Category Archives: Education

Schooldays

Glory Days

The blogger (in hat and shades) as a wayward youth with his posse.

What is it that they say about great minds? I’m not sure if I qualify but Athenae surely does. I had already planned to write about my schooldays then A did it and did it well:

I went to a Catholic college-prep high school, after 8 years of Catholic elementary. I did this because my family was Catholic, and religious schooling was important to my not-rich  parents and grandparents. And a hell of a lot of my fellow students did the same because their families were wealthy, and the Catholic schools were predominantly white.

I grew up in a different time and place. My mother’s favorite sister was a principal back home in Wisconsin. Mom believed in public education and the schools in San Mateo County, California were outstanding so I always attended public schools.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how DIVERSE my high school was. We lived in middle class Foster City, but our group of students was diverse in and of itself with a slew of Jewish and Asian kids in the mix. Then, there were the white working class kids from Shoreview just across the Bayshore Freeway from San Mateo High. The neighborhood around the school itself was largely working class African-American and Hispanic. Finally, there were the upper middle class kids from San Mateo Park and the big money kids from Hillsborough. That was where people like the Hearsts and the Crosbys lived. I’ve been away for a long time, but I assume the demographics of many of these areas are different in 2018; except the wealthier ones. The rich are always with us.

Our school’s diversity is one reason so many of the schoolmates I’m still in touch with are howling liberals. It may not have always been pretty, but we learned how to deal with different types of people without thinking of them as the OTHER.

One year there was some racial tension but the problem was largely between rival groups of jocks; one group were white rough boys, the other black football players and their hangers-on. It didn’t last long. The two groups resumed picking on the stoners, which was easier and more profitable. Who could complain to the Vice Principal about their weed getting stolen? Not that I know about such things…

I had a protector among the white jocks or hard guys as they called themselves. Kelly lived around the corner from me, our parents were friends, and we played little league baseball together. He played shortstop and I rode the bench but I had access to free Giants tickets, which made me a popular kid. I was mildly roughed up by some high school jocks once. I told Kelly and it never happened again. Thanks, man.

High school was where I met guys like Brett Kavanaugh. There were some wealthy parents who sent their kids to San Mateo High: many were members of the “greatest generation” and were on the frugal side. Besides, the school was academically excellent and our football, basketball, and track teams were competitive.  Because of that we got many wealthy jocks who might have gone to private schools in another time and place.

As I watched Kavanaugh testify, I thought to myself “I know the type.” He was the sort of kid who kissed up and kicked down. Prep school jock asshole Brett thought he was better than everyone else, especially students with a vagina, not a penis. He was a boozy Eddie Haskell, the phoniest choir boy who ever sucked up to grown ups while simultaneously bullying kids weaker than himself.

Essentially, Brett Kavanaugh is Donald Trump with brains. He’s lied and bullied his way through life and sees no reason to change. We saw the real Brett Kavanaugh last Thursday. His mask repeatedly slipped as he ranted and raved about left-wing conspiracies.  Ken Starr may be proud of him but his lies and extreme partisanship make him unfit for the Supreme Court. He may have gone to the right schools but he seems to have drawn the wrong lessons from them.

Let’s circle back to my schooldays and give the Kinks, Paul Simon, and Steely Dan the last word with some contemporaneous music. I really need to post Kodachrome since I quoted it in the post summary.



School Segregation and Brett Kavanaugh’s Entitlement Complex

Shot: 

I saw this growing up with kids in private high schools who had never been to public school. They really thought public school kids spent their days drinking paint before inevitably heading off to juvenile hall for an extended stay. This is a slight exaggeration, of course, but if the base assumption is that your private school is better, and some of your classmates aren’t exactly perfect, then Those Other Kids must be soooooo bad.

Chaser: 

So imagine my surprise when, thanks to the Facebook page for an upcoming high school reunion, I learned the school is getting a new $5.7 million stadium. The stadium will have artificial grass and a new track for WIAA events. The report I saw didn’t mention metal detectors, but it would be a good idea.

The new stadium is part of an $11 million improvement in athletic facilities for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), presumably so the little convicts can have the best facilities before being sent to the penitentiary.

I went to a Catholic college-prep high school, after 8 years of Catholic elementary. I did this because my family was Catholic, and religious schooling was important to my not-rich  parents and grandparents. And a hell of a lot of my fellow students did the same because their families were wealthy, and the Catholic schools were predominantly white.

This isn’t unusual. The Catholic Church in America benefitted immensely from the fears of white-flight parents who didn’t want their children attending segregated schools after Brown v. Board. These were the days before anyone with a haircut and a handshake could open a charter school. Holy Mother Church offered a network of private schools, already in existence, segregated by income rather than by law. Sign us up, suburban parents said, and their kids followed suit with their children.

And the propaganda they subjected themselves to was that all the city schools were horrific shitholes where you’d as likely be shanked by a gang member as take a math test. Poor kids went to those schools. Nobody ever flat-out said black and Hispanic kids went there, but the implication was pretty clear: public schools were for trash. OUR education was superior.

I dated a boy, late in high school, who went to a public school. He was a sweet kid who wasn’t unintelligent, but the way people reacted, you’d have thought he was a knuckle-dragging thug unqualified to work in a car-theft chop shop.

That’s the mindset the blogger quoted second up there, talking about Milwaukee Public Schools, is parroting. Poor kids, kids of color, can’t be educated, they’re just future criminals and should be treated as such. Of course, since they should just be warehoused until juvie can take over, we don’t need to adequately fund them or treat them like they matter at all.

And then we can hold ourselves above them, and pretend our drinking and rapey escapades are sophisticated fun because we go to the finest academies and learn from the best teachers in the cleanest buildings. As if it’s a law of nature and money and will had nothing to do with it at all.

For such people, people like Kavanaugh, of course it comes as a shock that not everybody thinks he’s hot shit just because he went to Yale. He’s been sequestered away from THOSE PEOPLE his entire life, and now he has to answer to them. To us. To all of us.

A.

All This … Or The Guns

We’ll take away every civil right you have, in the name of safety, before we pass some fucking gun laws that make sense in this country: 

Under the Salem method, threats are evaluated at a Level One stage by a school-based team that may include school police. If it is determined that parents would be constructive, they can be brought in during the process, the handbook says.

The handbook outlining the Salem method that Parkrose uses advises that aggression exists on a continuum, from a low end of “scratch, bite, hit” up to “rape, strangle, stab, shoot, bomb, kill.”

If school professionals remain unsure at Level One, the protocol goes to Level Two. A broader team completes a second analysis. In Sanders’ case, that included representatives from local police agencies, the county mental health office, a  child welfare agency and the county developmental disabilities office.

Proponents of threat assessments say they’re more effective than security measures that make a school feel like a prison. But their impact on students assessed as threats, rather than their value to the school as a whole, is rarely considered.

The impact on this student and his family is horrifying, and the impact on the school, equally so. I’d like to talk about the money.

Because of course, capitalist, but bear with me.

The school spends on school police. They spend on threat assessment protocols and handbooks and they spend on staff time going to meetings and trainings and I’m sure somewhere in here was a seminar/webinar with an insufferable powerpoint and the word “utilizing.”

When, if we had gun laws that made any sense at all in this country, if we had any kind of laws that made any kind of sense, we’d have guidance counselors, not threat assessors. For students with special needs like the one described in the story above, we’d have trained aides and accommodations that would make school and everything that goes with it a learning experience, not a motherfucking gauntlet.

Yes, we’d still worry about violence, about kids with knife collections or irrational grudges, but we wouldn’t worry about them re-enacting the opening of Saving Private Ryan on Senior Skip Day, because we’d do what these idiots up in that story are trying to do with “threat assessments,” and take care of our goddamn kids.

We could do all of that with the money we spend on the things we do instead of taking the guns. We are making these endless end-runs around the thing we think we can’t address and it’s so exhausting watching us lie to ourselves that we’re powerless, that we HAVE to do the threat assessments and the stupid meetings and spend more on school police when what we have to do is take away the guns.

It would be CHEAPER, Jesus, if that’s your only metric, if the flagrant civil rights violations aren’t apparent, if the counterproductive nonsense detailed above isn’t enough, if all that persuades you is the spreadsheet, think of how much time it would save.

We can do all of that, or we can take the guns. You tell me which sounds better. And then you vote in November for the people most likely to SOLVE the problem, instead of assessing the threat.

A.

Tenure: Thanks for fucking it up for everybody else

I’ve written before here about the fundamental misunderstanding most people have about tenure, including why it matters, how it works and what it’s supposed to provide. The simplest explanation is that tenure guarantees educators and scholars at institutions of higher education the right to fearlessly challenge convention within a field, seek scholarship in areas that might not jibe with social norms and conduct research in ways their expertise dictates is necessary and valuable.

It’s not meant to protect you when you act like a dick.

Unfortunately, the public seems to think that tenure does this, which is why they’re constantly looking for ways to eliminate it. The term “life time employment” is bandied about whenever tenure is discussed, as is the idea of ivory towers, elitism and generally haughty assholes.

And, again, when people like Randa Jarrar and John McAdams are in the news, it’s easy to see why the public thinks this way.

