Remarks at Today’s WIU Board of Trustees Meeting

Good morning. I’m Holly Stovall, a former WIU associate professor of Women’s Studies. My husband, Tom Sadler, is an Economics professor here and we are alumni.

At the last board meeting, Trustee Lang asked me about the kinds of jobs our students in Women’s Studies and African American Studies were getting before our majors were cut in the first round of eliminations three years ago.

Thank you, Trustee Lang, for this question. In the context of a new vision for Western, this is a good time to address the value of Women’s Studies and African American Studies to our students, the quality of our university, and Western’s stated values of diversity, equity, and social justice.

If you want our graduates to find good jobs–and we all do–consider the underemployment report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Underemployment refers to graduates who find only jobs for which they are overqualified.  The underemployment rate of Women’s and African American Studies is 23% lower than that of LEJA (see table below). This means that nearly 3 of 4 LEJA majors will not find college level work, compared to only 2 of 4 majors in Women’s Studies and African American Studies.

This Federal Reserve research indicates that if Western wants to offer majors that help students get good jobs, the administration should restore Women’s Studies and African American Studies.  And, as a matter of integrity, we should require our LEJA students to complete a rigorous General Education program, because solid academic skills, taught in the Liberal Arts, will serve them well in their backup plan.

In fact, underemployment rates are high for most college grads, and most will need a strong foundation in the liberal arts, so that they can write and communicate well and adapt to a fluctuating job market over time.  A university IS the Liberal Arts.

According to the New York Fed., those law enforcement grads who manage to land work in their field will earn no wage advantage over Women’s Studies graduates. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, majors in vocations and trades report less job satisfaction than those who majored in the Liberal Arts.

The vast majority of students in our Women’s Studies and African American Studies classrooms were women: African American, Latinx, Asian, mixed race, and LGBT+ students. Eliminating Western’s two diversity studies majors deprived our students of the coursework they preferred and that offered a lower underemployment rate than most of WIU’s top majors. In addition, Women’s Studies had one of the highest enrollment rates, per faculty, in the entire university.

(Note:  At this point during my remarks, I began to break the 3-minute public comment rule, but I did so on behalf of WIU’s stated values:  social justice, diversity, and equity, and our two eliminated majors that best supported these values, Women’s Studies and African American Studies, as well as the diverse group of tenured women teaching these courses whose careers were ended.)

I am not suggesting that we should cut any majors or faculty; rather, I’m saying that the underemployment data suggest that a university focused on vocational majors is a bubble on the verge of bursting.  The inoculation against the burst is the Liberal Arts.  Someone in a position of power must to speak out about this potential bubble burst.

(The gavel’s rap is silencing me.)

When this administration destroyed faculty careers in our two diversity programs, they forced only women, tenured women, one of us African, to bear this burden.  Not one man from our programs was laid off.

(They turned off the microphone and keep rapping the gavel.)

As you compose a new vision for WIU, please remember that the most important place to study WIU’s values of diversity, equity, and social justice is the Women’s Studies and African American Studies classrooms.  Plus, we prepare students for good jobs.

 

 

Table:  Underemployment rates* for recent college graduates:  Women’s Studies, African American Studies, LEJA**

WIU’s Eliminated

Majors in Diversity

(WS and AAS)

Probability of Underemployment Top WIU Major Probability of Underemployment
Women’s Studies*** 50%
African American Studies*** 50%
LEJA 73%
Advantage of WS and AAS over LEJA  

23%

*According to Federal Reserve Bank of New York, updated Feb., 2019.

**National underemployment rate for recent college graduates is 42.9%.  For further comparison, the probability of underemployment for majors in business management and agriculture, respectively, is 59.6% and 53.9%.

***Federal Reserve Bank of New York includes WS and AAS under the heading of Ethnic Studies.

Table 2: Underemployment rates* for recent college graduates:   WIU Top 5 Majors vs first four eliminated majors, 2016.

