Former R.E.M manager discusses education reform in schools

By Anna Davies, Transcript Reporter

Ohio Wesleyan University’s Arneson Institute hosted a lecture with Bertis Downs, former manager of R.E.M., educational reform activist and entertainment lawyer, on Monday, Sept. 12 in the Benes Rooms.

The lecture was a conversation between Downs and politics and government professor Sean Kay. The discus- sion opened up to students near the end. About 50 people were there and it was a mix of OWU students, professors and other community members.

Downs, an advocate for public schooling, said what he’d like to see from public school policymakers is a change from focusing on standardized tests to helping students from all walks of life learn valuable skills that help them rise in the workforce.

“Circumstances and privilege should not determine what you can achieve. There’s always examples of diamonds in the rough,” Downs said. “How do we get more of those first generation college students? They’re the future of society.”

“I think the reason I’m so interested in race and privilege is because as the son of missionary parents in Taiwan, I’ve been a minority,” Downs said during the lecture.

Downs said his ideal school system would have adequate funding, teachers making a decent wage and not having to deal with the stress of constant standardized testing, a diverse curriculum and a multicultural student body.

“You need true integration,” he said.

Downs praised small liberal arts schools for teaching students how to be critical thinkers and learn skills that go beyond typical workplace knowledge.

Downs also talked about his time spent with R.E.M. He said an especially impactful event was watching R.E.M. play a show in Hyde Park in London a week after a terrorist attack.

“I remember someone in the crowd was holding a sign that said, ‘Thank you for staying,’” Downs said.

“They (R.E.M.) were good at what they did. I had some- thing to do with business planning and strategy,” he said. “I had a pretty light touch as a manager. They didn’t want a lot of control.”

Downs said he was proud of R.E.M. for getting involved in social activism and playing benefits for Neil Young’s Bridge Schools, Bruce Springsteen’s Vote for Change and for helping get the Motor Voter bill signed into effect during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Downs also said R.E.M. helped get the first liberal fe- male mayor elected in their hometown of Athens, Georgia.

Emma Sampson, a student in Dr. Kay’s American foreign policy class, said she hoped the lecture would be a good example of intersecting interests, an important part of OWU’s education plan.

Michael Wadsworth, who is in Dr. Kay’s global issues class, said, “I’m pretty excited. It’s about rock music…and I’m happy to be here.”


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