Forward Rebels and Insidious Intent

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Oxford is buzzing over the aggressive tactics of the now for-profit group Forward Rebel, which has paid for full-page advertisements in all the major Mississippi newspapers, blaming the UM administration for the failures of the football team.  Forward Rebel has clearly tapped into long-simmering resentments about a host of issues, centered around athletic director Pete Boone.  What is strange about this campaign, however, is the spokesman, Lee Habeeb.

Habeeb is a conservative talk show producer from New Jersey, the man who brought us Dr. Laura.  He relocated to Oxford three years ago with his wife, a UM alum, and daughter.  He is neither a graduate of the university nor, as he admitted to the Commercial Appeal, a fan of Ole Miss.  Yet thousands of Ole Miss fans have joined his Facebook campaign and some, at least, have presumably given him money.  I say presumably because he has revealed nothing about his funding, and now that Forward Rebel is dissolved as a nonprofit, he has no obligation to reveal anything about his donor base, or indeed, to use money given him for the stated purpose of improving Ole Miss athletics.  For a man who insists on transparency and accountability for the university, this aversion is curious.

Simply put, I don’t trust Lee Habeeb’s motives.  He makes his living by stirring up controversy, and I have seen no evidence that he cares about the University of Mississippi or considers the effect his work is having on the larger Ole Miss community.  The founding members of Forward Rebels have dissolved the non-profit and distanced themselves from the group, and while Mr. Habeeb says it is because they fear reprisals, it may well be that they don’t agree with his methods.  Is Mr. Habeeb using Ole Miss to connect with a larger conservative agenda to remake universities into purely market-driven business, where faculty effectiveness is measured solely by the number of students taught, the grades they receive, and the evaluations they post?  Some of his comments about university accountability suggest this agenda.  Is he preparing for a statewide political campaign? Or simply creating dissension?

I hope that Ole Miss fans will distance themselves from him and Forward Rebels.  Archie Manning, in Rick Cleveland’s Clarion Ledger article last Thursday, said: “You know I think those people really do care, but this is just not the way things are done. It hurts us.”  Lee Habeeb is taking alumni money and using alumni Facebook allies to justify his work, but he has done nothing to prove that he loves the University of Mississippi.