Top 5 Majors on WIU’s Website Percent Probability of Underemployment Eliminated Majors in the Liberal Arts Percent Probability of Underemployment,
Biology 44.6
Religion 46.9
Psychology 50 Women’s Studies and African American Studies 50
Philosophy 50.9
Agriculture

Music

53

66

LEJA 73

(Note:  first version of this table used data from an earlier report.  I have corrected this to reflect 2019 data.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Job In Town?

“Faculty have the best job in town.  They shouldn’t complain.”  I keep hearing this myth, coupled with judgment.  I hear it in the various buildings of Western Illinois University, and at the other end of town, in the doctor’s office.  They complain that we complain, but as a community, we need to debunk this myth together and examine the impulse to judge.

But first, I want to extend an invitation to all community members who have privately or publicly subscribed to some form of this myth:  Please join us in making a voluntary permanent 2% sacrifice of income.  You can donate that money every year to WIU’s operating budget, as faculty and other unionized professionals have voluntarily contracted to do.  A year after the UPI agreed to this permanent cut, the president and vice presidents have finally agreed to follow our lead.  Join us.

If WIU is an economic engine for Macomb, why should only faculty and related academic professionals commit to sacrificing our pay for the university and community?

Having asked these questions, let’s examine the myth of the “best job in town.”

Considering the fact that drastic state cutbacks to WIU have created such a depressing work morale that a growing number of faculty now take pharmaceuticals, it’s worth asking if “best” is an accurate way to portray our jobs.

Every line of work has costs and benefits, so doesn’t the “best” job depend on the individual?  How long you want to go to school? What kind of training you want to do? What kind of work do you like? How much you want to earn?

Maybe the “best” job means the lightest work, but if you believe that’s what faculty have, you’re out of touch with the day to day load of teaching, prepping, grading, researching, serving, recruiting etc. etc. etc. that never ends, not after dinner and not on the weekends or during summer, when we are off contract, for that’s when we catch up on research, write new lectures, grade student work that wasn’t completed before the semester ended.  I often felt overwhelmed in my academic work, like I would never finish it.

And if you’re a woman, mounting research indicates that students are more likely to ask special favors of you—like exceptions to the syllabus—and then react strongly if you deny the exception.  I know from experience that dealing with students “reacting strongly” to course requirements is not the “best” job.

In addition, students often want female faculty to be their mom and counselor.  I’ve been cast in that dual role many times and can assure you it’s one of the most impossible jobs in town.

During the last few years, I’ve watched many WIU faculty jobs become bad jobs.  Professors hang on, hoping that better times await us. When I return to visit the department I belonged to before I was fired, the mood in the office suite is so depressing, so filled with despair, that I feel sorry for them.  They feel sorry for me as well, because my career is apparently over. One colleague who is still employed suffers from “survivor’s guilt,” and it’s real.

The wife of a colleague asked him what they needed to do so that he wouldn’t come home depressed every day.  “Find an associate professorship somewhere else,” he told her.  So, at great sacrifice to finances and family, they are moving out of state.  Others try, but most search committees don’t hire associate and full professors.

One former WIU assistant professor said, “Don’t put up with it. Move.  Other universities don’t treat faculty like that.” She wasn’t here early enough to know the WIU many of us care for and love, the WIU we haven’t given up on.

I began my investment in WIU in 1987, when we registered for classes in the basement of Memorial Hall. That’s where I met Dr. Karen Mann.

Karen exposed me, a Southern Belle, to one of the most cutting-edge novels of the 20thCentury, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness.  What an amazing experience. As a WIU professor, I have imitated Karen—assigning the most cutting edge books, presenting revolutionary ideas to students, doing my best to offer them an amazing experience.  That’s what WIU professors have done and, with sufficient funding, will continue to do:  offer amazing academic experiences.

When that happened, I felt like I had the best job in town.

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This is what I looked as a southern belle in high school. I spent an hour every morning on hair and makeup. After one class with Karen Mann and a semester in Spain with the WISE program, I stopped bothering with eyeliner and hot rollers.

 

 

Rumor meets Fact: Diversity, Qualifications, and Transparency at WIU

A rumor circled back to me: the reason the last Western Illinois University presidential search committee hired “Jack” Jackie Thomas was because Holly Stovall told the committee that diversity was more important than qualifications.  While I’m tempted to let the gossips believe that I posses sufficient power to determine WIU’s president, a friend advised me to expose the facts.

