The University of Montana is once again making some rather unsavory headlines this week. It all started when Journalism Dean Jerry Brown made public a letter the school received from the Atlanta-based James M. Cox, Jr. Foundation. The school had approached the Cox Foundation for money to help build a $3 million auditorium for the journalism school.
According to the Associated Press, the foundation replied: “As you may know, many Montana residents are making it known that they are not happy with nonresident landowners in their state. In addition, stream and river access issues are also being raised. Until these issues are resolved and our presence in the state is more appreciated, we have decided not to make any further contributions in Montana.”
Brown released the letter to the AP last week, and the story quickly spread around the country.
University bigwigs weren’t happy.
Deborah McWhinney, a fundraising chairwoman for the University of Montana Foundation, reportedly wrote an indignant e-mail in which she demanded Brown apologize for making the Cox letter public. Shortly thereafter, according to the AP, University President George Dennison told Brown to apologize to James C. Kennedy, chairman of the Atlanta-based media company Cox Enterprises Inc. and vice president of the James M. Cox Jr. Foundation.
Brown did as he was told, and the incident set off a firestorm in editorial pages around the region.
The Helena Independent Record wanted to know why University officials had Brown apologize: “For what? Setting a good example for his j-school students? Championing the public’s right to know?”
The Idaho State Journal had this to say: “If the Cox Foundation wants to make its presence ‘more appreciated’ in Montana, it would give the university $40,000, which is the amount broadcaster Tom Brokaw gave. Mr. Kennedy also could put some gates in his fences blocking access to the Ruby River, and invite the public to fish the waters.”
“As dean of a school of journalism, what Brown did was exemplary, not shameful,” said the Great Falls Tribune.
If McWhinney and Dennison thought Brown’s apology would make the situation go away, they were clearly mistaken.