Citizens Feel Manipulated by Ball State

According to the great revolutionary teacher and leader, Paulo Freire, “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

In essence, Paulo Freire was talking about the importance of dialogue. It hints of the subtle abuse of power and this community got to experience it first hand this week by Ball State officials when they announced plans to construct a $25 million real estate project along McKinley and University on land they don’t even own.

Interestingly enough, the same day that university officials made this announcement, their own students were sharing their findings of a semester long immersion project titled “Revitalizing the Village” and nothing was mentioned about this new 4-story hospitality building to revitalize the area.

University officials claim it will be a great project in attracting people to the Village, yet where was the dialogue?

The students worked on this project for the semester yet university officials mentioned nothing. If they were maintaining silence due to their current lawsuit, why break the silence on Wednesday when the lawsuit is still underway?

The timing seems peculiar.

Since the university has a plethora of researchers at their disposal, what studies have concluded that this project will be beneficial for the Village, or the community?

In fact, they are forcible removing one small business owner through eminent domain to erect their project which will offer hotel rooms, restaurants and catering services. This sounds like it will compete against other local for-profit, tax paying businesses in the community. What will the impact be on those businesses?

Did they collaborate with local hotel owners to see if this would increase vacancies? Did they offer to work with the Convention Center in downtown, or partner with Ivy Tech’s culinary program? Did they offer Mayor Tyler the option of building this new facility in downtown to help boost activity in an area that is undergoing a new master redevelopment plan?

It’s called a dialogue, and it was missing.

In fact, it was outright arrogant to announce a project on property in litigation. The property owner said he’s not going anywhere, nor did he receive a legitimate offer from the university.

So why did Ball State officials choose Wednesday to send out a mass email to their staff, and ask the StarPress to run both articles – one discussing the ongoing “contentious” litigation, and the other announcing the $25 million project?

In the old days, we’d call it a publicity stunt!

With the students inviting the community to a presentation about “Revitalizing the Village”, and poised to have the community hear those results, it seemed like they were trying to usurp the findings which revealed that the university has not been such a great neighbor to the Village, nor have they been friendly with local businesses in the Muncie.

One business owner at the student presentation talked about her being denied access to the campus to circulate fliers to students about her establishment in the Village. We’ve heard many local businesses air the same complaints over the years, including Hiatt Printing who faced university demands on professors to use internal printing services instead of external shops like Hiatt’s.

We also learned that Ball State hasn’t negotiated with Village restaurant owners to allow student use of their dining cards – does that sound like a great partner in the community? Many other colleges in Indiana have that arrangement.

Yet, in the announcement, university officials claim this will attract many businesses to the Village area…how many businesses are lining up to compete with a large tax exempt organization who would rather take your property via eminent domain than compete against you? Anyone?

We’ve heard much feedback in the last two days about the reaction to the findings of the students, and the peculiar timing of a public relations blitz with the local newspaper by university officials.

Taking property from taxpayers while paying a mere $100,000 to the City of Muncie for “fire protection” is not exactly going to win over many citizens in a struggling community that has seen very little gain by your presence.

The feelings expressed to us are those of being bullied by a large establishment that has gotten whatever it wants from the community and considers citizens of Muncie lucky to have them as neighbors – this attitude is wearing thin with many residents.

Maybe had the university offered to set up a funding mechanism, like tax increment financing (TIF) for the Village, where a percentage of profits from their new project went to fund improvements and loans to small businesses who want to locate in the Village, than maybe they might draw some dialogue from City officials and local businesses.

Without this open dialogue, the university is manipulating the people of Muncie; or an act of oppression.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.
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