Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 16

It’s become cliché at UVa to say “I’ve never been prouder of UVa then I am now.” But I’ll say it. And I’ll say I’ve never had more fun on the lawn then playing Twisted Sister with my colleagues, friends, children and students.  I mean, seriously, Twisted Sister and Thomas Jefferson in the same epistemological space.  Ok Dragon lady you may need to handle your so called “philosophical differences” by firing someone and summarily going around any process of civility and governance.  But here’s to a few grad students namely Emily Gale (melodica) and Chris Peck (piccolo) who managed to take philosophical divide, historical difference, and everything else and make music with a message. “We’re not gonna take it….”  The group featured everything from a kick ass trumpet section (thanks John and Emily) and a quite literally puny melody section of ten and under on violin and flute.  It’s true that the puny melody instruments were essentially inaudible, but it’s all about the effect.  And yes, the Good Old Song was lovely too… (Well it was lovely except for the part where the five year old was hanging on me “whews’s MY INSTWAMENT!!!!!  BECCA TOOK my INSTWAMENT. I’m in THIS BAND) I’m pretty sure that I heard Mr. Thomas Jefferson himself, Peter Onuf, call TJ the philosopher of LOVE which means that “stop in the name of love” was also fabulously appropriate.

I’ll take Twisted Sister and Donna Summers over TJ any day—can we please put that genie back in the box?  TJ said and did some great things.  I personally love the fact that he said books are capital. Take that Board of Visitors…. He made his University largely to educate citizens for the business of citizenship a privilege many of us who were on the lawn yesterday would not have had.  Remember that to him African Americans didn’t even qualify as people much less citizens.  Even with this TJ cycnicism, one of my favorite moments at yesterday’s rally on the lawn was my colleague and friend, the above mentioned  Peter Onuf, saying that as far as he knows he’s the only one around here authorized to speak for Thomas Jefferson and that what TJ would be saying is “This is what I envisioned for my academical villiage.” And who knew that Professor Onuf was such a rabble rouser?

I was really glad to see Susan Fraiman speaking, not just because what she said was to my mind characteristically spot on and brilliantly articulated.  But because we need to hear from women, and we need to see women on the front lines.  Gender is by no means the central issue at play here, but it’s a part of it. Sure the BOV could have fired a man and sure Dragon Lady is a woman.  But it would have been a hell of a lot harder to do this to a man.  Here’s a teachable moment young women, women can be sexist and misogynist too.  It’s escaped no one’s noticed that the so called issues with Preisdent Sullivan’s leadership come in part from the idea that she moves by consensus building and by consulting.  These are supposedly feminine leadership qualities. And in my personal experience of being in two meetings with President Sullivan she really did seem to listen, take things in, and think about it.  Remember she’s a scholar and a thinker.

 But the gender issues are also far more visceral than leadership traits. I’m not alone in saying that at some level Terri Sullivan may not look like a University of Virginia President to the BOV.  At a roundtable with Tim Kaine a few women not affiliated with UVa said “she looks like a mother….”  And like so much about this whole ousting, this visceral issue is fully in keeping with UVa’s culture.  I’ve never been at an institution with less respect for women.   It is extremely hard to be taken seriously here.  I have some friends and colleagues whom I think of as patriarchal arm candy. That means I need their tall white man selves to get stuff done around here.  I am regularly completely disregarded and ignored.  I was rejected from a University committee because I was supposedly not senior enough but the replacement was male and junior to me; that means seniority implies certain anatomical structures.   If Terry Sullivan doesn’t look like a University of Virginia President. I don’t look like a University of Virginia Professor.  And we look super different, which makes me wonder what kind of woman looks like they belong in power here.  I’m hoping for better by the time my kids get to college.

The final thoughts I had about the rally is that this is much bigger than UVa and liberal arts education.  I’d fight tooth and nail for both of those things; I’m after all in a department that’s so obscure it doesn’t even rate as obscure.  But I care even more about the philosophical belief in the right to public education for every kid. And that’s under attack. I spend a lot of time working in the community to expose underserved kids to UVa so that they think of college as a place where they belong.  That means we cannot lose sight of the fact that Access UVa may matter more than any of the rest of it.  If a few rich and powerful people can torpedo an institution like UVa, think of what they can to do less prestigious public universities or public schools serving predominantly children living in poverty.  No matter what happens on Tuesday, we the UVa community have an opportunity to be heard on a local and national level.  Let’s make sure that we remember we’re not just fighting for our own institution now.  I’m pretty sure that no matter what happens tomorrow I’ll still have a job and my privileged children will still get a good college education. I’m much more depressed about what may happen to the kids I take on Arts field trips.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 13

Like everyone at UVa, I’ve spent the last thirteen days completely immersed in the debacle here, glued to email, the web, my iPhone etc…   At least three of my colleagues across the University have confessed to sleeping with their smart phones and checking their email when they get up in the night to go to the bathroom.  Countless others have learned to follow Twitter and some have even Tweeted themselves.  One of my students said on facebook that it’s getting to be like Law and Order around here; every five minutes something important happens.   It’s a miraculous moment; a revolution of the kind I never would have predicted and I’m proud of my colleagues who have done the hard organizing and thinking work.  I’ve been cynical about this place since I was a high schools student and found it too full of republicans and floral dresses.

