UB 2020 and its progress, and he talked a lot about the future. And as important as the future is, it is also imperative to deal with the issues pertaining to here and now.
In a speech lasting about 30 minutes, Tripathi didn’t mention the controversy surrounding the University Heights neighborhood once. Not a single word.
With such a large portion of the student body living around South Campus and with such a large level of complaints continuously emerging about the conditions there, it would be responsible to at least mention it.
Instead, we heard the same speech we have heard many times before.
We, The Spectrum, have heard his scripted, prepackaged speech since he has become president. But we follow him avidly. The average student probably has no idea what his words consist of – and this doesn’t derive solely from apathy or students’ lack of paying attention. This has a lot to do with the fact that Tripathi doesn’t really say anything.
Our reporter covering his speech last Friday was intent on finding students present in Slee Hall to comment and respond. But he couldn’t find any – no students appeared to attend.
But why would they?
“Every day, we continue to elevate our university in excellence, impact and stature,” Tripathi said. “As we realize this vision, we are bringing the eyes of the world to UB and to Buffalo as a leading site for innovative research and discovery.”
Yeah – exciting stuff.
What students want from a president is someone with whom they can find a connection – someone they can relate to on simple levels. Yet, they want the president to embody a persona worthy of their respect – someone who can be inspiring.
As George Will once wrote in The Washington Post, “Americans want presidents to understand and connect with ordinary people, but not to be ordinary.”
This notion applies to presidents of collegiate institutions, too. And students want the president of their university to understand them.
What UB students can’t understand is how Tripathi doesn’t understand the problems of the Heights – or his need to play a role in trying to fix them.
Beyond Tripathi’s lack of charisma, he just doesn’t make an effort to converse with students. In a recent profile in The New Yorker, John Sexton, president of NYU, is depicted as someone who will initiate random conversation with students he sees around campus. If he sees a young person smoking, he will approach him or her and say, “What can I do to make you stop?”
Do you think Tripathi cares if any UB student harms nearly every organ in his or her body by smoking?
With too much focus on development and the future – UB Provost Charles Zukoski has suggested students should be happy if the school improves its standing as their degrees will gain more material value later – there should be more attention paid to what’s happening at the university in the present.
Tripathi is running UB as if it were a business. Well, imagine if a CEO told his company he was raising all this money to make all these improvements only for the company to be better after they all retired.
The future of this university is important – and we like seeing efforts made to improve it. But the plight of current students cannot be ignored – and certainly not as egregiously as this administration has ignored the South Campus neighborhood.
When President Obama gives his annual State of the Union, he acknowledges the areas in which the country could see improvement. Can you imagine if he failed to mention the economy once in his last address?
That is exactly what Tripathi did.
He completely evaded one of the most important problems our students face. And it is time for the students – the ones who are directly impacted now by university policy – to let our president know we have had enough.