Jarrar, a creative-writing professor at Fresno State, took to Twitter in the wake of Barbara Bush’s death to call her “racist” and accuse her of having raised “a war criminal.” (I’m assuming she meant Millie, but I could be wrong.)

barbara

She then followed up with this gem:

In another tweet, the professor wrote: “I’m happy the witch is dead. can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeee.”

Of course, everything is subtle and nuanced on Twitter, so she completely solved the problem of a grieving nation in less than 280 characters…

Or, a large group of angry Twitter users started spreading this dung pile like Nutella all over the place, allowing CAPS LOCK NATION to come flailing at this educator.

And of course, because Twitter is a place of reason, logic and decency, Jarrar said she understood their point, she did not wish to continue the argument and she quietly let the issue die…

OR, she decided to fuck with each and every one of them over and over again, including posting what was supposedly her private phone number, but actually turned out to be a suicide prevention hotline in Arizona. This led to CAPS LOCK NATION flooding the center with threatening calls and preventing actual work from getting done, so that was helpful…

Still, of all the stupid shit that came out of this, the one that really had me considering a CAPS LOCK NATION MEMBERSHIP CARD was her mention that she had tenure and then this:

“I will never be fired.”

Fresno State says it’s “looking into the matter” which means that six people are now in a room going, “So… that happened…” Still, it’s better than what Marquette University is dealing with this week, thanks to an angry tenured professor on the other end of the political spectrum.

John McAdams is the poli sci prof and “everybody’s asshole grandpa in every bad comedy film” who used his blog as a cudgel against colleagues and foes alike. The university had a stack of paper on this guy dating back to the Clinton administration, all of which basically demonstrating he’s the exact reason people think tenure is a “Designated Asshole Pass.”

The U apparently found the straw that broke the camel’s back in McAdams’ post about a grad student teaching a class, in which a conservative student voiced an opinion the instructor found to be homophobic. McAdams posted about her by name and apparently encouraged people to “let your voice be heard,” which is a great code phrase for “break out the caps lock and call her a whore.” He apparently also was hostile to her, to the point where she dropped out of her program and finished elsewhere.

MU suspended McAdams and he’s now at the state’s Supreme Court, suing to get his job back. His argument is that tenure protects him and that his “free speech” on the blog should not allow for retaliation. (Point of order: Marquette is a private school, so this gets even weirder, as the court is clearly figuring out…)

So, to recap, two people who have diametrically opposing belief systems and who teach in two fields that just scream to John Q. Public “If my kid majors in this, he’s never getting a fucking job,” are espousing their rights to be assholes. They also are arguing their dickish behavior is protected by tenure so, “neener, neener, neeeeennnerrr…”

And academics wonder why people hate us…

Tenure is supposed to be a shield against the encroachment of external forces as we use our expertise to find out greater truths and research complex problems that may go against the societal grain. Running your mouth on social media and then hiding behind your “big friend” isn’t what anyone had in mind for this thing. Even more, all it does is really fuck over the rest of us who are actually doing those things and understand there is a concept called objective reality, something you bypassed long ago.

We’re like the people who are in a fraternity who have good GPAs, do good philanthropy work and then have to explain, “No, we’re not those idiots from Syracuse.” No matter what we say, people are still giving us the stink eye.

So, on behalf of the actual working scholars, academics and people who teach without managing to say shit like “y’know what’s wrong with the Coloreds these days,” I’d like to thank professors Jarrar and McAdams and others who think tenure is a lifetime “get out of fuckups free card,” thank you for fucking this up for the rest of us.

 

Good night, Jack Hamilton

(Posting a bit early because of a sad bit of news. Hope it’s acceptable. – Doc.)

Of all the baubles and trinkets I’ve collected over the years that adorn my office, one of my favorite ones is a baseball signed by Jack Hamilton, who died earlier today.

Hamilton

The reason I got it was that I taught one of his grandchildren during one of my many stops in journalism education. I still remember her approaching me during our introductory reporting course to ask for special dispensation when it came to her profile.

“I know you said that we can’t do this on family members, but…” she began.

I had heard all sorts of excuses over the years: “I don’t have time to find anyone else,” or “My mom is my hero” or “I don’t know who else I’d do.”

I kind of did that “Justify your existence” thing and said, “Who and why?”

The answer was “My grandfather and he used to pitch in the major leagues.”

I decided it would be OK. After all, I let some kid do a piece on her grandmother because she was Jerry “Beaver Cleaver” Mathers’ mom, so why not a pitcher? Besides, I liked baseball. It was only after she turned in the piece that I realized who this man was.

Jack Hamilton had a relatively pedestrian career record of 32-40 during the heart of the 1960s. He bottomed out with Cleveland and the White Sox in 1969, going 0-5 before retiring. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, he wasn’t a giant, but a solid man who could mix his pitches well. His best season ended up being his most memorable one for all the wrong reasons.

In 1967, he started 2-0 for the New York Mets, who sent him to the Angels for Nick Willhite, who would retire from the game following a 0-1 campaign for New York that season. He was 8-2 and on the way to his only double-digit winning season on Aug. 18 when he threw the pitch that would define his career.

“It was a fastball that just got away.” I remember reading that line in my student’s profile. It stuck with me all these years and it hung with me today. I never heard the man’s voice, but I can hear it over and over in my head.

The one that “got away” smashed into the head of Boston’s Tony Conigliaro, a promising slugger who had already hit 100 home runs faster than any man in the game. The pitch fractured Tony C’s cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and damaged his retina. He sat out all of 1968 and would never really become the player everyone thought he would be.

Hamilton finished the season with an 11-6 record, but he too would never be the same.

“I had trouble pitching inside,” he told his grand-daughter. I didn’t blame him.

I remember reading that profile my student wrote, almost in awe and yet almost in shame. I felt like I was leering in on this man’s most difficult moment. I was thinking, Good God, man… you let this student ask her grandfather about all this? The hell is wrong with you? Still, I had to grade the thing so I kept on reading and I was glad I did.

He left baseball and settled in Branson, Missouri, where opened up several restaurants and raised a family. People liked him for who he was then, not because he was “a former baseball player.” He was just a great guy.

A year or two later, the student was working in the newsroom near Thanksgiving when we started chatting about something or other and she mentioned she was going home for the break.

“Are you seeing your grandpa?” I asked. “If so, tell him I loved reading about him.”

She said she was and that he’d be glad to hear that someone liked reading his story. I laughed a bit and tossed in a line: “Tell him I’d love to have his autograph.”

When she returned from Thanksgiving, she handed me a baseball. She had explained our exchange to her grandfather and my ask, he got this great big smile on his face and asked, “Really?” He then went out and actually bought a baseball so he could sign it for me. (I would have taken a turkey-stained napkin, for Pete’s sake.) His hand writing was a tad jittery, but right across the sweet spot, he inked his autograph for me.

I bought a plastic container to display it and subsequently found a 1968 copy of his baseball card. It was amazing but I could really see the family resemblance between that man on the card and his grand daughter in my class. I found it to be a nice reminder of a wonderful moment.

He also served as a reminder to me about how life can mix things up on you from time to time, but in the end, if you know who you are and you value the right things, everything will turn out OK. When I finished reading the profile on him, I felt I knew him and how he had become comfortable in his own skin.

He was just the kind of person you’d want as a grandpa.

So, good night, Mr. Hamilton. I hope you are at peace knowing you really were an incredible man.

Parsing the Medill #MeToo Debacle

Yes, even at the Jesus H. Christ School of Journalism Gods, people can be total dipshits:

Ten women released an open letter on Wednesday accusing Northwestern University Professor Alec Klein of persistent sexual harassment and bullying since he has been at the helm of the school’s “crown jewel” investigative journalism program.

Calling it the storied journalism school’s “#MeToo Moment,” the eight former students and two former staffers of the Medill Justice Project wrote that Klein’s “controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior has to end.”

Klein, who has been at Northwestern for a decade and in charge of the Justice Project since 2011, has taken a leave of absence while the university sorts out all the allegations brought forth in the letter. This is likely to take some time, as a) digging into charges that range back five or more years isn’t easy and b) the women who signed the letter set up an email address for others to use if they want to add their stories regarding Klein and his behavior toward them.

Klein’s lawyer, Andrew T. Miltenberg, issued a statement that really does a nice job of making him look guilty as hell:

“While Mr. Klein denies the allegations that are being made, he intends to respect the confidentiality and privacy of Northwestern University and its internal process,” Miltenberg wrote. “It is unfortunate that these allegations are being made in a rush to judgment, denying Mr. Klein of due process. We are confident that upon review, the allegations will be determined to have been unfounded.”

If you are playing “clearly guilty bingo jargon,” you probably got the cover-all here: “denies allegations,” “respect the confidentiality” “respect the… process,” “rush to judgment,” “due process” and unfounded allegations.

Klein, for his part, issued a letter that blamed all of this on a “disgruntled employee” and then pivoted to how great his teaching evaluations have been.

The university conducted an extensive investigation, interviewing current and former employees, former students and others, and reviewing emails, expenses and other records. The complaint was determined to be completely unfounded. I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the claim was dismissed. The university determined the complainant was not credible and documented, through records and her own words, several falsehoods in her charges.

