by Chris Horne
When lauded ABJ reporter and columnist Bob Dyer is on top of his game, he produces jaw-dropping journalism, like 2014’s “Falling from Grace” series, which exposed allegations of sexual abuse at Grace Cathedral. Or, his 2013 column about the University of Akron’s offensively low graduation rates for black students.
When he’s not, he talks to inanimate objects. As was the case with the infamous Olive Jar, who became a symbol for opponents of former UA President Scott Scarborough. Through a Facebook page and a Twitter profile, the Olive Jar alternated between throwing jabs at the administration and sharing new information with followers.
However, as he noted on Twitter, Dyer wasn’t talking to THE Olive Jar but rather himself, even though the daily paper ran screen shots of the social media accounts to illustrate the story. The giveaway was his assumption that Olive Jar is male.
Thanks. Wasn't trying to capture your voice. I was fabricating an interview, so I figured I would use my own voice:) https://t.co/AOxFXHS5r1
— Bob Dyer (@BobDyerABJ) June 13, 2016
That’s okay with the real life human being running those accounts. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. It also gave us a chance to hear from the “real” Olive Jar, who will remain anonymous, riding off into social media retirement thanks to Dr. Scarborough’s resignation.
The Devil Strip: So, that wasn’t really you being interviewed by Bob Dyer in the Sunday ABJ?
Olive Jar: No. It was a strange experience, reading that. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. No one else has ever tried to speak for me — or as me. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended. I guess I felt a little of both, but now I’ve decided to just be flattered.
TDS: What did he miss by faking the interview with you?
OJ: He missed me! I’ve spent almost two years talking to people through social media, and I must have been doing something right, because I’ve picked up quite a few friends and followers. I did it by saying what I think. And I think he missed the opportunity to get to know me, and I’m worth the effort of getting to know. That said, I have tried to use humor to get my point of view across, or just to get people asking questions. So it’s appropriate, I suppose, that he tried to close the book on OJ on a humorous note. Answering my questions saved him some time, I guess. Chris, I truly appreciate that you are taking the time to hear what I think.
[Note: Personally I thought Dyer’s OJ Simpson joke was corny at best and in poor taste at worst, but what do I know? – Chris H.]
TDS: You are retiring from social media now that Dr. Scarborough has resigned, but of course, the question everyone is asking is what happens to you. How would you feel about living with whoever is chair of the Board of Trustees and moving in with each time a new one is appointed?
OJ: Living with the chair of the BOT? I don’t think I’d like that. I haven’t been very impressed with Chair Pavloff, and I don’t have a great deal of confidence that they’ll select someone much better. I can’t imagine that any chair of the board would appreciate me, really, and the feeling would be mutual. I want to be with the students, or I want to help them.
So that means I’d either like to reside in some place like the Student Union where students can appreciate what a hulking overpriced thing I am (and perhaps I can be a horrible warning to new presidents who wish to decorate their bedrooms with the students’ money), OR I would like to be auctioned off so that there’s scholarship funding that helps support students. Those are the only two alternatives I can feel good about. So this is where I put in a plug for this online petition.
TDS: Of course, there were many more and many bigger problems at UA over the last couple of years than the amount spent on a large, decorative olive jar. What was it about you that more or less made you the mascot for that administration’s failures?
OJ: Because spending $556 for an olive jar is so ridiculous that it’s comical. You get a visual image of a glass jar filled with Spanish olives sitting in the president’s bedroom, and that’s just funny. Everyone was talking about the olive jar. There were articles written about it. People joked about it. It was really a flashpoint. So I thought, Wouldn’t it be funny if I had Facebook and Twitter pages? I thought, I bet people would follow me. I wonder what would happen… and a couple of hours from the time the Facebook page went up, the stories started coming out in the media, and the number of friends I had exploded.
It scared me a little at first, really. But I needed a voice because I had something to say. And ironically people were listening to me in a way that faculty, staff, and students had never been. They were listening to *me* — an anonymous, inanimate, sarcastic object. I’m still amazed by this whole experience. But it’s really ironic and wrong that members of the actual UA community were silenced and ignored, but I wasn’t. Deans were afraid to speak out, but I could speak with impunity. What’s wrong with this picture?
TDS: We’ve all heard a lot about the drop in enrollment and the financial problems and transparency and communication, but from your view of campus, what are some of the overlooked problems that have to be addressed at UA?
OJ: Oh, there are so many. Hire full-time tenure track faculty, and then actually involve them in running the university. It’s not just communication — it’s shared governance. Trust me, it’s an idea that’s just crazy enough to work. As it always has.
But there’s more. The university needs to really invest in helping students succeed. It needs more advisers (not “coaches”), and it needs the office of off-campus housing to really be there to help students — it needs to be staffed. And it needs to really invest in and expand the Adult Focus program for non-traditional students — because who’s “traditional” anymore? It should bring back the Women’s Resource Center and the Multicultural Center — really have these programs, not just have an office with random people like the success coaches sitting there. The university needs to realize that students have complicated lives, and it should help them find child care or elder care (Adult Focus would be a big help with this). Doesn’t the university have a child care center? So invest more in that. Make it affordable for students. Oh, goodness, what else? I think a lot of the staff that has been fired needs to be brought back, if they’ll come back. The university is really hurting because it let such good people go. For example, I have heard that the IT department is woefully understaffed, and it’s causing a lot of problems. Just ask the faculty (refer to the first point about shared governance).
And for those administrators who may be reading this thinking that this all will cost money: trust me, not doing these things costs you much, much more.
TDS: How did you keep your head (er, lid?) up over the last couple of years, especially as the news seemed to progressively get worse?
OJ: The outlet of posting to social media helped in a way. It wasn’t just that I was posting what I thought and felt, it was the interaction I was having with a community that cared. That gave me a lot of hope, and it helped to remind me that I was not alone. There was a point at which I felt my tone was becoming harsh and kind of angry. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t helping me, certainly, so it wasn’t helpful to anyone else. So I tried to remember to use humor. I developed a lot of memes. Some were funnier than others, but they always made me chuckle. I think you have to laugh at frustrating experiences. I find when you use humor or satire to criticize people in power, it disarms them in a way that nothing else can. So that’s how I kept my head, so to speak. I kept it light, kept it funny, and I played the long game. I knew as long as others and I kept the issues alive, they couldn’t get away with the things they were doing forever. Their days were numbered. I knew we would “win” in the end, whatever that might mean. It seems to mean that the university community has to work harder than ever to clean up the mess that the administration made, but it’s work that I think the community is ready to do. I’ve never seen people so unified.
So that’s how I keep from flipping my lid. (Ha.)
TDS: What words of advice would you offer the next president to occupy the home on Burning Tree?
OJ: Pay for your own stuff.