Thursday, November 24, 2005

How Not to Raise Your Blog Hits Count

This University of Miami student found out the hard way how the UM administration takes to blog snark.

Three police officers showed up at University of Miami sophomore Kyle Munzenrieder’s dorm room last Thursday, waking him from an afternoon nap. They took him downstairs, he said, and frisked him on the trunk of a police cruiser before driving him to the office of the dean of students, William Sandler Jr.

Munzenrieder did not know it then, but the school bureaucracy had begun its work. When it finished, he would be booted from his dorm room and living in a ratty motel nearby. His future at the university, Sandler wrote in a formal letter hand-delivered Tuesday afternoon, was uncertain.

Munzenrieder, 19, a film major who edits the blog from his laptop, had already caused a national furor by posting a raunchy rap song recorded by members of the UM football team.

Prior to this posting, Munzenrieder blogged in unclicked obscurity. Sample entries include a meditation on this summer’s rash of python-on-alligator violence, and some muckraking about the UM janitors’ protest for better wages and benefits. These posts typically drew a few responses, but most of them were from his friends.

The rap song that brought 64,000 visitors to Munzenrieder’s blog describes, in vivid if not exhaustively dull detail, the sexual aspirations of a group of UM players calling themselves the Seventh Floor Crew, after their dorm floor. The song was recorded two years ago and was common knowledge on the UM campus, Munzenrieder said.

But the football program was not pleased, and Munzenrieder said someone purporting to be a staffer called his dorm room, asking him to remove the post.

Too late: ESPN picked up the story, and so did national newspapers and radio talk shows.

Munzenrieder is a football fan. He goes to UM home games, and blogged a pre-scandal post about the quarterback, headlined Kyle Wright, By All Accounts, A Pretty Nice Guy. He was not, he insists, out to get the football team, and is not angry at the players now.

“It’s a two-year-old song,” he said. “I wasn’t jealous of the football team. I just needed something to put on my blog. If you don’t put new stuff on, people won’t read it.”

He had already gone further than most students at a football-mad school like UM would dare. But last Thursday, a day after that initial post drew a slew of interview requests, nasty instant messages and e-mails like “Go into the bathroom and f—— hang urself” — he posted a fake suicide note.

Munzenrieder said the note described a meeting in a parking garage with Florida State University football coach and UM nemesis Bobby Bowden, and expressed Munzenrieder’s mortal regret for being involved in a plot to undermine the UM football program.

It was, Munzenrieder later blogged, “farcical,” and soon replaced by a photograph of a cute kitten, but not before Dean Sandler saw it. Sandler — whose staff referred questions to UM’s public relations department, which declined to comment — doesn’t go in for farce.

So the dean had the officers haul Munzenrieder into his office. What follows is taken from Munzenrieder’s account of the meeting, since Sandler and his staff wouldn’t talk:

It was a good-sized office, with room for what seemed like an awful lot of people. It had a side door, which was closed, and — rather disconcertingly — a photograph of UM football coach Larry Coker on the desk.

“Suicide isn’t funny,” Sandler said. Munzenrieder agreed that suicide isn’t funny, and that it was stupid of him to have made the post.

But, the 19-year-old noted, just that morning he’d taken two tests, in Computer Science and Ethics in Media. “If I was going to do it,” said Munzenrieder, “there’s no way I would have taken two tests today.”

That argument, like most he made that day, didn’t go over well.

Sandler told him, “I have the power to decide whether or not you go to school here anymore.” Munzenrieder was advised to withdraw from school. The dean called his parents in Naples and told his father that “your son has caused a big headache for the administration here.”

At some point, a psychologist emerged from the side door. “I think you should go home,” she said.

“For how long?” Munzenrieder asked, seeing his college career flittering away. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. What do you think it means?”

“I think it means you don’t know.”

“Stop double-talking me,” she said.

Munzenrieder concedes that he may have been acting like a wiseacre, and that wiseacrage was not called for at that point in time. But he was tired. He keeps college-student hours, which means he went to sleep at 3 a.m. and woke up at 6:30 a.m. to do his radio show and take his tests. Also, as he later blogged, he had some kind of corneal ulcer.

The meeting ended cordially, surprisingly. But the wheels of bureaucracy never stopped grinding.

Sandler’s letter arrived five days later, ordering him to undergo a “comprehensive battery of tests from a licensed psychologist.” He could finish out the fall term, but then needed a separate interview with a UM staff psychologist “to assess your readiness to return to the university” in the spring.

Also, because the university “has an obligation to ensure the health and well-being of its students,” Munzenrieder had to move out of Mahoney Residential College and into a motel.

It is an unlovely place with shirtless but friendly men standing around outside. The room smells strange. It has a television and mini-fridge but no Internet. It costs $450 a week, which Munzenrieder must pay himself.

Sleeping there is “kind of lonely,” he said. “In the dorm I knew the people on my hall. I could go to my friend’s room and hang out. It’s kind of weird here.”

UM Athletic Director Paul Dee is on the record saying the Seventh Floor Crew — the football players who performed the song, “will be subject to appropriate discipline and/or counseling.”

I am so proud of my alma mater right now that I just can’t stand it.