Klein, a journalist, needs to be a little more accurate here. According to media reports, the claim was not “completely unfounded,” but rather it was a situation where the U declined to roll the dice on pursuing it because it didn’t think it had enough to get the goods on him. It’s like that line from “And the Band Played On,” about what do we think, what do we know and what can we prove? In this case, you couldn’t prove the situation was rotten but it did have some serious stank on it. The school paid Olivia Pera off and as part of the payoff, the rule was that she couldn’t reapply for a job, not that she would want to:

 

“I went through absolute hell,” Pera said. “My family saw me go through such personality changes. My son saw me crying every day. That’s not something your kid should see. I have nothing but bad memories of Northwestern.”

The allegations regarding Klein are problematic, and there is nothing I would like more than to jump up and down on this guy. I have frequently come out against professors who treat students like sexual canapes, the arrogance of the elitism that comes with places like the Med-Dildo land that is that journalism school and people who are generally sleazy fucksticks. That said, there are really two sets of allegations here and they need to be separated before hanging this guy from a yardarm.

First set: He’s a sexually sleazy, lecherous fuck:

And let’s be clear: Some of us have also experienced sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

  • He attempted to kiss a prospective employee, prior to hiring her. On the same occasion, he asked if she smoked marijuana and asked to smoke with her and ordered her several cocktails.

  • He asked a female employee to come to his hotel room “for drinks” on a business trip.

  • He gave unwanted neck massages while a female employee was trying to work.

  • He asked for a hug in return for giving an employee a requested day off.

  • He made other unwarranted physical contact, such as grabbing a student’s hand during conversations

  • He made sexually graphic remarks at work

  • He talked about his sex life and pressed for explicit details about others’

  • He frequently commented on employees’ physical attractiveness, appearances, attire and bodies

  • He told female students they would be good fits for broadcast journalism because they were “good-looking.

  • He asked if an employee was having another baby when she mentioned that her stomach hurt

  • He asked an employee if she was a stripper

  • He sent texts “intended for his wife” to a female

 

I’ll give him a pass on the text issue, as my Twitter followers have often been subjected to the, “So do we still need milk?” Tweets when I fucked up and hit the wrong button. Other than that… What the fuck? Your students are not a smorgasbord of pussy, so knock it off. And as for the asking the woman back to your hotel room thing, could you be any more sleazy while still being cliche? If you’re not with your wife and you suddenly have that pent up dick rage you seem to possess, there is nothing dumber than what you attempted to do. Here’s some advice: Go back to your room, find that little bottle next to the conditioner and go fly a solo mission.

Second set of allegations: He’s a fucking miserable human being:

Let’s start breaking these into “zones of danger.”

  • He repeatedly accused students of insubordination and reprimanded them to the point of tears over minor or perceived offenses, such as pushing back on an editorial misjudgment or offering an alternative method to pursue an investigation, or agreeing with a peer’s suggestion instead of what Alec Klein proposed. Several of us were summoned into his office individually, made to sit on a short cushion in a corner as he hurled accusatory vitriol about our mistakes and then refused to accept any apology. He sometimes retaliated by lowering students’ final term grades even though these disagreements had nothing to do with academics.

  • He retaliated against an employee by giving her a poor performance review after she defended herself against his verbal abuse.

  • He has yelled at employees and students and accused them of “ignoring him” for not immediately answering his phone calls or emails — at times, outside of working hours, or when one employee was on vacation, despite her returning his call within a few minutes.

  • He continued to show retaliatory behavior after discovering that students went to senior staff at Medill to voice their concerns about him.

  • He was openly dismissive in class to a student who struggled with English and made it apparent that he did not like her Middle Eastern accent. According to this student, he “killed” her confidence and made her feel like “nothing,” and he screamed at and hung up on her friend whom she had put on the phone with him for help.

The concept of retaliation, reprimand and dismissiveness are often in the eye of the beholder, especially in student-faculty relationships. Not saying these things didn’t happen, but on occasion students aren’t as amazing as they think they are and any attempt to demonstrate that is likely to lead to “melting snowflakes.” It also pains me to say this, but I have found that students at some of the best (as in most prestigious, highest ranked etc.) institutions are the ones that are the least able to deal with hearing that they don’t quite measure up. If I had a nickel for every time a kid blamed a bad grade on me or cried over not being told he or she was perfect in every way, I wouldn’t need a job any more. This group needs more cooking before it becomes soup.

Chunk two:

  • He has said: “You aren’t as smart as you think you are ”

  • He has said: “You will never be a journalist.”

  • He told one of us, after learning her mother is a professional writer: “Your mother is a writer, I’d expect you to be a better writer.”

  • He told one of us she needed an A- to earn his recommendation. He later promised a male student in the same class a recommendation in exchange for a B+.

  • He scolded employees for “taking too much credit” for their work and in one instance denied any credit until proof was provided.

When I hear back from students years later, I find out that a lot of shit came rolling out of my mouth that I can’t believe actually did. Part of it is working in a newsroom environment. Part of it is finding the need to buzz a kid with a fastball to back him or her off the plate a bit. Part of it was that I fucked up and learned that I needed to smooth off some of the rough edges. Part of it is that I’m just a dick sometimes, despite my best efforts.

I’ve said the first one, I’m sure. The second one was actually said to me when I was in high school, by a female teacher. She told me that not only would I never be a journalist, but that I’d never be ANYTHING and that I needed to go to a trade school if I wanted to be able to support a family. The third one is weird. The fourth one is something that I could easily see happening. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday as opposed to who I promised what to whom. The last one, again, some kids need to get backed off the plate or forced to prove stuff. Even students I’ve had dead to rights on plagiarism or other such things would deny it and threaten and bluster until I literally had to say, “You bring your proof and I’ll bring mine and we’ll see what the U has to say.” Then, they fucking crumbled. If these items alone were the basis for a complaint, I could see how the admin would wave this off and call it a day.

CHUNK 3:

  • He often required excessive and unnecessary closed-door meetings during which he pressed several of us to divulge deeply personal details about our lives, only to later use this information against us as a tool of manipulation.

  • He questioned whether an employee had actually attended her grandfather’s funeral after she had requested and taken the day off.

  • He has said about and to female students that they are “too emotional” and “immature.”

This is really problematic stuff in that a) it shows a gender bias and b) it infuses him into the private lives of his students and employees. The gender thing is already discussed above. The other one is something that is an issue because we have to draw lines as faculty and prevent ourselves from crossing them. I have always told newsroom students that I don’t care who you’re sleeping with or what you’re drinking or where you threw up last night. That’s none of my business. However, if I can’t get photos for the front page because my design editor was sleeping with the photo editor, but now they broke up and they’re not talking… OK, NOW I have to care.

I think logically that a lot of this stuff in chunks one and two wouldn’t be as horribly problematic if it weren’t for the first set of allegations (stuff on the harassment) and the last chunk of section two (getting involved in their business). Yes, this isn’t nice workplace behavior in those other two subsections, but I found out something once about stuff like this: There’s no law that prevents people from being an asshole at work.

I had a long discussion with HR and with a harassment specialty lawyer when I was getting knocked around by a particularly shitty colleague in ways like those listed in the two  (non-sex stuff) chunks. I was told, “Look, this isn’t good and he shouldn’t be able to do this, but there is no law against him being a dick.” I wasn’t pleased with that answer, but I got it.

However, there ARE laws about getting your business into my private business. There ARE laws about keeping your fucking hands to yourself and not treating everyone like they’re a fuckdoll with a personality, installed at work for your amusement.

And those laws need to be enforced everywhere, including this situation.

There are always people like this.

Somehow, she thought this was OK.

Something, somewhere in her life convinced Harley Barber that it was OK to open her mouth and pour forth a river of vile, putrid, ignorant racism.

Somehow, she figured she’d get away with it. Maybe it was her “finsta” profile, a fake Instagram account that she erroneously thought would provide her with the anonymity to act with impunity. Maybe it was alcohol or the invincibility that comes with youth that told her nothing bad would happen because nobody knew her or nobody took this stuff seriously. Maybe it was a life of privilege or a “mob mentality” that gave her a sense of protection from whatever might be out there.

Maybe, she didn’t care who saw it or what they thought.

After all, as she pointed out multiple times, she’s in the South, where denigrating people based on the color of their skin seemed to be as normal as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. After all, she’s from NEW JERSEY, which gave us such greatness as Chris Christie’s bloated bravado and the anger-soaked rhetoric of “The Sopranos.”

After all, she has a fur vest from Nieman Marcus, bitches, so don’t fucking think of “snaking” her again.

Like many people, I watched the first video, and shook my head at the stupidity of her thoughtless words. What the fuck is wrong with her, I asked myself. I wonder how she’s going to try to get out of this.

Like many people, I watched the second video where she… whatever the infinity factor of “doubled down” is on her racist tirade, dropping n-bomb after n-bomb as a dare, shouting that she couldn’t give a fuck less if it was Martin Luther King Day. It was like watching a car wreck unfold in front of me on the highway: First a swerve, then a skid, then suddenly it was flipping over and over and over before catching fire and exploding in the ditch.

As she finished up and the video halted, my throat locked and my mouth filled with ashes. I thought about her parents. I thought of them because of the simple rule my father gave me when he sent me off to college: “Have fun, do whatever you want, but don’t bring shame on the family. It’s my name, too.” I lack the capacity to imagine what my father would have thought if a horrific personal failing on my part had made the family name the number one trending story on the Washington Post’s website for an entire day.

