It’s not fun to get caught in the middle of a dispute. It gets even worse when one party decides to run to the media with exaggerated claims of discrimination.
That’s where I found myself recently when the Ozarks Writers League suddenly had to find a new place for its quarterly conferences.
In case you don’t know, OWL had been holding its writing conferences at College of the Ozarks since 1985. However, the college objected to a couple of the scheduled topics at OWL’s next meeting scheduled for Feb. 21. The topics “The Ancient Art of Cursing,” and “You’re Never Too Old for Sex” did not fit with the college’s five-fold mission statement of emphasizing academic, Christian, vocational, cultural, and patriotic growth.
I was caught in the middle because of my association with both entities. I’ve been a member of OWL since 1996, I even served on the board in public relations until three or four years ago. It’s been a terrific organization for meeting other writers and learning about the craft.
On the other hand, my wife of 22 years has worked at C of O since I first met her and has been OWL’s campus sponsor for the last several years. The college has always treated her, and us, extremely well. It is also a highly respected institution where students can get an education without debt.
When OWL President Casey Cowan sent a press release Wednesday afternoon about the breakup, he used extremely fiery language, claiming that the women who were scheduled to speak (the theme of the conference is “women in writing”) were facing “discrimination.” As a bona fide OWL veteran, I find this accusation silly, cheap and reckless. Anyone who knows C of O knows that discussions of sex would not fit with the college; whereas, female speakers would not raise a campus eyebrow.
It’s also a classless way to treat the school that has provided OWL a home, completely free of charge, for 30 years.
However, I decided I was much too close to the situation to judge what, if any, coverage this newspaper would give the topic. Therefore, I went to the publisher, Michael Schuver, for input. He said what I was fairly certain he would say: We are not getting involved in a disagreement between a private organization and a private institution. In particular, we are not going to help an individual attack a private institution that is, unarguably, well within its rights to allow or disallow what is on its campus.
Not all media resisted printing Cowan’s press release. That’s fine. That’s the news business. That’s America.
Although I bowed out of making the call on a news story, I did feel compelled to offer my opinion. After all, I think I’m uniquely qualified to see this from both sides — something very few people with OWL or C of O can do.
First of all, this was the college’s turf. One might reasonably disagree with the college’s vision, but the college — a private college at that — gets to decide what can take place on its grounds.
On this issue, Cowan does agree. When I talked to him about the issue, he seemed more bothered by the fact that C of O would not negotiate and that the college left OWL homeless just two weeks before a conference.
That response, however, doesn’t jibe with his press release, the one accusing the college of discrimination.
The college, to its credit, has said very little other than to confirm that it did not approve of some of the topics for the scheduled OWL conference and that the college has the right to vet anyone who uses campus facilities.
If this were a divorce — and it feels a little like one — the college is the one that is trying to move on with life, and OWL is the one trying to use the children as a tool of revenge.
Still, there are positives in all breakups. As I write this, it appears OWL will have a new home at nearby Ozarks Technical Community College Table Rock Campus in Hollister. As far as I can tell, it will be an ideal location for the relatively straight-laced writers group. It is very unlikely OWL will get resistance on any of its topics.
It’s my understanding that a couple of former C of O professors were instrumental in lining up OTC as a new home. They deserve many thanks, and I have thanked both of them personally (or, at least via social media.)
Hopefully, OWL will find that a new home at OTC will work just fine. Remember the good times, OWL, and move on.