Dispelling rumor about a past search opens a door to talk about the next WIU presidential search, especially as it may involve unconscious bias and the temptation to make deals in secret.

During the last presidential search, I didn’t attend any of the open candidate interviews because I didn’t have time;  I was mothering two young children while teaching new preps and trying to publish my research about Catalan novelist Ana María Moix. Honestly, I was focused on my career and family, not on advocating diversity.  And at the time, I trusted those in charge to choose the best candidate .

In retrospect, I should have gotten more involved–we all should have.  But, even if I had wanted to influence that search (and I didn’t), I possessed no power as an individual.

Now that I’ve exposed the folly of the rumor, let me proceed to say why qualifications, diversity, and transparency are each important in a presidential search.

First, diversity makes everyone smarter, and what’s a university for if not to make us smarter?

We say that the most important factor in hiring is qualifications, and I couldn’t agree more, but if we don’t recognize and unpack unconscious bias, how can we be sure that we’re evaluating qualifications fairly?

The rumor circulating about me operated under the assumption that an inherent contradiction exists between “qualifications” and “diversity,” and if you focus on one, you will unwittingly sacrifice the other.  This is a cynical assumption.  An optimistic approach entails the conviction that we should aim for both diversity and high qualifications.

So, let’s look ahead to the next presidential search and ask how we prevent unconscious bias from influencing the way we evaluate candidates.

A large body of research indicates that unconscious bias compromises the validity of hiring practices:  for example, in one study, when employers evaluated a resume headed with a masculine name, they gave it high marks, but when a different set of employers evaluated the same resume, but headed with a feminine name, they assigned it lower marks.  This pattern played out repeatedly.  Think about that– it was the same, exact, resume—the only difference was that the gender of the name in the heading.

The next presidential search committee should train with someone who has proven herself or himself effective at helping folks become aware of unconscious bias. Academics like Robin DiAngelo and Mark Anthony Neal have helped many people understand and address unconscious bias. There is no shame in taking the risk of acknowledging bias within oneself.

The most important lesson here pertains to transparency, because lack of it determined the previous search.

I have talked to two people who had close ties to the last presidential search, and from those conversations, I’ve learned that faculty (as well as others on the committee) did, in fact, carefully evaluate the qualifications of candidates and then send their recommendation to the Board of Trustees. However, a well-intentioned and powerful administrator intervened.  She or he circumvented what should have been a transparent process and persuaded the Board of the Trustees to disregard the committee’s recommendation.  This violation of process and transparency led to a crisis in leadership.

We can learn from this mistake:  respect the process and maintain rigorous standards for transparency.

And on the slight chance that any one cares what I think about the next presidential search:  choose a woman.

In executive searches, we hold women to exceedingly high standards; therefore, if you really care about qualifications (past performance), the women candidates will probably have excelled more.  The authors of some of this research say that, “women are implicitly required to show greater evidence of competence . . .  particularly in male gender-typed job domains.”

Sigh.  I can already hear the trolls and hecklers.

But one thing’s for certain–I had no influence on the previous search.  As for the next search, it’s only as part of the public that I can get something done. The public must pressure the Board of Trustees to protect fairness and transparency.  That’s our job. Their job is to represent us.

 

 

 

Don’t Under-recognize Professors’ Emotional Labor

Recent discussion and research has found that women, especially women teaching diversity classes, like me, do more than our fair share of emotional labor with students.  Researchers say this labor should be recognized and compensated.  The emotional labor I’ve invested in my students has helped them stay at Western Illinois University and complete their degrees.

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Professors of Diversity Courses invested emotional labor in these students to help see them through to graduation.

Consider Helen’s* story.  Helen was not an “A” student, but she was caring, kind, and committed, and I knew she had enough academic skills to graduate.  As a woman of color and first generation college student, she understood intersectionality, a complicated theory that students from more privileged backgrounds struggle to master.

When I crossed paths with Helen in the quad last week, she hugged me.