(Her estranged mother stepped forward today and said she completely agreed with the decision Alabama made to rid itself of her daughter. She said the child was not raised to be a racist, although with the few exceptions of those people in scary documentaries on the Klan, I can’t think of anyone who would state their child had been raised for such a purpose.)

What I do know is that various people will take various things from this incident. Perhaps those who view the Greek system as elitist and racist will have another exhibit in their case against it. Perhaps students will see that there is no fool-proof level of privacy in a digital age and once again, we have a fool who proved it. Perhaps social media users will understand that they are always playing with live ammunition and that consequences exist for every action taken in the public arena.

Unfortunately, few people will take away the one thing we all need to understand when it comes to our humanity and our ability to live and breathe as a nation. For every poverty-soaked redneck who sees their losses as the black man’s gains and for every person who professes love for the “history” of the Confederacy and for “fogey” who “just grew up in a different time,” we likely have at least one Harley Barber.

Harley Barber is 19. She is from the “union” side of the fight. She has the money to attend an out of state school and pledge a sorority. On the surface, she would lack any reason to harbor the racist resentments we can so easily ascribe to those fungible elements of time, place and deprivation listed above. And yet there she was, not “making a mistake” of using race as a costume or “failing to fully grasp” what it meant to appropriate another person’s culture, but rather defiantly displaying her racial animus.

The thing people need to understand is that there are Harley Barbers all around us, quietly lurking, politely nodding and peacefully existing. They “pretend to like black people” enough that on the surface, there’s no reason to think otherwise. They are the “least racist people” you would ever know. Until they reveal themselves with an n-bomb, a “Miss Housekeeper” comment or a general flinch of disgust about “those people.”

In each of those people, under that polite surface and those occasional dermis-level glimpses rests the heart and soul of that video: A rich, thick hatred that only lies dormant because to release it would be to their demise.

We Want To Be Good

Look how they’ve exceeded their goal: 

I am Samierra Jones, a Senior at Coppin State University and a graduate of Baltimore City Public School system. Baltimore City Public Schools are currently operating with an inadequate heating system. Students are still required to attend classes that are freezing and expected wear their coats to assist in keeping them warm. How can you teach a child in these conditions? This fund raiser will  help  in purchasing space heaters and outerwear to assist in keeping these students warm. To raise $20,000 would be enough to cover the fees of Go fund Me and purchase roughly 600 space heaters, outerwear, and it will cover the processing fee for Go Fund Me.

A lot of the comments on this are rightly castigating American society for creating a situation in which strangers have to pitch in to heat a classroom for students to learn. That is disgusting. It’s ridiculous that we can fund a plane that doesn’t take off or land, and a war that won’t ever be won, and a tax cut for a billionaire, instead of funding heat in our schools. It’s absurd.

And maybe the most absurd thing about it is the way in which it points out the lengths to which decent people of good will will go in this society to continue upholding the social contract no matter how often their leaders tell them they don’t have to.

Look at what happened here. Strangers pitched in. Strangers exceeded the $20,000 ask by more than $50K. Strangers covered the costs for people they have never met and will never meet. Strangers kicked in small amounts and it added up to enough to solve a problem no one person could have solved on his or her own.

That’s government. That’s all it is. Pooling a small amount of our resources to provide resources for everyone.

And in the absence of government, in the face of the deliberate abdication of government, after 40 years of tax cuts and posturing about graft and fairytaling about our supposed desire to not have any government ever because welfare queens or something, people all over the place are trying to say through the Internet that fuck your selfishness, we will do this anyway.

This isn’t me justifying private charity being a substitute for government action. It’s me saying that our natural impulse is to take care of each other. Given the chance, given enough high-traffic retweets and attention, we respond to these things. We push and change and fight for each other. It’s what we’re made for. It’s how we live and that instinct is knit into our muscles and bones.

It’s why it took them so fucking long.

It took Republicans YEARS, years on every level from municipalities to the White House, to destroy the human voice that wakes us, that says our fate is your fate. It took them DECADES of daily propaganda, of beating their drums as if the sun never set, saying no, no, no, no. Saying we can’t afford to be brave and generous and decent and true. Saying we can’t afford to help one another, to open our hands and offer our shoulders. Saying we shouldn’t do this anymore. It took them AGES to get us to where we are, to make us this small and this mean.

And still, people say, I can help. Let me help. Still.

We pass the word. We give what we can. Some give more. Some give less. But we give, and instead of just being infuriated by the idea that you should have to beg for your very life, we should be looking at examples like this and saying they signify the will to care for one another still remains.

No matter what they tell us. No matter how loud they shout. No matter how many lies they thread into the tax code and how many cautionary tales they spin about fraud and waste and inefficiency and paralyzing fear.

We are big enough for things like this. And we will keep doing them, whether you want us to or not. Candidates for office should take note, and call this what it is, this extension of what we have to care for all of us. They should call it government, and run on it as much as they run for it.

A.

Fake News Happens Because of YOU, Kids!

Learn to diagram sentences properly because SLJKFL’SKJDFDL;KFSJARGLEBLARGE: 

The ancestral lineage of fake news is easy to trace. It winds back through the birther movement and Benghazi, as a tool for weakening political opponents. It filtered through Sarah Palin, who never said she could see Russia from her house, and Al Gore, who never said he invented the internet — myths that hardened into seeming truths due to repeated retelling. It has silly origins, as networks begged us to believe that reality TV was real. It had sinister origins, as W. begged us to believe that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq.

Okay, so at least we’re admitting this predates Trump and Russia, and that someone profits from political division. Don’t love the “both sides” business, but Sarah did get a raw deal on that one considering how much stupid shit she ACTUALLY said.

We are at this point in the column the optimist who jumped off a building. So far, so good.

Yet the origin of fake news, as it applies to modern times, is not important. What’s important is the acceptance of fake news. How did we go from a nation of skeptics to a nation of carp, blindly slurping up every bit of rot that wafted to the bottom of the lagoon?

There might be no better place to start searching for answers than in the English classrooms of our public schools, which in the latter half of the 20th century bought into the idea of descriptive linguistics, or the notion that rules were overrated.

There’s the crash.

Let’s not talk about Rupert Murdoch’s money or the benefits to the wealthy that result. Let’s talk about what public school kids learn in English class!

Language evolves, the thinking went, so instead of fighting it, why not roll with it?

This gave teachers permission, of sorts, to avoid the hard work of beating proper English into the skulls of balky kids.

Diagramming sentences became passé, and the finer points of the language were lost as students were basically allowed to make it up as they went along.

I’m … not sure you can go from the passing of the diagrammed sentence in public school to W’s weapons of mass destruction bullshit, given that W and almost every TV personality who reported on him in any significant way was a private school kid.

In some ways I understand where this dude is going but knowledge of dangling modifiers and incorrectly placed prepositions can’t replace a finely tuned bullshit detector.

Yet in English classes, the resulting lack of intellectual discipline and critical thinking has startling similarities to the sloppy thought that has elevated fake news from a strategic political endeavor to a big-box store of wholesale lunacy. “Efforting” might not be a real word, but it doesn’t matter because everyone will know what it means; Hillary might not have actually had a disloyal campaign aide killed, but it doesn’t matter because everyone knows that’s the way the Clintons operate.

Oh for God’s sake. These aren’t abstractions. People don’t believe “fake news” because language is evolving. They believe “fake news” because regressive segregationist propaganda tools harnessed the recognizable language and conventions of objective journalism in order to turn the electorate against Democrats and moderate Republicans, whip up fears about black crime and immigration, and aim reasonable concerns about violence — that would otherwise be directed at the NRA — at the owner of your neighborhood falafel stand.

The real mystery isn’t why people believe fake news. It’s why we reserve our greatest contempt for the buyers of bullshit and not the sellers. Your dumb second cousin Pete thinks Hillary invented AIDS and that’s not okay for Pete, but when we’re done critiquing Pete’s grammar can we maybe talk about who got paid to make Pete believe what he believes?

Those English teachers who come under so much criticism here? They’re teaching to GOP-mandated tests and filling out assessment forms while their budgets are being slashed and they’re buying their own paper and fundraising for chairs and the next town over just shot down a tax increase of half a percent to pay for heating the building because a charter-funded ad campaign told them teaching kids to read shouldn’t cost more than a large Diet Coke at McDonald’s.

Why don’t you diagram that.

Via Forward Falcon.

A.

Graduation Day

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”
– Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”

“My parents’ basement.”

Those three words kept coming up this week as I met with student after student who planned to graduate Saturday.

The phrase has become a metaphor that indicates success or failure, with fear driving 20-somethings desperately away from it.

Am I going to find a job or will I have to live there?

Will this job pay me enough or will I have to stay there?

My dad keeps telling me I can’t move back in there, so I need to figure something out fast.

I visit my parents’ basement once a month, as Dad and I pack up our tubs for the monthly card show. I limbo my way under and over stacks of bobble heads, posters, cards, statues and other sports monstrosities that my mother would love to see us set on fire, as I help him pack our wares. My parents’ basement is full of nothing but good thoughts and wonderful vibes for me now.

Dad will often say, “You got a minute? C’mon down to the basement.” The rough translation of that statement is: “I bought some more shit we can sell at the show, but I had to hide it from your mother.”

