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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Slowing my Heart before the Hearing in Chicago

I wear a running watch to track my resting heart rate (RHR).  Research indicates a RHR below 70 beats per minute is optimal for a long, healthy life.  When I wake up I the morning, my RHR usually checks in around 66, but if I’m worried, stressed, or sick, it’s higher–a warning to slow down.


I wish they made these for smaller wrists!

Illinois has a special judicial system for education labor disputes, the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB).  I testify before it tomorrow.

The UPI’s attorney told me what to expect at the hearing.  She explained strategy and process.   Testimony should be easy, but I’m swearing in in front of a state board, so it’s enough to make me feel that something important is at stake.   After talking to the UPI’s attorney last week, that night I went to bed anxious and the next morning I frowned when I saw that my RHR rose above 70.

The following day, a union leader told me that the question before the labor board is one of process:  Has Western Illinois University complied with the process?  Does WIU have to comply with the process?  Phrasing it that way, so that I could better understand this long and complicated grievance, put me at ease.  My RHR slowed to 66.

In my early 40s, I was worried that my RHR was too high, so I started running.  I was in the middle of tenure track and my RHR was sometimes 80!  Running lowered it, but not enough.

Now, after a year’s break from WIU, and a heart rate that eased itself, I often wonder if it was the tenure track that prevented my heart from slowing down when I was at rest.  In hindsight, I sometimes think the tenure track was stripping me of the ability to relax.  I looked forward to completing tenure and believed that after the conferral, I’d be able to work with a slower heart rate.

It’s not that the requirements for tenure were excessive (I knew how to publish and teach); rather, it was the feeling that so much was at stake, that I had so much to lose.  If tenure was denied, I’d have to either end the career I’d invested decades in or move away from my family.  As long as my entire career was at stake, I could not rest, not even while sleeping.

In addition, I was anxious because I felt that I was being surveilled–that anything I said or did at work, or any public activism I engaged in, would be monitored and used against me.  Feminist activist academics developed Women’s Studies, which has always been a publicly critical and publicly engaged discipline.  I wanted my colleagues and administrators, especially, those with power over my tenure process, to say, “We support academic freedoms. We support dissent and diversity of perspective that is central to the discipline of Women’s Studies.”  They did not.  My heart raced.

Still, how would I have lived with myself if I had hidden the activist that I am?  If I would have silenced myself?  I would have felt like a coward in front of my students.  Maybe I erred on the side of too much critical dissent, and that’s okay too, because it’s not going to be perfect. Knowing I have acted in a way I believed was good and true eases my heart rate.

As it turned out, nothing was at stake because tenure at Western Illinois University no longer exists-not in any reliable way:  when administrators conclude they don’t need you, your tenure is irrelevant.  My heart speeds up with righteous anger.

In hindsight, the irony is dramatic:  I believed that the anxiety induced from working towards tenure would be temporary and worth the stability of having WIU commit to me and me to WIU; for that is how the contract (20:10) defines tenure.  The ability to reflect, because time has passed, slows my heart.

I’m not sure what’s at stake at tomorrow’s hearing.  (Backpay?  A path back into my Women’s Studies classroom?)  We could lose.

Wish me luck and thanks for reading.  As for me, I’m going to read a book.  Reading books, real books, slows the heart.


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?