On Wednesday, April 8, the proverbial shit hit the fan when Michigan State University International Relations and Journalism major Zack Colman wrote a rather controversial opinion article for the State News. I’m pretty sure that Zack had no clue what he was setting himself up for.
Zack delivered lines such as
Black 2001 Saturn SC2. That’s the car I drive — and if you’re a bicyclist on the road but not in a bike path and you see my car, I hope you’re wearing a helmet, because I might run you over.
But you see, with all these things I can do in my car nowadays, such as choose a different song on my iPod, send a text message while driving or fall asleep at the wheel because I had to wake up for a worthless 8 a.m. biology lab, I might not notice you.
For example, I was driving to work Tuesday when a bicyclist pulled up in front of my car in the right lane on Farm Lane going northbound where it intersects with Shaw Lane. There is no bike path at this portion of the road, and I needed to be in the right lane to avoid the left turn only lane, but the bicyclist was in the way.
And maybe you are [Lance] Armstrong, so talented and in shape and able to pedal so, so fast. But Armstrong’s average speed in the 2001 Tour de France was 24.9 mph, which is 0.1 mph less than most of the speed limits on and around campus.
Zack’s article was the fodder for well over 400 opposing responses on The State News’ web page for Zack’s article, Bicyclists need to stay on sidewalk.
Of course, I had to say my piece not once, but twice:
“But you see, with all these things I can do in my car nowadays, such as choose a different song on my iPod, send a text message while driving or fall asleep at the wheel because I had to wake up for a worthless 8 a.m. biology lab, I might not notice you.”
I think the real issue, here, is that you are not responsible enough for the privilege of being a licensed driver.
State law regarding bicyclists is, essentially, same roads, same rules. [I feel really bad. I forgot "same rights."] In some cities, it is illegal for a cyclist to be on the sidewalk.
As far as Lance Armstrong’s average speed of 24.9 mph, that is an average of all of his riding, including mountainous ascents. In and of itself, especially on a FLAT campus like Michigan State, 24.9 mph is no major feat.
Michigan State should be embarrassed to have you, a representative of the university, writing a column that contains evidence of your lack of responsibility and regard for others, your ignorance of state law that is printed in Michigan’s “What Every Driver Should Know” manual, and your inability to use reason with facts, such as Lance’s average speed in the mountains versus the amateur rider’s speed on your flat campus.
Is this really what higher education has come to?
An MSU Employee made the following, excellent point:
Has the columnist considered that in addition to students, many MSU faculty and staff commute by bicycle? Has he considered the possibility that the bicyclists for whom he has so little patience include many professors, administrators, and other employees?
Not that the value of one person’s health and safety are greater than that of another, but from a practical point of view, it would seem unwise for the columnist to publicly pronounce his disregard for the personal safety of a group that includes MSU academic and administrative professionals.
Some people went as far as to email the newspaper’s editor and the president of the university. Many people received the following form letter from the editor. The points I find quite interesting are in bold:
Hello, Whomever You Are:
Thank you for writing in. I understand your concerns. It’s very clear to me from the tremendous amount of reader feedback we have received today that Zack’s column was misconstrued by many. It was meant to be a satirical piece raising to light the issues of safety and inconvenience that bicyclists may or may not cause in using the road and/or bike lanes in our community. In no way was direct threat of violence ever intended. Many of us at The State News also bike around campus, and we would not wish harm on them or any other member of our campus community.
Due to the multitude of letters we have received today in response to this opinion piece, I cannot guarantee that your letter will be published. However, please don’t take that as a sign that your comments have gone unacknowledged. I hear your concerns and appreciate you taking the time to write in.
Our goal is to have the Opinion Page serve as a forum for collective [sp]commuity[/sp] discussion about various issues — including opposing viewpoints on would-be controversial or contentious topics — so your response to Zack Colman’s latest column only further enhances this mission. Thank you again for writing in and voicing your thoughts.
Note that I took the liberty of highlighting the editor’s spelling mistake in the last paragraph.
The editor’s form letter caused me to reply on the web site (this is the aforementioned second time):
Per the State News Editor in Chief: “Zack’s column was misconstrued by many. It was meant to be a satirical piece.
Our goal is to have the Opinion Page serve as a forum for collective community discussion about various issues — including opposing viewpoints on would-be controversial or contentious topics.”
An opinion column serving as a “forum for collective community discussion about various issues” is an inappropriate place to use “satire” such as this. In this case, it seems less like a concern for the issues and more of an attempt at shock value.
As I implied earlier, Zack wrote up an opinion article with no fact checking in mind. There was no consideration for the user group in question, and he failed to realize that humor must be very well-written in order to be understood well.
Unfortunately, I am embarrassed for MSU, and I feel that the university needs to rethink its core curriculum in favor of producing students who are reasonable and inquisitive and who are able to question their own beliefs and consider others’ positions so they truly can become free-thinkers, rather than lemmings.
As I stated earlier, this piece was completely inappropriate for a column serving as a “forum for collective community discussion about various issues.” The editor is partly at fault for misplacing it.
Shit is raining down from fans in other places in response to Zack’s column. Advertising junior, Nicole Genaw, concurred with Zack’s piece in For safety purposes, bike riders should stay off roads. Charles G. Hoogstraten, assistant professor of biochemistry, said it nicely when he wrote, “Opinion writers who presume to tell me as a bicyclist where I ‘belong’ without even bothering to check the applicable laws are perhaps the greatest hazards of all.” See Bicyclists have same rights on road as vehicles in Mich., for the rest of his comments.
Since this is an Internet controversy, this story is spreading across the web like wildfire. Not only are MSU students and local area residents responding, but people from as far as San Francisco, New York, and North Carolina are finding their way to the comment section via web sites such as Bike Snob NYC. Bike Snob’s BSNYC Friday Fun Quiz! is even about Zack!
Even in the midst of either (pick one) Zack’s ignorance regarding cyclists, or his inability to clearly convey humor in a satirical/sarcastic/whatever piece, I do wish people would quit personally attacking him. As I stated, earlier, there are over 400 comments in opposition to Zack’s column, and many of those are personal attacks. That’s a lot for a kid to handle, and he is a kid. I hope that people start to cut him some slack. I also hope that Zack learns from this experience. If he sorts through the hate comments, he’ll find some great advice and information. This could be just the learning experience he needs to become the person he wants to be, if that person is a good journalist.
One thing is for sure, there are some Wolverines who are getting a good cackle out of this.