However, half a lifetime ago (literally), that fucking basement terrified me.

Finishing school and looking for a job wasn’t easy. It was impossible.

EVERYONE else already had a job or had a line on one while I seeing rejections pile up in my mailbox every day.

EVERYONE else was coasting through some bullshit yoga class to complete their degree requirements while I was working at the student paper, working at the city paper and finishing up ridiculously difficult courses I managed to put off somehow.

EVERYONE else had a career path and a life plan. I had a job back at the garage whenever I wanted it and no real life to speak of.

My path seemed to lead to my parents’ basement.

No matter how old I get or how well I do or where I go in life, I will never forget that fear and how it eats away at everything around it. It’s why my door is always open this time of year and why I mentor students on everything from how to avoid looking like Mike from “Swingers” when they are pursuing a job to how to explain to their parents how the hiring process works.

It’s why I have a stash of napkins in a drawer behind me, so I can snag one and hand it to the sobbing kids who get rejection after rejection, as their friends celebrate what are seemingly perfect jobs that just dropped out of the sky on them.

It’s why I tell them the story of the guy who fell in the hole, even though I probably already told it to them once before and I’ve told it five times already that day.

It’s why I don’t understand the consternation of faculty who mutter about the “kids today” or the politicians who refuse to support either group because “when I was a kid…”

Every year, the gap in age between me and my students increases. The distance between us never does.

I never forget: My parents had a basement too.

“Is the view pretty good from the cheap seats, A.J.?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Because it occurs to me that in 25 years, I’ve never ONCE seen your name on a ballot. Now why is that? Why are you always one step behind me?”
“Because if I wasn’t you’d be the most popular history professor at the University of Wisconsin.”
-The American President

If you ever felt the need to be murdered by a frenzying septuagenarian, just tell my mother, “You know, those who can’t do, teach.”

She spent 45 years in grades 3 through 8 teaching kids in a factory town. She taught poor kids, broken kids, kids nobody thought of. She taught literal generations of kids, with students becoming parents of her students and then becoming grandparents of students.

The kids who never left Cudahy.

She taught mostly reading and social studies, history and English. Math and science really weren’t her thing. She poured her time and energy into engaging projects, plays, musicals and more, just to give those kids a chance to love learning and take a bow.

The role of administration was never beyond her reach or ability. She had a wide array of talents that went beyond the classroom. She just never wanted to do any of them.

She knew what she was supposed to be doing: Teaching kids.

When I got the chance to teach a class of my own, I found that feeling. I was 22 years old and I was standing at the front of that room and I just felt it.

I was still working as a journalist, so I didn’t have to make a decision to leave the field at that point. I was just trying to pay tuition and rent. One job did one thing, the other did the other.

My first “grown-up job” was at Missouri, where I would work with students in the newsroom and teach in the classroom.

The next gig: advise a student newspaper, teach in the classroom.

Every job, I split the baby. Stay attached to the field in which I taught and yet teach students desperate to enter the field.

And yet I knew and I still know.

I’m a teacher, no matter what else I do.

“Gunny, I fucked up. I got Profile killed.”
“It was his time and when it’s your time I don’t give a damn how fast you run, your time is up.”
“I could have gotten them all killed.”
“But you didn’t, so just don’t make the same mistake twice.”
– Heartbreak Ridge

The kid showed up in the doorway of my office in a rush, his face still red from the cold outside. He had a look of fear and his physical anxiety manifested itself in what could charitably be called a “pee-pee dance.” The student who was in my office shooting the bull with me recognized the worried look and departed with a, “So, I’ll see you Saturday after graduation, right?”

She knew I would and I also knew that I’d be seeing this nervous young man there as well. Even more, I had no idea why he had this look of a kid who got caught stealing a porn mag by his parish priest.

This guy had it made. His grades were good enough to sail through the final week with no worries. He had a job lined up to start after the first of the year doing news and sports on TV in one of the better broadcast markets in the state. He had been ready for this since his sophomore year where I taught him the difference between facts and opinion and why using the word “very” was just as useful as using the word “damned.”

“I really fucked up that last assignment for you and I need to know how not to let that happen again,” he said.

I pulled up the file and, sure enough, a robust grade of 45 percent sat at the bottom. The cause for most of the point loss? He misspelled two proper nouns in his story.

That grade didn’t matter to him in any meaningful way as far as the university, his degree or his GPA was concerned. It was that idea of failing something in a way that could REALLY cost him.

We talked at length about fucking up. I relayed a few of my own, including a doozy where I managed to make two fact errors in the first sentence of an “exclusive” story.

Fucking up happens, I told him. The point is to avoid fucking up when you could have easily avoided fucking up.

Don’t assume you know how to spell the name.

Don’t guess that it’s a street, not an avenue.

Don’t presume you know which of the guys robbed the bank and which one caught the robber.

Make sure the guy is actually dead before you write his obituary.

I could tell he was getting it, but then he asked another important question: Even if I do all that, I’m going to fuck up at some point. What then?

Learn from it.

Every time you fuck up, you pay a price. It might be physical, it might be mental, it might be financial, but it is a price you must pay. You get something in return for your payment, and that’s wisdom.

Thus, in perhaps the least wizening way I could, I explained to him the truth:

“You’re going to step on your dick from time to time. I’d rather you do it here, on an assignment than out there where you might get fired or worse. The reason I put such a high penalty on certain things is because I want those things to hurt so bad that you never do them again. The reason I spread your grades out in this class so widely is that when you do fuck up that badly, the fuck up won’t kill you. That’s how you learn.”

He smiled.

“You going to graduation on Saturday?”

“Yep. See you there.”

“Did Chris Columbus say he wanted to stay home? No! What if the Wright brothers thought only birds should fly?…”
“I’m not any of those guys! I’m a kid from a trailer park!”
“If that’s what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be.”

The first time I heard someone called a “fig” or a “Figgie,” it was spat in such a way that I honestly thought the “I” was actually an “A” lost in dialect. The term was based on the “FG” notation next to students’ names in their enrollment and it stood for “first-generation.”

At that university, the idea was that you should come from a lineage of people that had all gone to college, particularly that college. If you at least had some semblance of educated parentage, well, OK, but figgies?

Fuck ‘em.

Had it not been for my mother’s passion for teaching and almost vengeful determinism to disprove her father’s statement she’d “never be anything more than a housewife,” I would have been a fig. Dad picked up an associate’s degree at some point, but my grandparents were factory workers, police officers, “steno gals” and homemakers. They came from immigrant homes where learning English was a massive accomplishment and feeding the off-spring was almost always a challenge.

Mom told stories of her grandmother sifting rat droppings out of the government flour she received during the Great Depression. Dad told stories of his grandfather picking mushrooms on the way to church and packing a postage-stamp-sized garden full of sustenance for the family.

My wife’s grandparents dropped out of school to work jobs, one of them doing so about the same age my daughter is now.

To be a fig in those days would have been bragging rights mixed with a pipe dream.

George Carlin once noted that he loved seeing a blade of grass that pushed its way through a crack in the sidewalk. It’s so fucking heroic, he noted. Against all odds, pushing against an immovable force, this little speck of life wove its way out from the ground beneath and refused to quit until it saw the sun on its face.

This is why I always tell the kids I teach that they need to walk at graduation. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s 20 seconds on a stage where someone mangles your name, someone else hands you an empty diploma case and a third someone shakes your hand, but misses the point.

You did it. You beat the odds. You worked for this.

It wasn’t a given or a birthright. It wasn’t an item you threw in your grocery cart: Eggs, milk, diploma.

Every blade of grass that gets through the concrete deserves at least a moment of sunlight.

“He was a small horse, barely 15 hands. He was hurting, too. There was a limp in his walk, a wheezing when he breathed. Smith didn’t pay attention to that. He was looking the horse in the eye.”
– Seabiscuit

Saturday morning, I’ll be sitting in my office overlooking the relatively paltry arena that serves almost all of our indoor sports teams. The parking lot will fill and people will wander toward various entries in the building.

Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

They come from the various outposts of our state, places you don’t think about when you hear the name “Wisconsin.”

Crivitz and Cadott. Oconomowoc and Oconto Falls. Fall River and River Falls. The closest you get to “foreign students” around here are the kids who cross the Illinois or Minnesota border to play sports for the institution.

It’ll be the first time in nearly a decade that I’m not going to be at that ceremony. The doctor says my back is too bad from a recent injury to sit for three hours. So, I’ll watch them go in and wait.

I’ll grade papers, write book chapters and make sure to get up and stretch every half hour. Then, when one of the students who almost cried when I told him I couldn’t sit through the event texts me that things are wrapping up, I’ll don the ridiculous regalia I break out a couple times a year and trek across that parking lot.

I’ll shake hands with parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. They’ll tell me about the times the graduate came home or called home and wouldn’t stop talking about me or something weird I did and we’ll all laugh.

The parents will worriedly look me in the eye and ask if I think their son or daughter will get a job or they’ll thank me for helping the kid find post-graduation employment.

They’ll marvel at the grandeur of the ceremony or the pomp and circumstance that surrounds them, never mind it’s far less than I’ve seen at most places and the whole place still smells like last night’s basketball game.

And they’ll ask me questions and tell me stories about this freshly minted college graduate we both know.