Let’s be clear that it’s a revolution in part because the tenured faculty among us have job security.  I assume that I am not alone in thinking that despite the governor’s veiled threat about everyone stopping the frenzy that no one is going to start firing tenured faculty any time soon. That means we can yell and scream. And we don’t have any where we have to be at 3 p on a Tuesday, i.e., we have the flexibility to get shit done at the last minute. I’m not by any means saying that we sit on our duffs over the summer; in fact the BOV has now cost me about two good weeks of work; that’s a conference paper to be sure, a chunk of a book that was to get done this week, and a grant proposal for an arts outreach project. In lawyer terms that’s a lot of billable hours.  But I still have tenure.  And I’m well aware that if tenured faculty have felt that the University often treats us as if we ought to feel privileged to work here general faculty, staff, and wage earners have this even worse and do not have the same freedom to speak out.

 Dragon lady may have thought that by waiting until after graduation and raising forty million dollars at reunions that she would avoid student outcry and that the faculty might not notice. She failed to account for the fact that the students are fabulously mobile and that even the faculty all have smart phones (except my husband and best friend who call me regularly for updates when they are staking out the Rotunda at ungodly hours of the night); I followed it from a cafe in Berlin and, unlike the governor, managed to weigh in from abroad when necessary.

I’ve spent enough time in the community this year to be, at some level, mistrustful of what may at face value seem like such an overeducated revolution.  And at root I’m mad about what this says about public education, liberal arts education, the value of ideas and creativity.  But I’m also thinking that in all of this Access UVa, (financial aid) has a giant target on its back.  I’ve spent a good deal of time this year working to expose underserved kids to UVa; to help them think of the Lawn as accessible to them.  It won’t be without financial aid.  And community engagement of any kind likely doesn’t seem especially revenue generating to the powers at be.  They are, of course, short sighted in this; it’s good business to partner with the community.  And if the corporatization of education can mess with Mr. Jefferson’s elitist institution think of what it can do to underserved kids.

So Governor, I am extremely anxious to get back to work here; to spend less time on twitter and face book and more time writing my book,  planning a field trip to The Magic Flute for a group of underserved kids, and focusing on my children without worrying about whether they will have the kind of education I want them to have.  And I want to use some of that supposed time flexibility to hang out with them. But I’m afraid that no matter what happens on Tuesday we’ve not looking at business as usual.  It’s not just healing; it’s that even if Terri is reinstated the revolution such as it is will have lots more work to do.  We are on the cusp of a new UVa, one where the faculty actually buy into the idea that this is our university and that’s a big change.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day after the fall

I’ve been off blogging for the last few months.  But at this point since the only useful thing I’ve done in days is follow news about the UVa presidential debacle on various social media and media sites, I thought I might as well bring it back.  We’re living in a bubble here—the kind where you have to remind yourself to feed your children and to check the news for other things. Note to UVa peeps, Egypt and Pakastan are following apart and you can’t say vagina in Michigan anymore.  I am too tired to be coherent.  But here’s a sense of how my day went.  

1.I woke up and sleepily grabbed the phone and to see that university as we know it had indeed gone down. When I finally went to bed around 1 and had heard from friends at the rotunda that various BOV members and administrators were yelling at each other I held out some hope that something might change.

2.While walking kids to school I got stopped by a cop and scolded because "my boy" was too far ahead of me on third street and you never know what can happen in the big city.  Thankfully the cville police had two forensic police cars tracking Eli on third street.

3.  I continued my  vigil in front of email, facebook etc...   I did this last night for my husband and BFF who had taken their tenured selves back to the rotunda to bear witness to last nights event.  Both have “stupid phones” meaning they had no access to information. Mostly I was able to report on the weather (boring) and on the US field Hockey scrimmage at UVa.  

4. I walked to cville coffe to meet Tim Kaine. Ever since we have given $25 contributions to Obama, the Democratic party has been calling multiple times a day.  They invited me five times to meet the former governor at a round table today for area women. Finally on Friday I decided I actually had some questions for the man. I arrived early because it's actually only a five minute walk.  The Kaine staffers were all aflutter because they heard rumors that UVa faculty were going to flood the joint. It’s clear to me now that the visually impaired musician is an underutilized genre of spy.  The staff closed the shades, called field officers, and then called the governor with phrases like, "stay the course", 'stay on issue", "uva faculty are angry".  “There’s really nothing we can do about this.  The governor marched in and introduces himself sweetly to the twenty or so women seated prepared to dialogue on education and economy He addressed the "situation" at uva by reading remarks directed to the press.  He then took questions but studiously avoids calling on me; an actual UVa faculty member. He called on everyone around me. I had to leave after an hour to pick up the kids.

5. Despite being cited as an unfit mother this morning, I picked up FIVE kids from camp and almost left with an extra two.

6. At the pool instead of reading twitter or cooling off, I spent most of the time convincing one child or another to go to swim lessons with phrases like "this is not a democracy, it's the BoV, go...." I was glad that there were no press at the pool who would have seen at least a few faculty members in bathing suits obsessively checking phones and shooing kids back into the water. The vice rector’s resignation flew through the pool like no one's business.

7. I got a phone call from husband who said he’d be  Board of Architectural Review for the entire night because, before they discuss drainage on our driveway, they have to discuss the hotel on Main St. I wasn’t able to receive his message at first because my nine year old daughter was weeping over the fact that her brother bought her a strawberry ring pop and not a watermelon one. The Architectural Board meeting was a particular scheduling problem because I had promised some kids I’d take them out for ice cream. Their family does not have a phone, and I do not have car, so to get the message to them that ice cream would be postponed until tomorrow I had to take seven people with me.

8. When I got home I accidentally dumped an entire bag of delicious trail mix on floor of the kitchen and refused to clean it up in protest.  Like all protests this week, it got me nothing, but my kids did give me a no confidence vote.  To earn back their confidence I actually ordered take out from two different restaurants.

9. Now I’m reading Cav Daily tweets….