19 June 2012

Mitch as Purdue Pres? My Thoughts.

On Thursday, Purdue will announce who its next president is (source). Today, rumors began to fly by the media that Mitch Daniels (who other rumors had suggested was probably being considered) was leaked as the candidate (source). Mitch Daniels is the outgoing Republican governor of Indiana.

Regardless of who the next president is, but especially if this rumor turns out to be true, my advice is the following:

1) Don't Panic. It won't do any good to panic. Try to remain calm and rational. If you have to, take some time to sit on this before doing anything. I would suggest people not protest right off the bat - Purdue is not receptive and we may have to deal with this person as president. Stay calm. This will help the processing of my further advice. Use the reaction energy to try to stop something bad from happening if we are dealt the hand we think we might be.

2) Prepare to Justify Some Recent Advances. I'm going to target this response to the LGBTQ community at Purdue. I think the expansion of the nondiscrimination policy is likely safe if Mitch Daniels is president. He renewed the nondiscrimination policy considering state hiring that included sexual orientation and gender identity, and this leads me to believe it is safe. What I think we are going to have to be heavily prepared to justify is the Director of LGBTQ Affairs. I want to remind everybody that the LGBTQ community has more than earned everything it has at Purdue. We have to continue to earn our seat at the table. This position is so heavily needed that I think we can do this. I know it is unfair that we have to do this, but that doesn't mean it won't be the reality. We must be vigilant, and continue to ask for more.

3) Be Clear That We Expect Purdue to Continue Progressing. We can not accept moving backward, and that should be clear. The standards set, particularly in Spring 2012, should continue to hold for the university (with the hope that we demand more). We expect Purdue to continue to move forward regardless of who the president is. Purdue must move forward if it is to compete with its peers, to stay relevant, to complete its own mission, et cetera. Purdue is a land grant institution - a university for the people. We should be clear that We accept that we will have to earn everything that we get, but in return we expect to get everything we earn.

4) Deficiencies Can Be Dealt With If That Person Is Willing. Any candidate has deficiencies (of course some more than others). We will have to work with the hand we are dealt, but because of our history at Purdue we know we CAN work with the hand we are dealt. We should make it clear that we are worried about certain areas. Hopefully, whoever is president will deal with what they are good at, and leave the rest to people who are good at the rest. We have people at Purdue who are good at what they do. With support, and with recognition (whether openly or tacitly) that deficiencies exist in certain areas, those deficiencies can be overcome. We thus have to be open about the fact that we believe the deficiencies exist, and we have to demand that they are dealt with. My fear is that the president / board of trustees / university senate will not accept and/or recognize and/or demand the deficiencies to be covered. This will require activism. Activism we should not have to do, but activism that is the reality of the situation.

We should use the reaction energy to be productive, however. I think we can begin to address points three and four by an action suggested by Jennifer McCreight over at Blag Hag:
If you’re a Purdue student or alumni [or community member], please email the Presidential Search Committeeand trustees@purdue.edu and let them know why you don’t support Mitch Daniels as President of Purdue.
The situation may be a done deal, but if it is clear that people feel there are serious deficiencies, maybe one of the groups that has the power to try to address or blunt these deficiencies will (or at least move in the right direction so we have less ground to make up).

I'm going to avoid spending the time discussing how I would feel about the appointment of Mitch Daniels as president of Purdue because I don't know that it would do any good. I will thus just leave the advice above, and I can talk about that with people if asked to.

Also note, with this piece I am trying to deal with how we (and by we I really mean the Purdue community, which I will in some ways be a part of as an alumnus but in some ways will not be as I'm leaving) may have to deal with the reality, even with the very real and legitimate reasons why that reality is problematic and why we can and should be upset. I also know it is partially easy for me to say this stuff as I am leaving for the University of Minnesota in August.

14 June 2012

Humanizing History

One area where I think much of the education that I had could be vastly improved upon is in the social sciences (particularly history). I feel as though I was taught history as a list of objective facts, essentially, "In this year this happened, that made this person upset who shot this person and then this other person gave a famous speech and we had a war." We get this advice that we are doomed to repeat history if we don't know it, but yet history is taught in such a way as merely a bunch of facts to be memorized. Maybe it is the best we have, but I think we can do better. I thus want to take a moment to reflect on my experiences with history education, just to think about it if nothing else.

