Exposing an Ideology of Hate, Resisting with Hope

In its narrow agenda to realign Western Illinois University, the WIU administration has inflicted so much destruction on us that it’s hard to know how to start to expose the hateful ideology beneath their narrative.  The attack on gender diversity is extreme, so why not start with women and then move to the equally appalling attacks on the Liberal Arts and the values we hold dear?

Women suffered 16 of the 21 firings this June:  16 divided by 21 is 76 percent.  I keep calculating that over and over and every time, the quotient is 76 percent of the layoffs were women.  I’d love to be wrong.  Women, at 63 percent (roughly, because the list fluctuated, but either way, it was mostly women) of the 2015 firings, were already forced to bear the brunt of the layoffs.

I open a tab to WIU’s missions and values and find that WIU professes to be committed to “critical thinking . . .  equity, social justice, and diversity.”  There’s a gap between what WIU says it values and  what the current administration does, because when you fire mostly women, a group that was already underrepresented among faculty, you are very uncommitted to equity, social justice, and diversity.

And when you eliminate Women’s Studies and African American Studies, and continue to fire their faculty, you are very uncommitted to equity, social justice, and diversity.

And what about diversity of academics?  WIU just fired political scientists, a philosopher, a scholar of Asian religion, and many others who were essential to diversity of offerings at WIU.  We can’t be all things to all people, says the provost, but that is a distraction: as long as we call ourselves a university, we must act like a university.  What we cannot allow ourselves to be is a Center for Centers of Excellence, which is a farce.

WIU’s realignment is not new, but it’s newly extreme and newly confusing.  And we must not tire of the act of exposing how false and ridiculous the WIU administration’s narrative is.

They made a flow-chart-type thing about “Centers of Excellence.”  In reality, there’s no actual centers and there’s no excellence, apart from what our professors in diverse areas  had been doing since well before I came to WIU in 1987.

There are no “centers,” unless “center” means “all across the university.”

It doesn’t.

There are colleges that house particular programs and disciplines in a way that has been academically logical.  But now, do we have colleges or do we have centers?  Where are the centers?  Are Economics and English going to share the same physical space?  None of this is explained in this graphic:

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How did English qualify to make it into a “Center of Excellence,” while History did not?  Was there a systematic study of the English professors vs. the History professors?  Have the History professors not published enough or won enough awards?  Or does “excellence” actually have nothing do with academics?

And, considering the wide-spread fear of police abuse –sexual assault and shooting of un-armed black women and men–, how did LEJA qualify as a “service”?  If my sisters and brothers I protested with in the Poor People’s Campaign are afraid to leave the house for fear of being shot by police, I’d call that a disservice.  Given that black people are three times more likely than whites to be shot by police, and that black victims are less likely to be armed than whites, black people have good reason to fear police.

If I were sexually assaulted by an officer (and one woman at least every five days is), I’d call that a disservice.  Sexual assault is against the law, and  police are supposed to enforce the law, not violate it.

If law enforcement is going to be considered a “service,” then our WIU LEJA students should be required to take several classes in Women’s Studies and African American Studies, but we fired those faculty. Additionally, we should require Latinx Studies, as well as literature and philosophy.  And future police should study with labor historians.

And, as my friend pointed out, how can you separate GIS from Geography and call it “excellence?”

Since there’s no centers, and the administration is destroying the excellence we once had cultivated, how do we explain the realignment?

My questions go to the extreme neo-liberal ideology of the the Koch brothers and their allies, including Bruce Rauner and Tom Cross of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE).

Koch brother ideology is anti-poor people, anti-voter, anti-library, anti-education, anti-worker, anti-environment, antiwoman, anti-black, anti-Native American, anti-academic, anti-gay, anti-public transit, and anti-health care.    Plus, Koch money funds white  supremacy.  They force a cynical agenda of hate on public universities.  Koch brothers and their and their allies influence the IBHE, which WIU President Jack Thomas sits on.

An ideology of hate, not excellence, drives WIU’s realignment.  A resistance of love and hope will restore us to a university that is genuinely committed to diversity, equity, and social justice.

Unkoch the IBHE.

Unkoch public education.

 

 

 

 

Rural Illinois Poverty in the National Press

I’m so pleased to publish my article about the Poor People’s Campaign and the impoverishment of  Western Illinois in the digital version of the national magazine, In These Times.  This is my first national op. ed. since Western Illinois University terminated my contract over a year ago, and I’m happy to have found other satisfying work (that, I hope, will pay at some point).

But more than personal satisfaction, what I want is that we work together, rural and urban, rich and poor, black and white, etc., to protect geographic diversity in the MidWest and to create a kind and just economy for everyone.

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Banner from website

Stronger Together Through Personally Supporting WIU’s Fired Faculty

The best things you can say to and do for someone who is fired from Western Illinios University are

  1.  How are you? This sounds simple, but you must stop everything you are doing, stand still, and hold their eyes, and say it more slowly than usual.
  2.   I support you and I will join in to fight to restore you to your rightful position at WIU.  This can mean supporting the union, but it will probably mean volunteering countless hours to getting out the vote for the John Curtis Campaign, as well as for JB Pritzker.  Most importantly, the fight to restore WIU means we must unite and support each other’s disciplines and programs.
  3. Ask the person who was fired to tell you her or his WIU story.  This might be painful and scary because you will hear how dedicated they were over decades, and fear about your own job may rise up, but listen and stay with the story.
  4. Tell them that what they are going through must be so hard and awful.  Understand that the fired faculty’s identity as a teacher and academic is deep and dear.  Teaching, especially in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a calling, a vocation, almost religious in nature.  We feel a great deal of satisfaction and contentment about giving students knowledge and tools that no one can ever take away from them.  Firing faculty is a blow to the soul.

Some things that people did or said to me that didn’t help:

  1.  Suggesting I move on before my grievance, arbitration, and appeal process is over.
  2. Minimizing the impact of the firing.
  3. Inventing a narrative about my rank and seniority:  Oh, you were the junior person in your department. (Not true.), or Oh, you weren’t here that long. I was here 12 years when my contract was terminated.  When I was laid off, there were 200 or 300 faculty with less rank and seniority than I had. To justify targeting the heart of the university (tenured professors and others who’ve served this institution for decades), WIU said they had to “realign” staff.  That ain’t right.  Realignment is for tires–not human beings.  We reject an administration that treats us like objects.

On firing tenured faculty:

Most of us in the Liberal Arts and Sciences pursue PhDs because we find enrichment and personal growth in the rigor of academics–not because we believe our degrees entitle us to a better life than other hard-working folks.  Tenure exists–and must exist–to protect academic freedoms, and that’s important, but everybody deserves a good and stable income with health care.  Everyone deserves income stability.

They can take my job, but they can’t take my PhD or my decades of experience.  Since being laid off, I have explored ways to re-invent myself, and in that exploration, my degrees and experience are invaluable.  I am thankful for them. However, after a year, I have yet to succeed in re-inventing myself, and honestly, employers aren’t that interested in middle-aged women who’ve “re-invented” themselves.

I am a teacher, and I will fight to see my rightful position at WIU restored. I will fight for yours, as well.  We will fight together.