Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Writing Lesson for Pres. Greenwood of UH, with an homage to F.T. Marinetti

I have set aside this morning to read the Futurists (for one class) and grade papers (for another), but an article in this morning's Honolulu Advertiser, coupled with a mass email from the president of my institution yesterday, has me wanting to use my pedagogical skills in other ways. I mean to offer a lesson to our state educational administrators, with the help (in closing) of one of these Futurists, F.T. Marinetti.

This morning's paper has an article about parents in Aikahi (Kailua, windward side of O`ahu) who are getting together to see if they can't hire their kids' public school teachers to work on furlough Fridays, of which there will be 17 in coming months. The president of the PTA there is quoted as saying, "What are we going to do? Either our schools will be privatized on Fridays or a private entity will end up educating our children on Fridays on we're all going to end up taking our kids to work with us." The "private entities" mentioned in the article all cost money--the YMCA, Diamond Head Theater, and so on. Well, for those of you who don't know O`ahu, Kailua is one of the most prosperous neighborhoods. Consider places like Waimanalo or Waianae or Kalihi, neighborhoods where parents are working class, and where there are significant problems with homelessness, unemployment, even hunger. Parents in these places can't afford even to consider privatizing their children's Friday education. They'll need to find childcare somehow, lunches somehow, and help their children pass the notorious standardized tests delivered to us from the custodians of No Child Left Behind (whose title grows more bitterly ironic by the day).

Now I'm not one to assign blame to all administrators of my own institution for the dire straits we're in; like the rest of us, they're trapped in a downward global spiral. But the memo we just received en masse from President Greenwood (who began her job only four months ago, straight from the California system), is as infuriating as similar memos we've received from other administrators, like Virginia Hinshaw (whose one memo I put into a William Burroughs machine a while back). The tone of it is wrong.

After an opening that includes three uses of the word "aloha," one of which ends with "spirit," and which refers to "the sense of shared purpose" we have, the President asserts that none of us is at fault for the current economic woes:

"None of us are individually or even collectively responsible for the fact that the State of Hawai`i, our mainstay funder, has experienced severely restricted revenues this year that will most likely continue into at least the next year. As a consequence, our share of state funding has been greatly reduced and we must find an unprecedented amount of savings to meet our budgetary needs."

Leave alone words like "savings" (for "slashing") or the phrase that absolves all of us of blame for anything, what is missing is an ethical, nay moral, language to gather us into community against this inevitable cut. Instead of "we must find an unprecedented amount of savings to meet our budgetary needs," how about, "after we deal with this crisis, we must confront our state officials with the absolute moral right of every citizen to a public education and demand that they honor the social contract"? My own rhetoric is growing too bureaucratic here, but the bottom line is that this is not simply a budget issue, something to learn about in accounting school, but a MORAL issue.

The President goes on to explain the situation in quantitative terms, offering some choice statistics (if we don't get stimulus money, for example, we will need to cut upwards of $100 million dollars from the university's budget; at the same time, UH is "facing a record increase in enrollment" and so on). There's a postscript with more stats and reassurances (based on what, one wonders) that faculty salaries will not remain cut, that payroll lags won't hurt us, that the university does not "anticipate" any retrenchment in the near future. (No stats for that last one.)

Let me harp some more on the ending of her memo. The openings and conclusions of such memos are always meaningless, cliche-ridden, statements of solidarity and purpose. We are probably not even meant to read them, except as flags that our administrators know a few Hawaiian words and wish us all well. I would propose a different kind of ending. So allow me to quote, and then translate, President Greenwood's final paragraph to us:

"In these unprecedented times, I continue to believe that the university is, indeed, a powerful agent for economic improvement, educational advancement, and cultural good and that there is no better investment for the future of our state than in higher education and the University of Hawai‘i. I strongly support a competitive environment for faculty salaries and benefits; improved support for teaching, learning and research; and increased access for more students, particularly those who have been underserved, to succeed in our university. I know you believe this as well, and I urge us all to unify our voices so that when better economic circumstances allow, we will be persuasive as our state leaders consider how to sustain and grow our ‘ohana.

M.R.C. Greenwood"

becomes . . .

"I am shocked and appalled that the state of Hawai`i--its legislature, its governor, its citizens--are willing to sit by while our social contract is destroyed. Public education is not a luxury in the state of Hawai`i; it has been, and must be, an absolute right. Good educations require money, money to pay good teachers, to maintain buildings, to sustain libraries. Once this crisis is past, I promise to get on every television station, op-ed page, and travel to every legislator's office to demand the support of the community and its leaders. In fact, I will start today! If we do not succeed in saving public education, the word "`ohana" will mean nothing.

Yours in solidarity,
M.R.C. Greenwood"

While my assigned reading for the day, which includes F.T. Marinetti's "The Manifesto of Futurism," includes such unhelpful stipulations as, "We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind," I find many of his calls to arms good counter-weights to the passive pablum of administrative discourse. So let me paraphrase some of his points and offer them to the administration, the government, ourselves:

2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our mission to save our educational system.

3. Up to now the university has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy [well...], and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer's stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty.

We are in a crisis, but the crisis is not one of budgeting only. It's a moral crisis. Let's start talking that way. We need to put up signs, get out our bullhorns, lock horns with our reps, even send our children to the capital on Fridays.

And by all means, use active verbs!!!

[editor's note: just noticed this choice bit off Ian Lind's blog.]


Aiko said...

This post inspired me to write a letter (email) to MRC Greenwood today in response to that really outrageous memo she sent out about the UHPA vote. If presidents talked more like poets, man that would really be something!

Thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

Hear hear!!!! Enough with the blame game.