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Monday, October 30, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 50 

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'Friendliness' begins at the top

Bob Buzzanco
Guest Columnist

I step off the elevator in Agnes Arnold Hall and the first thing I see every morning is a poster telling me "Cougars Love Student Friendliness." On the surface, who could disagree with such a beautiful sentiment? All of us love friendliness, peace, justice, flowers, puppy dogs and little children in bright colors.

But why has this become the centerpiece of a new campaign being launched by the UH administration? Is this the worst problem we now have on campus -- staff not being friendly enough to the students?

This "friendliness campaign," it should be painfully obvious, is another transparent attempt by the UH President Arthur K. Smith regime to paper over the administration's own failure to create an environment based on mutual trust and cooperation here on campus. Its "leadership" has consisted of threats and bluster, rigidity and myopia. And this campaign illustrates that all too well.

If Smith and the other middle-aged white men who run UH really want to promote "friendliness," I have two obvious suggestions.

First, the Smith regime should once and for all settle the pending harassment case against the general counsel's office. UH has now had three separate investigators -- an outside counsel and the EEOC offices in Houston and Dallas -- come back with findings that the general counsel created a climate that was hostile to women in that office.

Rather than shop around Texas for a venue that may come back with a favorable decision, Smith should do the "friendly" thing and settle this case, admit that UH can do better and make sure such a situation doesn't happen again. The message that Smith's intransigence on this issue sends is uncomfortable -- or should be -- for the entire UH community, not just for the women who work here.

Smith should also extend his "friendliness" to the UH staff by burying, once and for all, his edict that the administration may fire staff without cause or warning, and denying their right of appeal. Texas is already hostile to working people. It is a "right to work" state, and its employees are barred from bargaining collectively.

Smith's position -- essentially "no rights, no fight" -- sends a terribly unfriendly message to the UH staff: It must constantly be looking behind its back and walking on egg shells, for any misstep could lead to termination. Such uses of authority are abhorrent in any setting, especially on a university campus where we teach such concepts as "democracy," "equality," "freedom" and "justice."

I am continually impressed by the outstanding faculty we have here at UH and the diverse and hard-working students I see in my classes. This really could be, should be, a first-rate institution. Our leadership, however, lacks vision and courage. It chooses the status quo instead of movement and picks tradition over fairness.

If Smith and his fellow administrators want to be friendly -- to the women, staff, faculty and students -- they'll begin to practice what they preach and treat everyone in the campus community with fairness and dignity. Until then, this "friendliness" campaign is just another hustle.

Buzzanco is an associate professor of history.

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