Serve the Public, Please

Dissenting community members filled the Board of Trustees meeting today.  We came to stand with Tri States Public Radio.img_0627.jpg

I’ve been reading George Orwell’s 1984.  I’ve seen others at Western Illinois University reading it, too.

1984 is a dystopian novel in which the main character fears the “Thought Police.”  Every day, government workers are required to assemble for the “Two minutes hate.”  Dissent is met with “vaporization.”  Propaganda and surveillance control citizens.

The job of 1984‘s protagonist is, quite literally, to re-write history to conform to the narrative of those in  power and destroy any evidence of previous written history.  Those who publicly speak with historical accuracy are vaporized.  1984 is both a warning against and a commentary on fascism.

A historian spoke at today’s meeting.  He’s lived in Macomb for a half a century.  He said that the way the BoT and administration go about things is too secretive and too deaf to those of us who want the administration to talk about alternatives to wiping out local investigative journalism and original programming.  Why not cut back on athletics and upper administration? After all, a golf course or football field is not necessary for education and democracy.  Why not at least talk about it?  The BoT and Thomas administration did not acknowledge this question.

If the Thomas administration fires our local investigative journalists, they can turn the radio station into a marketing (propaganda?) machine that asks no hard questions and vacuums out dissent from the air.  They can play upbeat infomercial music and broadcast cheery voices that are always congratulatory.

Some community members reminded the administration that WIU is a public institution and TSPR is public radio.  WE are the public. These institutions are ours.  The job of WIU is to serve the public, and we were letting them know that they were not serving us.

President Thomas’s response was to tell a story about a baseball fan who heckled an umpire.  I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, but it seemed to be that when the public dissents, we are bad baseball fans, and he is the umpire, and it’s not his job to listen to us.

Over and over, I heard administrators claim that they are such good listeners and that they’ve held so many, many, forums and roundtables where they listen oh so carefully.  I sat on one of those round tables and the atmosphere was very tense and I was afraid to raise hard questions. Why did most of the people in the Grand Ballroom today feel they were not heard?  Have not been heard?

And why isn’t the administration attempting to bridge that gap between their claim that they listen to us on one side, and, on the other side, our insistence that we don’t feel listened to?

At least we were still allowed a little dissent, but before we were done speaking, the BoT chair said that it was against the “rules” to allow further pubic comment.  Time was up.

IMG_0640Two armed officers patrolled the hallway outside the Grand Ballroom. One, left, and the other, in a white shirt reflected in the mirror. Did armed officers surveil public meetings before December, 2015?  Who’s afraid of public radio supporters?  Are these officers serving the public? Or are they intimidating us?  Whom are they protecting?  Whom are they subjecting to surveillance?

For my Excellent Colleagues who are Fired

BUTTERNUT SQUASH FOR THE SHOCKED

In the puke-green kitchenette/meeting room in Morgan Hall that winter afternoon, we didn’t talk about the provost’s plan to fire faculty.  Instead, we tried (and failed) to figure why we were meeting, then adjourned.

At home in the kitchen, I put on my greasy hoodie that doubled as an apron, and placed a heavy wooden cutting board on my favorite corner of the counter—the one that gave me a view of Tom and the kids arriving home from work or sports.  I set a butternut squash on the board. The squash was longer than my hand and one end was wider than the other.

With my 10-inch chef’s knife, I sliced off the prickly stem, then turned the squash upright, held it with my left hand, and pierced it with the knife.  I was going for an even split, which took some effort. To stay on track, I cut into one end a little, then turned the squash over and started from the other end.  I repeated this procedure until the gashes on each side met, dividing the squash in half, exposing its insides—the world split open.

I dug my fingers into the slimy cavity of squash seeds and scooped them up with my hands, but I had to use a melon baller to remove the stubborn strings that clung to the orange flesh.

This was, it occurs to me now, the last activity I was engaged in before my worldview, my confidence in democracy, my confidence in the future, began to fracture into sharp edges, like a mason jar does when filled with boiling or freezing water.

My hands were still slimy when Tom walked in.  He had been at a UPI meeting.

He was breathing quickly and he didn’t ask me how my day had gone.

I washed the slime off my hands and gave him a kiss.

“Right there in the meeting, union leaders would interrupt discussion to announce they were getting emails from faculty asking for help.”

“Sounds like your meeting was more relevant than mine,” I said, smiling, holding on to the innocence I was about to lose.

“They were forwarding messages from their deans, who were forcing them to go to layoff meetings,” he said.

Tom did not change into his Cubby hoodie.

“Check your email.” He sat down in one of the tall chairs on the other side of the counter and waited.

I threw a chunk of butter in the squash cavities where the seeds had been, salted them, slid them into the oven, sat down next to Tom, and folded back the cover of my tablet.

There was an email from my dean, but that was not unusual.

What was unusual is that she addressed me as“Dr. Stovall,” not Holly.

At first, I saw only a bunch of hard black lines—like a set of weapons—bludgeons and swords.

“Here,” I passed the tablet to Tom.  “You read it.”  I looked towards the garlic that waited for me on the cutting board, stood up, and then sat back down.

“I don’t believe it,” Tom was right next to me, but he seemed far away.

I grabbed the tablet and forced myself to read the words, but I couldn’t make sense of them.  It was a joke, a mistake.

“I don’t believe it.  I don’t believe it.”

I posted on social media that I’d been laid off.  Maybe my media friends would also comment:  “I don’t believe it.”

I didn’t know what to do next, so I minced the garlic and tossed it into the pool of melted butter in the hollows of the baking squash.