“I was just telling my psychology professor about you,” she said, “I told him about that terrible day I was having, and how you walked with me to the counseling center, and how much that meant to me.”

“I’m a Women’s Studies professor, so helping students is my job.  And I had faith in you, so how could I not help you?” I said.

The last semester I’d had Helen in class, she was a freshman overcome with obstacles. She told me she might quit WIU and return to Chicago to take care of her mom.  The city of Macomb, she said, was forcing her to pay a $500 fine for fighting and drinking, but, she told me, she hadn’t been drinking.

I asked her about the fighting.  “I have to defend myself,” she said, but added, “I get so angry.”  She’s lean and petite, like me, so I understood  her need for self-defense.

“Something’s not right about this,” I had told her.  “I know you and trust you.  If you have to go to court again, let me know, and I’ll come with you.”  It wasn’t the first time I’d offered to accompany a student to court.  I didn’t want my students to feel alone in the courtroom, and I wanted the judge to know that a professor was willing to vouch for them.  I wanted the judge to see them as I did.  Often, just knowing I was wiling to vouch for them was enough to help restore a student’s confidence and grit.

At WIU, we compensate advising staff for coaching students in the qualities necessary to persist and graduate. We also employ counselors and many other support staff,  so why not compensate professors who do this work, as well?  Or at least recognize our emotional labor.

A Board of Trustees member recently suggested that WIU under-utilizes faculty (and he may be correct), but I wonder if, first, we should ask if WIU under-recognizes faculty, especially the emotional labor that professors of diversity courses invest in to help see our students through to graduation.  Only after we recognize all the labor faculty do, including emotional labor, will we have enough knowledge to evaluate the utilization of faculty.

WIU struggles with nuance.  WIU prefers to consider data and rubrics over stories and mentoring relationships.  But a university is made of people and people have stories to tell.  I’m thankful for Helen and her story.

For more on emotional labor in the diversity classroom, see my post at Inside Higher Education’s University of Venus blog.

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This alumna returned to express her gratitude to the Department of Women’s Studies

*Not her real name

When We Get Together, We Can Do Great Things #BuyintoWIU

I woke up  at midnight and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I put earbuds in and listened to Abby Jacobson’s essay collection: “I Might Regret This.”  She was ruminating about how to fall asleep.  Each sentence seemed to start with “should I?” Should I roll over? Get out of bed to unplug the charger-thing with the blue glow?  Close the gap in the curtains? Adjust the thermostat? Make a cup of bedtime tea?

As for me, I took off my socks and I kept restarting the timer on the audio app.  Usually, I have to re-start the timer only once or twice before falling asleep, but last night, when Abby’s book ended, I started another collection of comical essays.

But this post is not about insomnia.  I’m easing into the heartbreak.

I’m writing this post because I woke up at 5 am with something toxic blooming in my throat.   My spouse could lose his job today.  His department is on the elimination list.  The elimination committee has refused to recognize the full major count of the programs on their list.

And does the elimination committee even matter?  According to TSPR: “WIU administrators can be heard on tape during a closed door meeting last June saying they plan to make cuts regardless of what the APER report recommended.”

Some people tilt their heads, puzzled, when I say we are worried about my spouse’s job.  He’s a full professor, economics is one of the most popular majors in the country.  Surely his job is safe.

Only a few years ago, we learned that in my case, rank, seniority, and qualifications didn’t matter;  there were some 300 faculty with less seniority and/or rank than I;  I had completed requirements for tenure;  I was not the junior member of the department;  I held WIU’s only Masters in Women’s Studies and one of the few PhDs in Spanish.  Women’s Studies earned the highest profit margins in the college, probably in the university.  None of that mattered.  Why would it matter for my husband?

I didn’t accept or acknowledge my layoff.  Those decades of investment in my career, all the emotional labor I’d spent buying into Women’s Studies.  All destroyed, erased.

I denied it all.

This time, I know too much to so easily deny the facts and warnings.

But this time around, I have work that eases my despair.  I’m organizing for the UPI and the #BuyintoWIU campaign.  In a week, 4,000 people signed our petition.  We’re on our way to 6,000 signatures!  That many names is a great thing. I am so heartened to see these names piling up.  Not only does our community care, but we are willing to put our names on the line.

