Scattered

Anger, frustration, curiosity, and love fuel many of my blog posts—not all at once, but usually two at a time, and sometimes in unusual combinations.  This week I feel too scattered by the national news and life’s day-to-day busyness to feel fueled by any singular or dual emotion.  Last September, I wrote a blog post, titled “Day of Reckoning,” to organize my thoughts and plan my actions.  Today’s post shares a similar impulse but will also reflect how all-over-the-place I am in this penultimate week of classes of our winter term. I am operating on a constant sad, mad, hanging chad, baghdad, ironclad, stalingrad simmer about the state of the union.

The murder of Stephon Clark, another unarmed black man, in his grandmother’s backyard has brought our nation to a new low.  Yesterday The New York Times said that the killing of Clark “reignites a furor,” which seems to me an unfortunate way to frame this most recent in a long line of race-based killings.  This phrase renders invisible (again) the consistent work done by Black Lives Matter and the significant collaboration taking place now between Chicago teens and Parkland survivors to address broad issues of gun violence across race and class.  (*See this March 5th piece from CBS Chicago and this March 14th NPR piece about Chicago students’ approach to the Natioanl Walkout.)  I am confused about and frightened by our nation’s continued refusal to address what is truly an epidemic.  How can we talk about democracy in any sincere way when we are killing citizens and suppressing voters’ rights?  Of course, our 242-year-old nation has all too comfortably settled into an EZ chair of smug self-satisfaction about being the world’s finest democratic nation, all the while ignoring a history of slavery, a past and present of colonialism, and an imperial and imperious approach to judging other nations’ governing styles.

I have become sensitive to the criticism that my blog posts and in-person political comments are “too negative.”  How can I paint the killing of unarmed people in a positive way?  How can I regard a “president” who created a paper-towel-toss television game show out of the destruction of Puerto Rico as anything but deeply narcissistic and destructive? I try to adopt critical postures that allow me to think through theory, practice, history, and current events in order to see positive, negative, and neutral points.  I don’t see us making any progress on the Black Lives Matter project because our nation’s knee-jerk reaction is to link the protection of black lives to the immediate mortgaging of police force, which is to say, a weakening of the militarized, hypermasculinized police forces who haven’t learned the lessons of Ferguson or of any other death of a black person since then.  (*See related posts: Black Lives Matter, Damn It; Charlottesville (and Lexington); Women in the Resistance; Mary Beard’s Manifesto.)

We learned this week that the 2020 United States Census is slated to include citizenship questions—a fraught proposition in fraught times.  This proposal incorporates “build the wall” rhetoric in one simple question about who belongs and who doesn’t—the very same questions we should consider when we think about institutions of colonialism, genocide, and slavery that have shaped our nation.  The very same questions we should ask ourselves when we look at the United States legacy of gun violence.  I draw some comfort from seeing 12 states challenge this most recent move of Trump’s House of Whites, and I hope that my home state of Virginia soon adds its name to the list of challengers.  Local, regional, and national bipartisan efforts to change unjust gerrymandering laws also reassure me that good people can work together to do the right thing.  That’s positive, right?

Mueller’s work and, bizarrely, Stormy Daniels’ exposure of Trump’s lying and cheating in personal and professional realms seem to indicate progress in revealing this “president” for the liar, cheater, groper, racist, misogynist {fill in the blank} that he is.  We must protect Robert Mueller’s ability to get this job done correctly and forthrightly.

In the meantime, I take great stock in massive, nationwide protests, regional efforts to collaborate on projects for the greater good, and local community groups who resist on so many fronts.  In the past two weeks alone, our local community has: announced the first general meeting of the newly chartered NAACP chapter; sponsored an immigrant rights clinic; witnessed its middle- and high-school students organize and bring to fruition their own walkouts; held women’s history and women’s rights events; protested the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; initiated conversations about farms and farmers; seen teachers draft a letter advocating for increased safety in their schools; and encouraged a broad slate of excellent candidates for regional office.  There is much to celebrate here, and we should do so.

Thanks for reading this scattered post.  Stay tuned for a possible guest blogger for next week’s post to offer a different voice after 88 consecutive weeks of mine!  (Damn.  I just realized that, if you’ve read 88 Gender Shrapnel Blog posts, I should send you a prize of some sort.)

(Yard signs in adjacent yards.  Pennsylvania, 2017. )

Process

(Basílica Santa María del Mar, Barcelona.  Photo: E. Mayock)

“Process.” This word rarely motivates and often stultifies, but we know that the steps we take in big decisions matter in both the short and long term.  How we make decisions matters as much as the decisions themselves.  When we make decisions, we are showing that we have gathered as much information as possible, have included as many people as possible, have followed guidelines, and have attempted to effect the best outcome for the most people.  We should also be showing that we respect people’s work and ideas, that these form a part of how we operate together in the workplace, that no final decision supersedes our respect for each other’s work.