My knuckle brushed against the red heat element and turned ashen, but I didn’t say “shit,” as I usually would have when cutting or burning myself in the kitchen.

Without turning on any lights, I went upstairs and lay down.

Tom, finally in his Cubby hoodie, sat on the edge of the bed next to me.

“Why don’t you come down and eat with us?”

“Eat?”

“Have dinner.”

I was grateful that he, the kind man in my life, was requesting something from me: share a meal with us, like we always do.

The kids had set the table.

The squash was soft and sweet.  I managed to swallow a few bites.

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My chef’s knife piercing a butternut squash. I’ve had this chef’s knife for 20 years. I keep it sharp, too.  Sharper knives are safer for cutting vegetables, because they give you more control.

 

 

I love Students of Western Illinois University

I attended the WIU university assembly, where I heard the message that if you dissent from the decisions of this administration, you don’t appreciate our students.

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Many faculty held up signs like this one at today’s assembly:  No More Faculty Layoffs

WIU students are the reason I continue this blog.

WIU students are the reason I want my job back.

WIU students are my students.

I miss my WIU students.

WIU students are the reason I dissent.

WIU students deserve an imaginative and critical education.

WIU students deserve tenured professors.

WIU students are dear to my heart.

I love many things about WIU students, but one is that they are first generation college students.

I also love it that WIU students have become more diverse over the last decade.

WIU remains less diverse than our counterparts–like SIU Carbondale or NIU.  In fact, when compared to the general population of the state of Illinois, non-Hispanic white students are actually over-represented at WIU.  In other words, if the “real world” is to be described in terms of the diversity of population demographics, then WIU is not yet the “real world,” but we are close.

In 2015 when I was laid off after working for many years with the promise of tenure, I was very hurt and angry, but I’ve had ample time to feel my own pain and to evaluate my career at WIU.  Now I know this:

I want to work at the historical WIU that meets the standards of a university, that not only states values of  equality, social justice, and academic rigor on its website, but works to close (not widen) the gap between those stated values and our current  policies and practices.

I want to work at the WIU that provides a general education that is deep and broad enough to prepare students to be citizens who value democracy.

A university educations that supports democracy is worth fighting for.  WIU students deserve it.

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Interim Admissions director Jason Woods spoke first at today’s university assembly.  President Jack Thomas, not visible here, must be sitting behind the podium.

 

 

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Pride and Shame and Resolution

I’m gearing up for my last layoff hearing, scheduled for next month. For years now at WIU, I have spoken the truth as I see it.

I feel pride about this blog at some moments, and other times, shame. I have often felt shame about speaking out, as if I were an impulsive little girl who acts impolitely.  Girls are supposed to be nice and polite and accommodating–all the sugar and spice that, actually, causes diabetes, so the bitter truth may actually be much better than the quick fix of the sweet stuff.

Early next month, I will testify before the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board in Chicago.  I see this last step from different perspectives:  it could mean this whole ordeal is almost over–I’ve jumped over all the hurdles and will be rightly restored to my position.  OR, it could be like tenure–a make or break situation where much is at stake and I could lose my position at WIU forever.

(Actually, WIU’s enrollment is so low, and the current administration so lacking in any will to correct it, that if we don’t replace the leadership soon, we could all lose our jobs. I often worry  it is already too late.)

For me, the important lessons are not rational ones, but ones of the heart, one of acceptance.  First, if I tell the truth as I see it, and that truth angers the powers at WIU, it’s best for me to simply accept the consequences.  Because by accepting the consequence, I live with more ease, with less anger.

After risking arrest for the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), I became more accepting of this “lesson.”  To tell the truth and expose injustice and a corrupt narrative of power entails consequences.  I stood with others in the PPC to block the busiest intersection next to the capitol in Springfield, Il.  That was a form of calling attention to the truth of poverty in this country.  I was risking arrest.  I knew.  I accepted the risk.

At WIU, I have not as easily accepted the consequences of telling the truth, as I see it, about the destructive actions of WIU’s current administration.

I rationalize the positions I take:  an institution that calls itself a university MUST make room for dissent, MUST protect those who dissent, MUST engage in self-criticism; otherwise, the degree we offer is a sham, an indoctrination, an instruction on how to follow orders and surveil others, a disempowerment.  And worse, we betray our students by failing to provide them with the kind of education that will empower them to be defenders of democracy.

Still, to articulate these points publicly makes me a traitor.  That’s fair enough, for  I AM a traitor, not to WIU, but to this current administration.  But it’s important to remember that first, WIU hired me for a tenure-track position and then this administration betrayed me by refusing to honor my tenure.  And they are betraying my colleagues, as well.

I still believe that if universities don’t won’t to honor tenure, then they shouldn’t offer tenure-track jobs.  How would we be able to recruit tenure-track faculty if candidates see that this administration doesn’t follow through with tenure?  University administrators must be competent enough to plan for the future and defend the tenure they’ve committed themselves to.

Fortunately, Western Illinois University has a strong faculty union (University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100) that understands what a university is and does.  Faculty are invested over the long haul.  Faculty are the ones who fight to make sure WIU remains a real university.  Most importantly, faculty work with students every single day.

As for my position at WIU, some sort of resolution is imminent, but what is important is the resolution in my heart.  Yes, I want my job back.  Yes, I want to be with my students in the classroom again, but also, YES, I’m glad I’ve spoken up and told the truth as I see it.  Too much is at stake to censor myself.  And YES, I will accept the consequences.