Below is a TED talk about building US-China relations with a banjo, and it begins to illustrate what I am thinking:

US-China relations needs lawyers, sure, but it also needs people to connect with each other, as the above video shows. This need is illustrated in part by ideas such as the Peace Corps, where Americans interacting with people abroad is suppose to be helping to break down stereotypes and build a sort of ground-up relationship between countries.

This human element is where history classes could have hit so much deeper than I feel it did for me. History education, like literature education, should be in part to teach about the human condition. I see history as sort of teaching societies' trials and errors, to help explain where we are now, and to be a reflection upon the human condition so we are better prepared to handle the human condition. I'm still young, and history class likely still has other roles to play, but those are what I have seen so far. If we want to teach those three things, better incorporating the human condition is necessary to making history education more powerful.

This past semester I took Introduction to African American Studies. It was an excellent class, and with the instructor I had there was a strong history focus. That history was taught in a way that was completely different from how I remember learning history in high school. We watched movies; we read snippets of people's accounts. History, in this way, felt human. We heard people discuss how they felt about what had happened around them - how they had experienced it. We saw modern people living in societies far different than what we are used to, discussing how they experienced reality. It was human and personal. When I think back to my history classes in high school, it feels like it was impersonal. Merely a list of facts that happened. Reflecting now, I don't think I ever had this strong feeling that people lived through the horrible and great moments of history. In a few literature classes I felt this, but in history class it rarely popped up.

Especially with American history and modern (post-1492) history, we have records. Detailed records. People left journals, journals where they poured onto paper how they experienced their world. We have newspapers, letters to editors, speeches. History happened to real people, and we could infuse that reality into our education.

Every aspect of our education should work together. We should be able to draw parallels across the subject lines. I think history and literature are two where we could make those parallels very easy to see. These can then spill into other subjects. I want to note that the sciences are not immune from this humanization either. During the education I have received in the sciences, scientists often come up. Knowing where ideas come from is an important resource. I like that we teach in this way because later, when doing literature reviews or looking for potential major professors, or what have you, connecting people and ideas is very useful. Scientists being taught is also important in connecting people to science.

When I think of literature, the fact that Truman Capote was taught and acknowledged as Gay (regardless of what I thought of his work or the fact that we read other LGBTQ authors but weren't told - I really wish Tennessee Williams in particular had been acknowledged because I LOVED his work), was important in connecting me into some of the literature we read. This is why it is so important to read works by people other than dead straight white men (granted we should read some straight white men, they just shouldn't be all we read!). I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings has been one of the most powerful books I ever read for school. Yet I'm going off on a tangent. Teaching the contributions of women and racial minorities in the sciences (and for that matter all subjects) is an absolute must. Women and people of color have had a profound impact on the sciences, even with the disadvantages faced in these fields.

Purdue president France Cordova, in her last lecture, noted that growing up she felt women couldn't go into physics, and it kept her out of physics for a while. The humanization of scientific history is thus important. In one of my classes I watched a video concerning Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of the structure of DNA. The severe disadvantage that she was put at for being a woman in science and yet her contribution to biology is huge. Even now I don't feel most classes put her at the level she deserves for her work (the praise is still mostly given to Watson and Crick and only in a few cases has she ever been mentioned). This humanization is important. The recognition that scientists are people is also important in how the field moves forward and building a system in which work and family aren't at odds with one another and more people can contribute.

Realizing that people lived through history is important not just for history but for other fields. It is important to give people role models and examples. It is important to show the hardships that people have lived through. It is important to truly illustrate the human condition. Humanizing our history and being true to who made major advances in science, history, literature, et cetera is important. It helps people connect. It shows people they can be a part of society. It is also being truthful.

In education, as in foreign affairs, we can lay a foundation from the bottom up. It is important to form those person-to-person connections, whether across space such as with US-China relations, or across time, such as with the illustration of what people have lived through and the accomplishments they have made. I think the connections across subjects would also be much more clear. I wish my history education had been more person, and I am incredibly grateful for the personal elements that I did get.