HEY DON — everything went wrong. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
Rhode Island’s college graduation season is mostly over by now. And, unless RISD dramatically changes plans for its May 31 commencement ceremonies (a keynote is scheduled to be delivered by business consultant, Bruce Mau), Rhode Islanders will not get the speech the state desperately needs.
Now, I’m not out to disparage 2014’s crop of speakers: people like forest ecologist, Nalini Moreshwar Nadkarni (Brown); engineer and autism activist, Temple Grandin (Providence College); author and TED conference founder, Richard Saul Wurman (Salve Regina); or even supermodel-turned-furniture-designer, Kathy Ireland (New England Tech). But the fact is simple. Right now, the state needs someone to stand up in front of a large crowd and tell us how we collectively landed in this enormous pile of shit called “38 Studios.” Such an address — whether from a podium, a pulpit, a television studio — has yet to be given in the two years since Rhode Island’s most infamous bankruptcy.
Of course, the logistics of a 38 Studios-focused commencement address would be tricky. There would be protests. There might be projectiles. And there probably be the need for something approaching the level of security Harry Potter star Emma Watson employed when she donned a cap and gown to walk with fellow Brown graduates on May 25 in Providence (photos of her gun-toting sidekick and entourage of Secret Service-y looking dudes were widely shared on BuzzFeed). But the benefits of such a speech would be big.
Is any topic more loaded with educational value than 38 Studios? History majors might appreciate an argument about how this is our state’s Watergate — a Rhody-sized version of what Gerald Ford called “our long national nightmare.” Business majors might benefit from a glimpse at the kind of strings that come attached when a company receives a politician-brokered infusion of 75 million taxpayer-backed dollars. (Boston magazine’s 2012 feature, “End Game,” memorably describes the tiered hiring quotas built into the 38 Studios deal. “It became a joke,” one employee told the magazine, of the resulting hiring frenzies. “Oh, you are a VP of lunch? Oh yeah, I’m a VP of doughnuts.”) Poli-sci majors might be interested in an analysis of how members of the Rhode Island House of Reps voted nearly unanimously to pass the high-stakes bill that allowed 38 Studios to happen, then turned around when the company failed and, with near-identical unanimity, claimed to not know how the law was actually going to be implemented. And, of course, aspiring PR professionals would benefit from a single, simple lesson: never let a sitting governor tell a reporter, “There is only a risk if everything goes wrong,” as Donald Carcieri told The Providence Journal in 2010.
But commencement addresses, particular in the YouTube/Twitter/Google era, are never just about the students. And a 38 Studios speech would be delivered to us — the financiers of this disaster. Yes, the last few months have (blessedly) begun to deliver glimpses of the transparency and accountability we all crave. The Secretary of State’s office has — belatedly — enlisted the State Police to investigate potential 38 Studios lobbying violations. Earlier this month, a lawyer for former House Speaker Gordon Fox cited the existence of a wide-ranging grand jury investigation, involving more than 100 subpoenas. Eye-popping documents revealing internal 38 Studios operations continue to dribble out, thanks in part to the dogged work of reporters like Ted Nesi and Tim White at WPRI Channel 12.