Dr. William Barber won a MacArthur genius grant for convincing people that when we get together, we can do great things.  Today’s geniuses are the ones who can unite people around the shared, intersectional values of justice for all.  When we get together on behalf of values and human needs, rather than ideology and fear, we create a collective genius.

I’m hearing stories that fuel a bloom of toxic algae in my throat:  Atwoodian rumors that police will escort out our sisters and ban them from campus.

Armed police escorting them off campus? Our brothers and sisters treated like criminals?*

They force our brothers to miss retirement by a few months, catapulting them into poverty in old age.  They  strip our sisters of seniority–from two decades to two months!  As if we haven’t made a life here.  2019 is 1984.

These dystopian procedures are rumors, but today, March 1, 2019, we must exercise vigilance to verify that they are false.

Meanwhile, they reward an administrator with a monthly check that a full-time minimum wage worker would barely earn in an entire year.  In Macomb, Il, such income inequality violates our sense of fairness and decency.  With a monthly check of nearly $16,000, we could pay debts, cook something more than pasta with cheap butter, send our kids to college, pay medical bills, get the house and car repaired, take a well-earned vacation, etc. etc.

Last night at a rally for WIU, more than 100 community members united in solidarity for our WIU.  We will restore our WIU.

When we get together, we can do great things.

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Thanks to Heather McMeekan and #BuyIntoWIU for this image!

*Note, since I posted this, TSPR reported, “There were several eyewitness accounts provided to Tri States Public Radio Friday that some UTech employees had been escorted out of their offices. Shinberger denied that in an email . . .”

 

Advocate For WIU

I’m taking a break from application essay writing to appeal to you to advocate for Western Illinois University.52678098_10218936791189803_7682249479407271936_n

I’ve honed my application essay skills:  three Spanish positions and two Women’s Studies positions.  I remember composing applications over a decade ago for my tenure track position in at WIU.  My CV, experience, and skills are so much stronger and broader now, but search committees might be calling the new PhDs–the ones with less experience and less disillusionment.

In addition, I’m writing application essays for low-residency MFA programs in creative writing.   I hold a PhD, an MA, and M.Phil, but not an MFA.  Not yet.

Before I divulge the good news (important folks called me Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday)I want to see 6,000 signatures on this petition .   Please advocate for WIU:  tell Governor Pritzker to:

“1. “Buy Into Western Illinois University” by quickly appointing a new Board of Trustees who will work with the greater university community to develop a new vision and direction for Western Illinois University.

2. “Buy Into Western Illinois University” by providing emergency funding for the current fiscal year to rescind any pending layoffs and prevent future layoffs and program eliminations.”

Sign this petition.  Tell your friends about it and ask them to sign.

If you are on FB, please like this page #buyintoWIU.

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More news soon!

 

 

 

 

 

If Nothing Stood in the Way of My Dreams for Western Illinois University

If nothing stood in the way of my dreams for WIU, the fairy godmother would make all things that are old and failing new again. We will recruit Pussy Riot to teach in our punk rock/peace and justice music program.

The fairy godmother will release the Performing Arts Center funds and use those to build the PAC, while re-building WIU’s reputation.   The reason we need a PAC is that we’re going to invest in a 3-fold conservatory:  orchestral, marching band, and musical theatre.  Jazz, rock, and feminist hip hop, too, of course.

Our conservatory will be world-class and students from all over the country and the world will apply.  Our music students will want a rigorous Liberal Arts program.  AND WE WILL PROVIDE IT.

We will pay for the PAC’s operation by getting rid of the football program, which (as seen in recent documents faculty had to file FOIAS to get) is a strain on university budget, so we’ll happily transfer football subsidies to the PAC.  Also, football players are statistically more likely to perpetrate sexual assault than the average college students, and the new WIU knows how to create an atmosphere in which it doesn’t occur to anyone to perpetrate gendered violence on another member of the community.

We’ll recruit a LOT of nasty feminists, so perpetrators of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment will not choose WIU, and if they do, we catch them the first time, before they victimize more men and women.