An on-campus adjudication process determines that an alum who sexually harasses undergraduate work-study employees still gets to move freely around campus, just not in the one building where he has harassed.  This leaves the undergraduate students wary of where they can be on campus, feeling less than safe because the harasser can be anywhere.  The alumnus has more freedom to move where he wishes than the currently enrolled students.

A high-school student brings a loaded gun onto campus—before Parkland but after every other school shooting since Columbine.  The administration takes care of the incident and informs the staff and faculty that they have done so.  They neglect to tell parents, who receive four different kinds of alerts when a little snow falls, when the wind blows, when there’s a Longaberger bingo session scheduled for a Friday night at school, and when armed bank robbers are in the area.  When they realize that parents are dismayed that they were not informed, the administrators write a letter to the parents, which they post on the website but whose presence on the website they neglect to announce.

An administrator calls people into his office and repeatedly raises his voice with and at them in the hour-long discussion.  The meeting room door is wide open.  Twelve yards down the hall sits a work-study student, by herself, possibly wondering if she will soon have to be alone with the violent-voiced person.  Hours later, the people called to the meeting receive odd, half-insistent, half-regretful e-mails from the violent-voiced person.

A lengthy strategic planning process involves hundreds of faculty members, whose well-intentioned ideas and carefully crafted proposals are to be voted upon by a committee who will implement the one, best shining idea.  After hundreds of labor hours executed by numerous workers, the idea the committee voted fifth-best becomes the darling of the administration and the other proposals are returned to the dust heap of institutional great ideas.  The fifth-best is a great idea, too; it is just not the one elected through the established process.

A university fails to meet accreditation standards and does major acrobatics to get back in line.  Most of the new policies restore the university to curricular policies held several years before.  The new policies are now the old policies, which had been criticized as antiquated and “meat and potatoes.”

A university requires its faculty members to attend monthly meetings, where quorum is rarely reached.  Faculty members choose not to go to the required meetings.  Faculty governance seems almost an ironic, romantic notion, as faculty members vote “yea” when the administration wants them to and “nay” when the administration wants them to, and then hurry home to complete all the tasks not completed in the busy day capped by a futile faculty meeting.  Nevertheless, these faculty members do appear in droves at an optional meeting whose ostensible purpose is to question process.  Thoughtful administrators show up at this meeting, too, but remain silent on the issues because corporate administrations require “team players” who will toe tacit and spoken party lines, who will hesitate to reveal in public enlightened debate and dialectical differences of opinion.  I understand the silence, for those who do beg to differ are shown the door in a variety of creative ways.

A department’s temporary faculty, who together have contributed multiple decades-worth of work, are excised from the department.  They are all women.  Other department members find out about the decision months after the temporary members.  The department is told to make do.

Faculty governance used to tell us that elected committees matter, that national searches for big posts are the norm, that tenure is not supposed to be an automatic gift, that curricular decisions should be in the students’ best interest.  Faculty governance used to communicate that conversations and processes surrounding diversity matter, that they are rich, varied, textured, difficult, and that they lead to hard-won decisions that satisfy the greatest number of thinking people.

We can think of process as a column that requires a strong base, or plinth, upon which will rise the vertical piece (the process in motion), to be topped by the capital (the end result).  If the base is lacking core elements (e.g. goals/objectives; timeline; people involved; task list) and clear communication, then the vertical piece will not develop well.  People will be afraid to stand near or under the column.  The final touch of the capital will seem improbable, and maybe even dangerous.  Building upon the faulty base and justifying such construction lend themselves to absurd conversations based on absurd processes.

I recommend this decalogue on process:

BASE:

  1. Develop a set of questions. Share them broadly with all individuals and groups who might be impacted by the final outcome of the process. Revise questions appropriately according to good feedback given in this step.
  2. Develop goals and objectives from the questions posed in Step 1. Share them broadly with all individuals and groups who might be impacted by the final outcome of the process. Revise goals and objectives appropriately according to good feedback given in this step.
  3. Determine who will be involved in the process and justify the selection. Share this information, including the justification, broadly.
  4. Write rules to guide the process.
  5. Create a reasonable timeline and task list.
  6. Communicate clearly and broadly everything you have done so far.

VERTICAL CONSTRUCTION:

  1. Follow your rules. If something occurs that impedes clean adhesion to the rules, share this fact broadly, and then reset the course transparently. Do not break the rules of the process without making clear why you have done so.
  2. Follow your timeline and task list.
  3. Communicate clearly and broadly everything you have done so far.

CAPITAL:

  1. Announce the results. Evaluate the process. Celebrate hard work, good communication, and transparency.

As you can see from the decalogue, much of the work for a good process takes place at the base.  Solid construction in the base establishes clarity and trust and motivates more good work.