But before we part company, I’ll look them in the eye and I’ll tell them the truth.

It was an honor to teach their loved one.

Who Teaches

A while back I asked some family members and white childhood friends who they remember as the first person of authority — a person whose opinions they were expected to respect even if they didn’t agree — who wasn’t white, in their lives.

Very few remembered anyone at all.

I grew up in a fairly segregated town and went to Catholic schools. All my elementary school teachers were white. In high school I had one black teacher and one Hispanic teacher. In college (state school) I had two professors of color, though there were more professors of color teaching, mostly in ethnic studies courses, who I didn’t encounter. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that I had non-white, non-male bosses. Mr. A started working for a woman of color for the first time two years ago.

An under-covered aspect of the Obama freakout (and then the Clinton freakout afterward) was the idea that a lot of white people living segregated lives — the only black people they ever saw were on TV, probably playing football — had to confront the idea of a black person having authority over them. Blah blah, I know, the president works for us, but there was a huge swell of rage at “having” to listen to a black man. They’d never “had” to do that before, and damn if it didn’t piss them off.

Segregation of AUTHORITY matters as much as segregation of housing, jobs, amenities and everything else. It matters tremendously to children of color: 

Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay, and Papageorge demonstrate that if a black male student has at least one black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grade, he is significantly less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to aspire to attend a four-year college (as proxied by taking a college entrance exam). They find that these effects are especially pronounced for economically disadvantaged black male students. For instance, they find that a disadvantaged black male’s exposure to at least one black teacher in elementary school reduces his probability of dropping out of high school by nearly 40 percent. This estimated effect is not just statistically significant, but also highly educationally relevant.

We are long overdue for so many corrections in this country, and this is the last one coming for myself and my fellow white folk: That people who don’t look like us have something to teach us, and that we should shut up and learn.

A.

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.

They’re The Economy, Stupid

It’s fashionable to describe public universities as money-sucks that educate the elite and prop up liberalism, but they also, you know, CREATE JOBS: 

Trump’s cuts would affect all research universities, but not equally. The problem is more pronounced at public universities than private ones, and especially at public institutions in the Midwest, which have historically conducted some of the nation’s most important research. These schools are desperately needed to diversify economies that rely disproportionately on manufacturing and agriculture and lack the wealthy private institutions that fuel the knowledge industries found in Silicon Valley or along Boston’s 128/I-95 corridor. Yet many flagship Midwestern research universities are being weakened by deep state budget cuts. Threats to pensions (in Illinois) and tenure (in Wisconsin) portend an exodus of faculty and their all-important research funding, and have already resulted in a frenzy of poaching by better-funded and higher-paying private institutions, industry, and international competitors.

This story focuses on the economic benefits of research at public universities, but I’d like us to think about the custodians at Your State U. The receptionists. The food service workers. The hundreds of thousands of people who have to work in order for hundreds of thousands to learn. Those are JOBS. Steady jobs, in some cases even still union jobs, that pay if not well then at least consistently, and let people earn money to spend in grocery stores and gas stations and bars.

You can’t tell me they’re not important to the life of a place. All we focus on anymore is the cost of public things, and we never talk about the benefits. Oooh, that pension is expensive! Yes, but it’s keeping a person in his home so he can take care of that home and mow the lawn and buy soap and cereal and go to church and subscribe to the local paper and do all the stuff we say we want people to do, that people did back in the Good Old Days When America Was Great.

So maybe some of the cities currently competing to suck Jeff Bezos off could consider putting those billions into public education. Maybe instead of building a stadium for a billionaire or throwing money at a big-box retail store that doesn’t need it, these communities could show a little financial appreciation for the places that actually do give back to someone other than the Walton family. After all, these places create jobs, no? And isn’t that what we’re all about at the moment?

A.

How trying to make free speech free can really not do that

The state of Wisconsin is in the process of considering a bill that would allow for higher levels of punishment against UW folk who “disrupt” the free speech of others. On its face, the idea seems good: Everyone has a right to speak, so let’s make sure that we let all voices be heard.

Naturally, that’s not the point of this, as previous writers have pointed out. Republicans who supported this bill (all but one of them voted for it; naturally all the Democrats opposed it) believe college campuses are filled with weed-smoking hippies who hate anyone conservative enough to wear socks, so the law is needed to even the playing field. After all, how would a campus be able to host a shy butterfly and resident Crypt Keeper Ann Coulter if a law wouldn’t allow the U to clear away the raging liberal scum so her voice of reason could rise above the hysterics of the crowd?

Today, the board of regents sent out a policy document draft that outlined its response to the bill:

The State of Wisconsin Legislature is currently considering a bill that would direct the Board of Regents to adopt a policy on free expression that includes disciplinary sanctions for those who disrupt the free expression of others, and includes other accountability requirements.
The attached Regent Policy Document, “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” communicates the expectations of the Board of Regents regarding academic freedom and freedom of expression, expectations for those who violate the free expression and others.

<SNIP>

Finally, the proposed policy supersedes and nullifies any provisions of institutional policies that improperly restrict speech, and requires UW institutions to revise or remove any such policies.

This is a good opening and a strong first step, especially considering how the regents are basically Scott Walker drones, to say, “Look, we abide by that whole ‘sifting and winnowing’ thing somebody wrote a long time ago, so let’s not get bent out of shape that Milo isn’t coming to town unless we can guarantee everyone in the audience will give him a hug.” That said, this is embedded way deep in the document (bolding is mine):

4. Restriction of Expression
UW institutions may restrict expressive activity not protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or Article I of the Wisconsin Constitution, including any of the following:
(a) Violations of state or federal law.
(b) Defamation.
(c) Harassment.
(d) Sexual harassment.
(e) True threats.
(f) An unjustifiable invasion of privacy or confidentiality.
(g) An action that materially and substantially disrupts the function of an institution.
(h) A violation of a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on expressive activities.

<SNIP>

Of course, different ideas in the university community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the university greatly values civility, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members within the university community.

Time-place-manner restrictions are part of law, so that’s always been there. The idea of function disruption is also fairly common. The key issue is WHO gets to decide WHAT is a clear violation of the items listed there? I like the explanation that we can’t just rely on civility to say, “Go away. We don’t want you here.” If that weren’t the case, I’d probably never be able to leave my basement and I’d be given food via clothes chute. However, rules are always applied at the behest of the beholder, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this stuff. If you want to make a statement to the regents on this, you can do so here.

 

An open letter to the Wisconsin JFC in support of counting professors’ hours and trimming waste

Dear Sen. Darling, Rep. Nygren and other members of the Joint Finance Committee,

News reports have indicated that your group has included in its most recent version of the state budget some “controversial language” that would “require the University of Wisconsin System to monitor the teaching workload of every professor and adjunct instructor on campuses.”

As a faculty member of one of these institutions, I can assure you that this is definitely an important measure and a valuable first step in eliminating governmental waste and employee sloth. As many of you know, having received degrees from some of these state institutions, the clear measure of faculty value is solely the amount of time spent in front of students in a classroom. This is the purpose of our educators and we need to hold them accountable.

Given that this laser-focused approach on educational employees is likely to yield impressive results, I would actively encourage you to take a serious look at other areas of governmental employee waste and bring to bear all of your influence on other public “servants” who are failing to pass muster.

For example, it is clear that firefighters throughout the state need to get their priorities straightened out. In analyzing some recent annual reports for municipalities that contain branches of UW System schools, what I found is likely to shock you. Consider this breakdown of the Oshkosh Fire Department’s activities in 2016:

OshkoshFire

 

The entire department, which consists of 108 members of its workforce, only extinguished 109 fires for the WHOLE YEAR! That’s only one per person for all of 2016! Given the job of firefighters is to fight fires (which is clearly spelled out right in the name of the job), this is clearly an unacceptable waste of resources.

A similar examination of Green Bay’s annual report is even more troubling:

GreenBayFire

The department only extinguished 237 fires last year. That’s down from 277 the year before and from 312 in 2012! This decrease in fires fought of nearly 24 percent over the past four years should have clearly been accompanied with a reduction of workforce, pay and hours, one would expect.  This was not the case, as an additional six fire fighters were hired in February of that year.

The police departments in some of these areas are even more problematic. As we all know, the purpose of police officers is to arrest criminals, so it may upset you as much as it upset me to find out how little they are doing in this regard. For example, the Stevens Point Police Department’s annual report states the department made only 862 adult arrests and 202 juvenile arrests during 2016. This is with a total sworn staff of 44 individuals. That gives us a total of 24 PER OFFICER that year, or an average of one arrest every 15 days. I ask you, is this a good use of taxpayer money?

My most upsetting discovery came in examining the Whitewater Police Department’s statistics. As you well know, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is from this area and has spoken out against the lethargy and waste in our state’s education system. How outraged do you think he would be to find that his home town’s police department arrested only 27 people out of 162 incidents of criminal property damage?

One officer’s record in particular was troubling:

BoomerArrests

Officer “Boomer” provided no more than three arrests in any given month during 2015. Even worse, in two months he enacted NO ARRESTS AT ALL! If all this officer wishes to do all day is lick his crotch and bark at nothing, he can CLEARLY follow Steve Bannon’s example: Quit government life and do it on his own time.