We’ll keep Hanson field for Drum and Bugle Core competitions, marching band camps, and performances.

The Liberal Arts College will occupy many buildings.  Philosophy and Religious Studies will get their own building, and it’ll have a real coffee shop with two baristas.

We will continue to cater to first generation college students.  We will recruit students who dream, students who are trying to climb out of poverty, or avoid it in the first place.  We will teach rogues and outlaws and women who behave badly, and we will care for them dearly.

There will be restitution.

We will restore majors in Women’s Studies and African American Studies.  And then develop majors in Latin/x Studies and Queer Studies.

We will make our laid off professors whole–you know, the ones who, in order to earn tenure, worked themselves to the point of burnout, earned tenure, and then were fired.

Most of our students will happily take three literature courses because they will love fiction and poetry from many times and places.

We will hire more women.  We will keep hiring women until fifty one percent of our profs and instructors are women.

We will hire more people of color.  We will keep hiring people of color until they are represented at WIU at the same rate they are represented in the USA.

Books will be included with tuition.  Everybody gets the books they need.

If our profesors profess a radical, pro-choice, pro-labor, anti-neoliberal, feminist agenda on social media, our president will proudly defend us.  She will say that she values free speech and that historically, university professors have often spoken truth to power.

Speaking of our president, she’s on top of hate and white supremacy.  She names hate and condemns it.  She names the hate groups and the white supremists and warns them that they are not welcome here.  She will not deny their right to free speech, but she will protect and love the rigorously diverse group of students and faculty that will make up WIU.   She will work hard to make us an inclusive community.

We will require our Law Enforcement Students to minor in Peace and Justice Studies.  In order to help them deal with the cognitive dissonance of course work with the oppressor in the morning and the oppressed in the afternoon,  we will supply them with a lifetime of therapy insurance.  The reformed minor in Homeland Security will be a critical discipline that teaches students to refuse to accept the gassing and stealing of babies.  The reformed Homeland Security will focus on domestic terrorism and how to thwart it.

We’ll plant more trees.  We’ll proudly encourage cyclists to chain their bikes wherever they wish, because hey, cyclists are moving their bodies and reducing emissions, so we can’t wait to see your bikes chained to lampposts, trees, and railings.

If nothing stood in the way, what would you dream for WIU?

 

 

 

 

Dear Friends of John Curtis, We are Stronger Together

Dearest Friends of John Curtis,

Thank you for asking how I’m doing after John’s campaign loss.  I am heartened that you have asked; for you understand how much we invested our hearts and souls into this campaign.  You know that something deeper than politics is at stake.

A desire for moral leadership and social justice motivated many of us to invest our hearts and time in John’s campaign.  We worked with urgency because the current depopulation of the region is tied to a lower quality of life for all.  We invested our hearts because the impoverization of the region is demoralizing to all.

The vibrancy and quality of life of this region is interdependent with WIU and we knew that John would have taken risks for WIU.

We worked for our youth. When WIU jobs are eliminated, professionals leave the region, the tax base shrinks, and then our schools lose funding.  Teachers are forced to work more hours for the same pay, which can lead to burnout.  Some of the most talented and caring teachers in Macomb are spouses of professors.  But when WIU professors are forced out, great teachers go with them.  Our young people bear this cost.

A conversation I had with a friend and policy expert in the Poor People’s Campaign last summer motivated me to invest more time and heart in the midterm race. My friend and I were standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a bus to take us to the Poor People’s Campaign rally in D.C.

I told him about the impoverization and depopulation of our district.  I said the realignment of WIU’s curriculum is representative of the war economy that Martin Luther King had denounced:  Dr. King said that the war economy steals from the poor to fund violence and is therefore immoral. Dr. King’s analysis of the war economy is as important as his criticism of voter suppression.

