Boyce Watkins, a leading voice representing SU all over the media, goes ignored by Syracuse University, says Naresh Vissa in this week’s column. Part 1 of 2. Part II is now posted. Read it here.
By Naresh Vissa
In January 2007, college student Heather Ellis and her cousin stood in two lines at Wal-Mart. They agreed that the first to reach a register would combine the items for purchase. When the African-American Ellis gave her cousin the groceries, bystanders behind complained that she had cut. After some verbal exchanges, Ellis walked to her car and found the police waiting to arrest her. She tried her best to resist and suffered numerous cuts and bruises in the process.
Today, Ellis should be in medical school. Instead, she has pled guilty to charges of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.
The case was covered by CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Good Morning America, The Today Show and every major black media outlet in America. Even more importantly, Syracuse University is connected to it, but hasn’t issued any statements. As a producer of two radio shows, I myself find it embarrassing that I discovered Ellis through a press release pitch e-mail I received.
At the forefront of all the outrage is Whitman School of Management Finance Professor Dr. Boyce Watkins, but it’s not getting any attention from SU administrators.
“I’ve come to accept the fact that the University is not appreciative of my work,” Watkins said. “It’s part of their tradition when it comes to progressive black scholars. If I’d learned to sit down and shut up, I might be treated better. Quiet Negroes do quite well in academia.”
This, despite the fact that Watkins has led a national campaign to save Ellis. He got leading black radio show host Michael Baisden to donate $5,000 to her legal defense fund. Three weeks ago, he spearheaded a rally where CNN and the Rev. Al Sharpton called in frequently to receive updates.
Yet most people at SU have no clue who Watkins is or the work he’s done. No major media outlet on campus even mentioned Watkins’ march for Ellis, in Kennett, Mo., even with my efforts to bring it to their attention.
When I asked Chancellor Nancy Cantor about her thoughts on Watkins earlier this semester, she answered that there are SU professors who appear in national media on a daily basis. Newhouse does a great job of updating professors in the news via Twitter. Whitman does this on its website. Still, Watkins is not fully listed. Apparently, Watkins’ appearances on ESPN, BET, Good Morning America and NPR aren’t up to the standard set by the professors that they do prominently display. You know, the ones who have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Gwinnett Business Journal.
“We post all media clips to our website that are directly related to the professors’ roles here in the Whitman School,” Whitman Director of Communications Amy Schmitz said.
But the reality doesn’t support that. Over Thanksgiving, Watkins appeared on ABC News to discuss a topic he christened, “Financial Liposuction.” He has provided national insight on the Tiger Woods situation and the financial impact it will have on the star athlete’s brand. The Whitman website has yet to post any of those recent videos.
Outside of director of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture Bob Thompson, nobody is in the media more than Watkins. I know this because I prospect how “famous” people are as a radio producer. Back in July, my dad excitedly called me when he saw “someone from SU” on Anderson Cooper 360. It was Watkins. Throughout the summer, Watkins was the go-to-guy for commentary on Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates’ arrest at his own home.
Watkins’ resume is impressive. He has authored six books, including the newly released “Black American Money.” In 2007, he took the Jena Six case to CNN, and after Don Imus’ “nappy-headed hoes” incident, he advised Al Sharpton to go after CBS’s corporate sponsors. This ultimately led to Imus’ firing. Jesse Jackson frequently asks him for help with economic policy. Watkins also runs Your Black World, a media site that compiles news dealing with African Americans.
“My work represents the legacy of people like Jim Brown,” Watkins said. “Jim Brown’s daughter called me personally to say ‘thank you’ because her dad went through the same thing when he was here.”
A school’s reputation hinges on the acclaim it receives, and since Watkins markets himself as a Syracuse University professor, he does bring attention to SU. In the Ellis case, the school indirectly received positive publicity thanks to his own Scholarship in Action.
Rather than act as if Watkins doesn’t exist, SU should support his initiatives. A media commentator and columnist for a handful of outlets, he has millions of followers across the country.
Next week, I’ll discuss Watkins’ pending tenure appeal case and the repercussions it could bring to SU’s image.
If Syracuse University won’t do it, we will! Check out some of Watkins’ latest TV appearances:
Watkins, on Anderson Cooper 360
Watkins discusses the Heather Ellis case
Watkins, on MSNBC and ABC, discusses Tiger Woods controversy
Watkins discusses “financial liposuction”
Naresh Vissa is a member of the Class of 2011. He is a broadcast journalism, finance and accounting triple major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.