Today is my husband’s father’s death day–the anniversary of his death–January 25, 1985. Charles was a history professor at Western Illinois University from 1969 to 1984. This blog is the first of a 3-part series about my family members who died, each in January or February, while working or studying at WIU.
I didn’t personally know Charles G. Sadler, but I knew the grief from his loss, and I knew about the great education WIU dreamed of during Dr. Sadler’s career here.
I met Tom on the courthouse lawn two and a half years after his father died of cancer. Summer was easy. But the cold arrived, and snow piled up. Across the street from Macomb’s fire station, at the back door of what used to be the church parsonage, Tom would knock, or maybe he would just step inside, onto the square of linoleum, that place where you had to choose–either step up or down. Tom’s grief filled the landing immediately and I breathed in its heaviness. I was afraid of his sadness. I understand that now.
I long for Tom’s father’s presence at the Thanksgiving table, but I also long for that 20th Century historical period when state governments reached towards public greatness. During Charles’s tenure at WIU, faculty ran the university. Charles and his colleagues founded the professional union and the Western Organization for Women. They were public activists and intellectuals at once. When students occupied Morgan Hall in protest of the Vietnam War, Charles went in to talk to them, to keep the lines of communication open.
When Charles was teaching here, people valued education for education’s sake. Now, ideology has replaced values. Then, it did not occur to anyone that faculty had no basis “for determining what an education is,” as a WIU retiree recently wrote on social media. Most of the time between 1987 and 2007, I was getting an extensive education, at various levels and in different fields. I invested nearly 20 years enrolled in educational institutions, but, according to many folks today, I don’t know what an education is. Academics has always demanded discipline and focus, but now, it also demands a determination to take a stand when what you do is unpopular.
If the faculty-degrading comment on social media were an exception, it would be funny. It’s not an exception. The WIU administration has been belittling and degrading faculty for a decade. When I was on the President’s select inner circle of faculty, he told us that professors are lazy and spoiled (I’m paraphrasing). He saw the shock on my face, and he said he was speaking of people who were not in the room, and by that, I believe he meant faculty who had taken leadership roles in the University Professionals of Illinois. Belittling some faculty in front of others was unprofessional and wrong.
We have fallen so far from Dr. Sadler’s generation. Next to the red peppers in Hy-vee, I crossed paths with Charles’s closest colleague:
“I feel bad that I had such a great career and that WIU is so terrible for your generation of humanities scholars,” he said.
Then I felt bad that he felt bad! None of us have any power to choose the historical period we are born in.