I told my fellow activist about WIU’s divestment in the Liberal Arts and reinvestment into the war economy:

WIU’s administration has stolen from the disciplines that take a critical approach to war, poverty, and injustice (Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Religion and Philosophy, for example) and re-appropriated those funds to Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, and others that provide ideological support for the war economy.  Homeland Security is the institution most responsible for separating families and kidnapping children at the border. For the last decade, Homeland Security has looked the other way as extreme right-wing domestic terrorists have far outpaced Isis and Al Queda in mass killings of Americans.  According to Dr. King’s philosophy, public investment in the curriculum of Homeland Security is immoral.

At WIU, the sacrifices the war economy demands are not subtle:  the month after President Jack Thomas terminated my contract and eliminated my position in Women’s Studies, they advertised two tenure-track positions in Homeland Security.  The current state representative is party to the curriculum of war economy:  she has supported (Ex) Governor Rauner’s agenda of attacking the Liberal Arts; she benefits from thousands of dollars of campaign donations by the former Chair of the Board of Trustees, who pushed for the immoral faculty realignment and recently resigned in a corruption scandal, in which the other board members, Thomas, and various administrators are involved.

My friend in the Poor People’s Campaign listened to my story about WIU, and then advised:  The most important thing you can do, he said, is work to elect John Curtis for state representative.

Post-election, we feel the grief and heartbreak over the missed opportunity to make this district more politically balanced, as well as more vibrant and livable for all.  Grief and heartbreak are much more pronounced than the blow to self-esteem that defeat entails: A willingness to take risks for the greater good is part of democracy, and we would do it again.

We have learned the hard way that even when we are engaged, even when we are walking the district to get out the vote, even when we are doing everything we are supposed to do, it won’t be enough to elect a Democrat in this district.

Even when the incumbent has caused WIU to eliminate jobs and allowed poverty to rise, even when she supported the draining of state resources from our district, a slight majority of voters will reward her.

We are mourning the fact that if John Curtis, possibly the fairest, smartest, most committed, and most competent candidate to seek office in decades, can’t win, no Democrat can.

A missed opportunity for strong moral leadership has imprinted itself in our hearts, shaping who we are and who we will become. But, dear Friends of John Curtis, we have gained momentum to work for a more moral community.

By coming together to realize the values we share, we have strengthened bonds with each other.  We are forming a local chapter of the NAACP,  we are naming bigotry and demonstrating love, and we persevere in the structural work required for peace and justice.

We have gained friends and become closer.  We are stronger together.

Holly

All are Welcome here, but Hate is Not. 

Dear Editor,*

The most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America is scheduled to spew it’s structural (not physical) violence on the WIU campus on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 11:45 am, before a football game with Indiana State University.

This hate group goes by the name of Westboro Baptist (WBC), but they are not affiliated with the Baptists.  They are, at best, a hate group.  Because we now know that hate speech is connected to hate violence, some analysts have argued that the WBC qualifies as a domestic terrorist organization.

The WBC travels the country to spread a message of hatred towards a broad swath of the population: LGBTQA+ people, Jewish people, Muslim people, Siekhs, soldiers, Catholics, Amish, and veterans.

The WBC uses social media to embolden and praise domestic terrorists.  They praised the domestic terrorist who opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  They praised the domestic terrorist who killed 50 people in an Orlando night club.

When we study the social media pages of domestic terrorists, we often find that they followed hate groups like the WBC.  John Russell Houser, who shot 12 people in a Georgia cinema, followed and backed the WBC.

On Nov. 17, over a thousand advocates of love and acceptance are planning to participate in peaceful rally of love and acceptance for all the folks in the WIU and Macomb community, as well as our guests from Indiana.

I hope you will come to demonstrate love and acceptance of our community, but when you do, do not fall for WBC’s taunts and traps.  Do not engage the WBC; instead, focus on making WIU students, Indiana visitors, and Macomb Community members feel safe and wanted here.

I hate it that the WBC has chosen the grounds of my alma mater as one of the places from which this hate group will continue to knowingly embolden domestic terrorists and later praise the killings, but I love it that we have organized quickly to send a message:

All are welcome here, but hate is not.

*After the WIU and Macomb community learned that the Westboro Baptist is coming here, I sent a version of this letter to the McDonough County Voice, and they ran it yesterday.