Now, I guess you’re asking the same question I did, which is, “If the fire fighters aren’t fighting fires and police aren’t arresting people, what are they DOING with their time?” The answer is in front of you in black and white. Firefighters have consistently wasted time on false alarms, noxious fumes complaints and other equally pointless tasks. In addition, you’ll note heavy use of these firefighting resources on EMS calls, which is a massive waste of taxpayer money. Unless the patient is literally on fire, what purpose does it serve to send a firefighter out to see them? In addition, if the people are truly ill, that’s what hospitals are for. Call a cab and get your own ass out there.

Police have been equally thoughtless in their allocation of precious resources, wasting time on taking reports or “investigating” crimes. All of this preparation of documents and processing of crime scenes is taking them away from their primary task, namely the incarceration of criminals. Look at this data from Stevens Point!

CallsStevensPoint

As much as they talk a good game about going on “calls,” you will notice that they don’t talk a lot about arrests, which is why we’re paying them the big bucks. Even worse, you will notice that the department received a DECREASE in calls between 2015 and 2016 and yet not a single one of these officers has been fired as a result.

As you page through these reports, you will also see ridiculous claims about receiving additional “training” or “service to the community” like visits to schools and K-9 demonstrations. If kids really want to see how police procedures work, they should bring a stash of weed to school and attempt to sell it to an undercover officer. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be getting in the way of the officers’ sworn duty: to arrest criminals. The same is true for school visits from firefighters: Either shoot off a flare gun in your locker or get used to the idea you won’t be petting a Dalmatian.

I understand you are likely outraged, but you probably are getting ready to tell me, “Doc, we know how upsetting this is, but we don’t control the budgets of local municipalities. What can we do?” That thought has occurred to me too, but that hasn’t stopped you before when it came to education.

You provide somewhere around 16 percent of the annual funding to the UW System, but you somehow manage to write all the rules and do an awful lot of threatening. Something tells me you guys and gals can find a way to apply similar approach to dropping the hammer on these shiftless firefighters and police officers.

Hey, when has logic ever stood in the way of you becoming excised little rage monkeys and screaming up a blue streak about the U? Maybe if you’re lucky, a police department has offered a seminar on the “Problem of Whiteness.” That always seems to get you all in the right frame of mind.

In the meantime, I’ll be back here at the U, counting up my hours of teaching, totally ignoring the hours of class preparation, student-group advising, student registration advising, faculty meetings, staff meetings, writing letters of recommendation for students, helping students get internships, helping students get jobs, helping students get into grad school, answering after-hours emails from students/colleagues, grading papers, reworking tests, calculating grades, keeping up on changes in my field, applying for grants, completing work for grants I received, reviewing scholarship for journals, reviewing textbooks for publishers, rewriting my own textbooks, doing peer evaluations for adjunct instructors, conducting faculty position searches, fundraising for the student media I advise, taking students to conferences and 100 other things I do in a week without giving them a second thought when I complete my tally.

After all, if I’m not standing in front of a group of kids all day, what the hell good am I?

Respectfully yours,

Doc

Only the kids have aged…

I spent the past week at our annual journalism conference, taking the chance to eat a lot of good food on my publisher’s dime and catching up with old friends. The funny thing? None of us seemed to age a bit.

I caught up with what was left of my doctoral cohort. Tracy, Andrea and I were among 17  Ph.D.-hopefuls who spent a chunk of our lives in a basement office loving dubbed “The Pit.” The place was so subterranean that you had to climb on somebody’s desk to open a grass-level window. The joke always was that they put the Ph.D. students there because you can’t commit suicide by jumping out of a basement window.

We ate dinner at a wine and chocolate bar because, hey, they had seating and we would have eaten at a food cart if we could have some time to catch up. The stories were the same: Weird colleagues, dopey campus situations, students who “just needed a little boost to pass…” We talked about possible promotions and what we were up to. It was like we were back in that pit: Tracy, loud enough to startle Chicagoans walking by and Andrea bright eyed and drawling her “y’alls” as the night progressed.

The only real way to know time had passed was when we talked about our kids.

Andrea’s daughter had just returned from a three-week trip abroad to take part in her sorority’s recruiting drive. Her son was still dating the same girl and had gotten his own apartment in advance of the upcoming school year. I remember the twins, as we called them, being at a doctoral faculty party some of us grad students had crashed. They were in their PJs, clutching stuffed animals and clinging to Andrea’s leg. “Mommy… We want to go hooooommmme…”

“Hell,” Tracy responded when I brought that up, “I used to BABYSIT them.” They lived next door and would often knock on her door and ask to play with Tracy’s dogs. Now, they could be in one of her classes, begging for “just a little boost…”

I caught up with Scott, who looked none the worse for wear after his heart transplant. Most of what we had to talk about was his move up the administrative ladder, with many of the stories reminding me why I never want to be an administrator. “Spending the day dealing with other people’s bullshit,” was pretty much the quote of the day.

In a more serious moment, he told me he had to wear a mask in public a lot, as his immune system was shit. He also had some health setbacks here and there, but overall, he was hanging in there. Life for him he said was a day-by-day measurement. Not years. Not months or weeks. Days. Each day was another moment to be on this side of the grass.

His son? He figured out hockey wasn’t going to be his future, even as he still enjoyed playing. He was going to be a college junior this year, on track to graduate. The freckle-faced kid who was riding bikes out in front of the house whenever I stopped by was now a junior.

I saw the guy who TA’ed my broadcast class in college: His sons were both in college. He, however, was the same guy who once chewed me out for running a clip of a used condom in a package I did on park sex. (My only saving grace was someone else in that broadcast included a shot of dead cats in a box as part of an animal shelter piece. Apparently, in the “what the fuck were you thinking?” spectrum a box of dead cats > a used rubber.)

My dissertation adviser? As vibrant as always, laughing at a reception with a half-empty glass of red wine in her hand. Her “7-year-old” daughter? Now out of school and married to an Army Ranger.

As I return home to add another notch on to my own kid’s age (12, she’s going to be 12. This is not possible…), I found myself smiling at the silliness of it all. Even as we all change and age, none of us is really different or older.

The only ones who really age are the kids.

 

It’s Blog, It’s Blog! Help me not to suck…

I’m asking for help from the hivemind, given the wide array of experience you have in writing for blogs, reading blogs and probably eviscerating shitty blogs.

I was on the phone with my publisher the other day when she made an obvious statement that had previously had no answer other than, “No shit.”

“The problem most of your reviewers had was that by the time the book comes out, the examples you list for the students are dated,” she noted. “That’s a problem with this book that we need to address…”

My answer was the more professional version of “No shit” but even as I said it, I could feel Admiral Ackbar wheeling around in his chair…

“That’s a problem with any media textbook, though,” I argued. “Given the time from writing to press, there’s no real way around it…”

It was a trap.

The idea that marketing had (screaming red flag) was that to address this problem and distinguish us from the rest of the books in the area was to have me run a blog that would update features, engage readers and talk about stuff that was important in the field.

I was hesitant, give that a) I don’t know how to build a blog. I got lucky enough to join this traveling circus after A had already established a tone, built an audience and got people interested… and b) See point a.

So I had two basic rules going for me going into this agreement:

  • It’s got to be about the readers’ needs, not my desire to tell people stuff.
  • It’s got to have useful tools on it, not just shit for the sake of having shit.

Their response was that I couldn’t cuss, so I’m a bit limited there.

So, here’s where I’m begging like The Fly:

  • Tell me one of a few things about your best and worst blogging experiences as writers and readers.
  • What options should or shouldn’t be on there?
  • What tools are helpful for sharing and engaging people and what are just bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles?
  • How do you gather readers and how do you keep them?
  • What is the best bit of advice you can offer?

I know not all blogs are for the same purpose, but I figure if you can tell me what you like and don’t, I can fake the rest of it.

Thanks and have a great weekend.

Doc

Amazing Grace

At this time of year, most of us educators give up all hope on humanity. Between the students who are “just starting” the final projects they had six weeks to finish and the constant stream of “So, I was looking at my grade and…” pandering bullshit, it’s impossible to not want to just run away screaming.

That’s why the email I got yesterday was one of those little flecks of light in the darkest of rooms.

A fellow media adviser is in the shit at her institution. It has a lot to do with overreaching administration, bullying assholes and a general sense that the student publication should be 95 percent fluffy PR and 5 percent Sudoku. Instead, it’s a quality publication that asks questions about shady stuff and speaks truth to power.

Therefore, obviously, the problem is the adviser, who is now under fire.

The adviser’s daughter, Grace, is 10 years old. She overheard her parents talking about all this darkness and it really bothered her. She wants to be a journalist and what she heard “hurt her feelings because writers should always be able to write.”

At the age of 10, I also loved to write, but I had no idea what a journalist was. My writing was mostly confined to banging out short stories on my mom’s old manual typewriter that she’d set up for me in the dining room. The stories were my escape and my adventure and the thought that they might be taken away never occurred to me. I can’t imagine what was going through this kid’s head when she heard terms like “prior review” and “legal issues.”

Grace loves Star Wars and she loves journalism so she sat down at the computer and built a shirt to explain that journalism matters:

560

Her goal was to sell 10 shirts with about $150 in profits going directly to the Student Press Law Center, which was working on her mom’s situation. When I found myself getting killed last year, it was Frank LoMonte and his SPLC crew who waved the biggest red flags and really helped bring some clarity to the situation. If nothing else, he did scare the shit out of the student government twerps who wondered why this “organization in Virginia,” as one of them called it, was suddenly setting up camp in their rectal tract.

