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2014 Winter Issue 5 (February 14, 2014)

Rotblatt Escapes Changes

February 16, 2014
By J.M. Hanley

Sometime Chicago Whitesox pitcher Marv Rotblatt, notable only for the dubious distinction of twice having the highest ERA in the major leagues, died this past June.  For a brief span, it seemed that the Carleton tradition that bears his name – indeed, which won Rotblatt an obituary in the New York Times – was for all intents and purposes to die along with him.

No longer.  “The administration has accepted our proposal and Rotblatt is remaining in students’ hands,” Rotblatt committee chair Josh Carson ’14 wrote in popular Facebook forum Overheard at Carleton early Thursday afternoon.

Administrative opposition to certain elements of the day-long softball game began stirring late in fall term.   At the November 18th session of the CSA, a senior administrator told the senators that, “I am not here to say Rotblatt is being killed, but I … want to identify aspects of Rotblatt that people like, while avoiding its excesses.”

Efforts to curb those excesses soon began.  At the January 27 meeting  of the Senate, President Matthew Fitzgerald told the representatives that he and Carson had been informed of administrative “concerns” with Rotblatt.  Carson would soon meet with campus leadership to discuss the issues.

According to Carson, administrators had eleven enumerated complaints, including “the event’s emphasis on alcohol, the start time and overall length of the event, the lack of security and professional staff,  and the absence of clearly defined boundaries.”

Three days later, Carson called a meeting of student leaders to “gauge the sentiment of the student body” before a scheduled “meeting with the deans tomorrow afternoon.”

The Rotblatt Committee’s strategy was two-pronged.  First, they proposed a set of moderate reforms to the administrators.  Those changes included requiring wristbands, stationing an ambulance and EMT nearby the site of the game,  positioning security officers to apprehend drunk drivers, and “having water innings.”

Carson also hoped to keep predictable student uproar as a kind of ace-in-the-hole to deploy when the time was right.  He told the CSA that  “We want to be able to flip a switch and get people involved immediately.”

Towards that end, he and Fitzgerald took steps to limit publicity, including discouraging the Carletonian from carrying coverage of the proposed changes a week ago.  He was waiting to see if the administration approved the committee’s counter-proposals, he said. Student outrage would be an effective fallback if they said no. 

The suspense – and the hush-hush approach – seemed destined to continue for some time.  The Rotblatt Committee’s next meeting with administrators, initially scheduled for this Tuesday, was postponed in light of the Board of Trustees meeting.

Gossip and rumors, however, outflanked this careful strategy.  On Wedneday, February  12, anonymous users began a petition on change.org to “Save Rotblatt.” “This is the final straw,” the sponsors wrote, “We cannot allow the administration to continue to change the social fabric of Carleton while we stand silent.”

“Possible alterations include: putting a fence around the event with security checking IDs, making the event BYOB, and moving the start time to later in the day,” they continued.

Those behind the petition and its accompanying Facebook profile remain unknown.  The petition was signed “Joe Fabeetz,” a mythical Silence Dogood character from Carleton lore.  However, the website’s enumeration of  very specific “possible alterations” suggests that the sponsors had inside knowledge, and were possibly friends or close associates of Rotblatt Committee members.

The petition rapidly collected signatures from students and alumni.

“What I really loved about Carleton is that I felt like the college trusted its student body to make good decisions,” posted alum Carolyn Schulte in the comments section, “By limiting the fun of events like Rotblatt, the administration is communicating a lack of faith in its students.”

By the time the petition closed, it had garnered 1.094 supporters.

Community opposition, however, was not confined to the web.  Alumni inquiries prompted the school to announce in a Facebook posting late Thursday afternoon that, “Rotblatt is one of Carleton’s many heralded traditions, and there is no effort underway to end it or to fundamentally change the spirit of the event.”

The outpouring seemed to hasten the administration’s decision on the Committee’s plan.  Carson and fellow members of the Rotblatt Committee were informed in an email the same afternoon that their proposal had been accepted, and that no further changes would be necessary.

Fitzgerald formally announced the events in a school-wide email sent Thursday evening.

“We are grateful to the administration for working with us and accepting the proposal,” he wrote, “The pressure is now on us to preserve the spirit of Rotblatt.” 

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