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.)
UPI attorney: Have you re-read your testimony from the supplemental hearing?
UPI attorney: Is that testimony correct?
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.
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.