I bought one and immediately pimped it out to at least a dozen other people. Apparently others did the same because by the time Grace got home from school, she had sold almost 90 shirts. Her mother had to write the thank you to our group because Grace was so overwhelmed, seeing how her little idea had resonated with so many other people.

For every bad story we get, and there are a lot of them out there thanks to our governmental mandate to fuck over anyone with a pulse who doesn’t have a 850 credit score and a Black Card, we get an occasional reminder of what is good out there.

I have friends on Facebook who are terrified by the Trumpcare bill and what it will mean for their kids who have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, cancer and crohn’s disease. I have family members who are slowly giving way to the constant march of time. I have what I can only imagine will be the worst day of my year coming up in two hours.

A T-shirt won’t solve those problems.

However, just thinking about Grace makes me smile a little bit more and telling her story gives me hope.

Because maybe if we get enough kids like Grace and we show them that society can reward them for doing the right thing, maybe we will have fewer problems later and a brighter day in the future.

(Her link is open through the weekend. If you want a cool shirt to support a great kid, feel free to click here.)

Remember the 32

I was working the newsroom this week, when my wife sent me a photo with the caption, “Who are these people?” It turned out to be a “Save the Date” card from two of my former students who found love while finishing off their degrees here.

The editor in chief of the paper poked her head over my shoulder and asked what was up.

“I just got a Save the Date card from Ashley and Isaac,” I explained.

She had a blank stare on her face.

“You were here when Isaac was the managing editor, weren’t you?”

Again, a total blank stare. It was at that point it dawned on me that although the kid I was speaking with was 22 and ready to graduate, even she wasn’t old enough to remember a kid who was practically running the newsroom two years earlier.

I often joke that I have “grad-nesia,” an illness that blurs the lines among generations of students to the point where I swear someone just graduated last year while they’ve actually been out of school for half a decade. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated, in that the institutional memory of college institutions is tiny at best. “Back in the day,” for most of my staff was about 18 months ago. “A long time ago,” was two years.

Something that happened 10 years ago? It has the same social relevance of the Tea Pot Dome Scandal or the Bull Moose Party. Even if that event shook the entire nation to its core.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty on campus while wounding another 17 over a three-hour time period before ending his own life. Even in that time of nascent social media, the pure insanity of the event exploded through digital channels and traditional media in a way that kept everyone in the country linked into the devastation.

I had a personal interest in that shooting, as I was pretty close with the general manager of the student newspaper out there. I also knew the editorial adviser. Our student media listserv was flying with questions and concerns for those folks. Both of them were named “Kelly” (one guy, one gal) which led to some “which one?” questions as we all tried to reach them. I finally got a hold of female Kelly and she told me she was safe, things were crazy and her staff was working, so she was probably going to be off the grid for quite some time. At that point, I was able to breathe again.

As my staff watched from safety 1,000 miles away, none of us knew what to do. Our EIC suggested we send pizza, so we did. It was a typical college-kid move, but we weren’t the only ones to think, “Hey, maybe they’re hungry.” Professional and collegiate news staffs from all over the country did similar things to the point where the staff of the Collegian had to ask, “Hey, guys, we appreciate this, but could you stop now?”

The student paper did some incredible work over that amount of time, including obituaries for each of the 32 victims of the shootings. I remember watching male Kelly give a speech on this less than a year later at a journalism convention. He explained that most of his staff was comprised of cub reporters and non-journalism folk. The university didn’t have a journalism feeder program, so this was truly an extra-curricular endeavor for most of them. If the newsroom he had was anything like some of the ones I’ve worked with, you had a handful of kids who had a passion for journalism, a group of folks who were told at one point they were good writers so they showed up to write and a bunch of students who came for the access to sporting events and concerts and to write columns about what they thought was important.

None of them was ready for this. Nor should they have been.

The thing that I remember most about Kelly’s speech was that he talked about gathering his staff and explaining how the newspaper was going to handle the situation on obituaries. The first question a kid raised is the most obvious one: “Nobody is going to want to talk to us. How are we supposed to do this?”

Kelly’s answer is one I use to this day: You might be right. People might not want to talk to you, but you don’t have the right to take that choice away from them. You approach them respectfully and you offer them the chance to speak. If they decline, you express gratitude and you leave. But don’t take away their chance because you’re afraid.

In the end, those obituaries were stocked with sources and stories that captured the essence of 32 people who never made it past April 16, 2007 and propelled the paper to a Pacemaker Award and national prominence.

I have to admit that 10 years have put this story to the back of my mind as well. The year after the Virginia Tech shooting, the Northern Illinois Shooting happened and that one struck a little closer to home. I had interviewed there for a job at one point and many years before, my grandfather had been in the police department in DeKalb, the city surrounding the university. After that, we seemed to be stockpiling shootings and disasters to the point that “Virginia Tech” became less of a euphemism than it once had been.

I also have to admit, it’s easy for things on a university campus to wash away quickly. My first year in Indiana, we had a student get shot and killed by a cop. The name of Michael McKinney was everywhere for more than a year. We covered that story from the shooting through the civil suit and there wasn’t a student alive on that campus who didn’t know that story.

Fast forward to the fifth-year anniversary of the shooting and I told my editor we needed to do the anniversary story on the McKinney shooting.

I got the same blank look my EIC gave me just this week: “Who?”

As far as most schools are concerned, the short-attention-span theater is a blessing in disguise. When horrific things happen in some cities and towns, family members still live there and those moments of pain become imbued in the fabric of the society. Events of agony live on from generation to generation. In the case of colleges, four years can wash away pretty much everyone in the student base who knew what happened. The memories fade to rumor and history.

In the case of the Virginia Tech Shooting, the students there are refusing to let the memory of those 32 people go unnoticed this year. Several cadets are asking that the new residence hall be named for Matthew LaPorte, a sophomore ROTC member who gave is own life to save countless others when the shooter broke through LaPorte’s classroom barricade. The staff of the newspaper published a special edition titled “We Remember 32,” which is complete with a set of 32 stories of the 32 people who died that day. An online version is available here as well.

It’s hard to remember and easy to forget.

But some things need, even if painful, need to be commemorated.

UW Budget Cuts: There’s always a reason…

Every two years, Wisconsin Republicans come home and see that the UW burned the roast.

Or left a mess in the kitchen…

Or didn’t buy more beer…

Or forgot to pick up the dry cleaning…

There’s always a reason that when the budget comes along, and the UW System leaders ask for money, Republicans decide instead to smack it around and then cut higher ed in the state.

Four years ago, it was the allegation that the UW had stockpiled more than $1 billion in its coffers without telling anyone.

(Of course, that wasn’t true, but it was more than enough to create fake outrage and cut nearly a quarter of a billion from the System.)

Two years ago, it was the idea of an “autonomy for cuts” trade: We cut you to the tune of 13 percent and we then let you get away from us and live your lives.

(Of course, that was never going to happen. After making the cuts, the Republicans came up with the “what’s the point of giving you freedom if you won’t do what we want you to do with it?” argument that still makes my head spin.)

This time, I honestly thought it was going to be a Canadian hip-hop artist/UW-Madison professor who would be our sacrificial lamb. Damon Sajnani wrote a course called “The Problem of Whiteness” and Republican Dave Murphy lost his mind over it and threatened the U with budget cuts if this shit wasn’t stopped. Never mind Murphy is basically Exhibits A and B for what’s wrong with Whiteness…

In the end, Scott Fitzgerald realized he couldn’t fuck over the system of his alma mater just because of one class, so he needed a better reason.

And of course he found it.

Thanks in large part to some financial shell games at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, in which a former chancellor co-mingled state money and private foundation money to burnish his legacy and make his cock swell, all of the universities in the system are now being investigated.

Never let it be said Fitzgerald missed an opportunity to do his best Scrooge impression:

 

Fitzgerald stopped short of saying the university foundations issue would affect state funding for the UW System in the next budget. “When it comes to the state budget, members and finance committee members in particular, have a straight-forward process. How much is being set aside, how much is available.”

That said, “it’s human nature when you hear about something like this… ” Fitzgerald added.

 

Actually, Scott, it’s not. It’s sub-human nature to find flaws with everything in hopes of being able to make something suffer for your own pleasure. It’s the same approach kids take when they get a magnifying glass and discover they can use it to immolate ants. It’s power and dominion over those who lack the means and the recourse to fight back.

The state contributes 17 percent of the funding the UW System gets each year and yet you get to write all the rules. Every two years, you and your ilk get all fake outraged over some perceived slight, some perceived error in judgment or some stupid issue that allows you to whip people into a frenzy before you slash education.

The reason this works is because A) the universities suck at explaining anything to people who aren’t academics (and I say this as being an academic who watches the overly academic people fall all over themselves fucking this up every single time) and B) it’s so much easier to channel rage and anger than it is to marshal common sense.

I’m quite certain the cuts will come and the U will bleed and more quality faculty will flee this state like rats of the Titanic. We will then see a period of normalization until it comes time again for Ray “Oliver Twist” Cross to approach you with his bowl in hand and meekly request:

“Please, sir… more.”