Towards Wholeness at the Balandic

We walked along the Chicago river path on the way to my labor hearing in the Balandic building,  about halfway between the two Broadway theatres on Randolph.

The word Balandic rolls off my tongue and generates power, a sophisticated power:  heels knocking on the sidewalk in a quick rhythm, engines whirring by.  But the sound of  Balandic is not all positive; it holds something negative as well, for it ends in “dic,” which sounds like “dick,” which Merriam Webster defines as “a mean, stupid, or annoying man.”  So, Balandic:  empowerment and stupidity, efficiency and annoyance, balance and tension.

In the lobby, I saw Western Illinois University administrators filing past security and into an elevator.  They, four of them, including an expensive attorney, had traveled to Chicago to argue that they don’t have to obey the arbitrator’s (judge’s) orders to make me “whole.”

Before I set my cross-body bag on the security belt I turned to my mom, who’d come along for support:

“I’m glad we don’t have to ride the elevator with them.” I’ve written about this before—how administrators often cross paths with the people they’ve fired, how rotten that moment is.

Last year, I had gone to the Balandic building to testify before the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee.  The window in the House hearing room spanned the entire east side wall from floor to ceiling. I had told the House committee that the budget crisis was hurting the quality of WIU’s education and debilitating the regional economy.

The room for this year’s hearing was windowless and plain.  We could have been in Morgan Hall or Stipes. A few rows of chairs were arranged for the witnesses and the audience.

Bill Thompson was already sitting in the first row. When he invited me to sit next to him, I smiled and my shoulders relaxed. Bill and I were both born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he was the first faculty member I met when Tom and I started thinking about moving to Macomb in 2004.  Also, I like Bill’s company because his steadfast commitment to the quality of education at WIU and to our community inspires me.

An Administrative Law Judge entered and we rose.  She was tall, with dark hair neatly pulled back.   She wore a black jacket over a smooth dress and low black heels.

The witness stand consisted of a podium and a short and wobbly chair, so each witness tended to sink down behind the podium.  I busied myself thinking about how I’d keep my head visible above the podium when it was my turn.

I lengthened my spine when I took the witness chair, then raised my right hand to swear in.  The judge asked me to spell my name.  I did, careful to make sure “t” didn’t sound like “d” and “v” didn’t sound like “b.”  (Don’t want the record to show my name is “Sdoball.”)

There were several thick binders on the stand in front of me.  Our attorney told me to open one of them to a tabbed page in the middle.  I tucked my foot under my skirt to prop me up high enough to maneuver the heavy binder.

The dialogue went something like this:

UPI attorney:  (Referring to the open page of the binder) Is that your testimony?

Me:  (I nod yes)

UPI attorney:  Yes. (she looks at me to let me know I must answer verbally for the transcript.)

Me:   Yes.

UPI attorney: Have you re-read your testimony from the supplemental hearing?

Me:  Yes.

UPI attorney:  Is that testimony correct?

Me:  Yes.

The UPI’s attorney recited a similar line of questioning for the Interim Provost, who, like me, opened the binder to her testimony and answered “yes,” but minutes before, she had given a different testimony to the administration’s attorney, so I wondered which testimony she intended to stand by.

I left the Balandic building feeling good, that the UPI’s case on my behalf was strong and rigorous, and that the administration’s arguments were weak and self-contradicting.

But, I’ve left every single one of the previous five hearings believing that the UPI’s arguments were far stronger than the administration’s, more consistent with what a university is and how one functions, and yet, here I am, at the end of year three, still not reinstated.

However, the arbitrator has kept open for me a possible path back into the classroom.  We might say that the path is muddy and overgrown, but still a path.

The larger picture here is that my firing is a measure of this administration’s refusal to defend the quality of education at Western Illinois University.  General Education in the liberal arts and sciences, not trendy career training, defines a university degree.  I taught general education every semester.  (I also taught upper-level and graduate courses.)  I am a part of what makes WIU a timeless degree, not a trendy one.

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The Balandic Building sits two blocks south of the river.

Making me “whole,” as the arbitrator has required the administration to do, makes the university more whole, in the sense of more perfect, more like a university.