Friday, December 04, 2009

Pendle Hill Sojourn

Recently I had the privilege of staying at the Pendle Hill Quaker retreat in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.

Although I was there for a course, the small campus slowed me down and touched my spirit.

Simplicity, quiet, reflection and relaxed companionship marked my time at Pendle Hill.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Orwell versus Ostriches at PCC

At Portland Community College, where I occasionally teach, a huge e-mail debate recently erupted among the faculty.

The topic was: ID badges

Yes, you read that right, ID badges.

Not academic freedom, pay for part-timers, grade inflation, health benefits or parking passes (which we pay for).

A couple weeks ago, out of the blue, PCC’s president announced that faculty would be required to wear badges for security reasons. Apparently the tags would come in handy in “shooter incidents," alerting cops and shooters alike to avoid targeting teachers. (Students, apparently, are fair game.)

The campus e-mail reaction was immediate.

Why weren’t we consulted?

Have we been unsafe all these years?

Utterly Orwellian!


Someone worried that badges might electronically monitor faculty work hours.

The badges, far from protecting faculty from shooters, actually single out teachers as clearly identified targets.

Badges promote a “culture of fear” in “the spirit of George W. Bush.”

Someone in the communications studies department crafted the following, in jest, I hope.

“…in my opinion, the content of (the president’s) communiqué to us fails to contextualize in academic, instructional, and pedagogical terms the need to wear badges when, as he states, wearing such will serve students best and would provide them with greater safety and security while on campus.”

An instructor in the metals program flatly refused to wear the dangling badges “for safety reasons.” (Picture being dragged into a metal press by your ID badge.)

After a few days of withering attacks, pro-badge forces counter-attacked.

Badges needn’t dangle. They can be clipped to clothing.

Name badges are a good way to let others know — your name. (They say, "I'm here to help, and by the way, don't shoot!")

Corporations have used badges for years.

As for the “culture of fear” argument, one person suggested that by not wearing badges would promote the “culture of ostrich.”

Finally, in desperation, someone wrote: “Are there not more important issues? Who really cares about wearing badges or not?”

The debate fell silent after that; a few days of calm ensued.

Then someone wrote to say he had just received his new badge. He wasn’t happy.

His first name was in big letters. In much smaller letters, under it, was his last name. He was concerned that his students would start addressing him by his first name and cease referring to him as “Professor.”

Apparently there are all kinds of fear in a “culture of fear.”

As for me, for years I have insisted my students call me by my first name. My fear has been that they might "contextualize" me as "Professor."

Now, if they forget my first name, they can refer to my badge.

How convenient.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Enjoy the game but not the war

Each year at this time I remind fellow Oregonians that war involves maiming, misery and death.

Why do I do this?

Because each year, Oregonians, without pausing, refer to their intra-state rivalry as “The Civil War.” (Surely there is a better name. Suggestions?)

The "Civil War tradition" and casual usage of the name lead to such things a “Civil War Appetizers and Main Dishes” (vis. Today’s Oregonian food section.)

The list of “Civil War” paraphernalia, oddities and trivia goes on and on.

So here’s my reminder: the American Civil War (1861-1865) never came with appetizers and main dishes.

Nor did it involve split ends, cheerleaders (with or without split ends) and tailgaters.

The Civil War did come with death; 620,000 soldiers (the most of any American war) were killed. Hundreds of thousand were maimed. Divisions from the American Civil War remain to this day.

You might give our Civil War history passing thought as you settle into the Oregon State/University of Oregon football game Thursday. When “The Civil War” is mouthed — and it will be endlessly and mindlessly—allow the horror of real civil war to flicker ever-so-briefly across your mind.

That number again is 620,000 dead.

If you are having trouble wrapping your head around it, here’s help: the statistic is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Portland and Beaverton.

And if you think that’s bad, the Russian Civil War (1917-1923) claimed between 15 million and 20 million lives. A staggering toll.

That’s what civil wars can do.

Now go back to the game and your Civil War cheese dip….

P.S. To readers tempted to write "lighten up" or "get a life," save yourself the trouble. You've been heard in advance. Peace.

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