Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tipping Point: Apathy to Activism

A few days after the election and I'm still adjusting to the fact that there will be a new BoT in just a few days. Although it is naive to believe that the winter of COD will turn instantly into a new spring, as in Narnia when the White Queen's spell was broken, (like the Exxon Valdez, things already set in motion have their inertia), it is time to return one's full attention to the business of education. For I fear I have been away. How often in the dark, silent waking hours of early morning, where once I mused over teasing, provocative new assignments for my classes, did I instead quietly seethe over the latest machinations emerging from the board room?

I think back to the beginning of the summer term, where on the quiet of the Tuesday after Memorial Day, the president was gunned down in a style redolent of an episode from the Sopranos. Not for the last time did the perpetrators manifest their cowardly nature. At that moment, amorphous feelings of concern and misgiving crystallized to focused anger. The first letter was dispatched to the Herald.

Such bloodshed would be as nothing compared with the carnage that greeted us as summer gave way to fall. Corpses piled high in the (award-winning!) bioswales (their true function?) betrayed the clumsy reorganization summarily enacted by the interim president. A man by the name of Tom Wendorf walked in off the street and delivered a withering blast at a September board meeting. That the community was taking notice and expressing their concern so vociferously was source of both comfort and encouragement. One noticed a sea-change in the tone of the comments at the foot of Herald articles and letters. The preponderance of angry-tax-payer outrage at overpaid teachers was giving way to community concern over BoT malpractice and the future of the county's educational crown jewel. This was not just about pampered, self-indulgent faculty not getting their way, as if it ever had been.

The turning of the leaves ushered in a new outrage and raised the unrest to a new pitch. In one fell evening we witnessed the premeditated ambushing of one board member by another, shocking in its crudity, and the introduction of a completely new policy manual under the guize of "revision." I was forced to become acquainted with David Horowitz. The response to the attempted bulldozing of the manual through the board resulted in the epochal November board meeting, where students en masse, their mouths taped silent in dramatic symbolism, ringed the board room where faculty and other community members gathered. While the 300 faculty members anticipated by security did not materialize (and we may well wonder why even to this day many of them are not even registered for the discussion board), the numbers were high enough to make an impressive crowd. I forget how many spoke, but the tone was set by one Tom Tipton who, choking down his private fears, delivered a message of breathtaking boldness and clarity. I thrilled to listen. Even now I tingle at the memory. Then was I resolved that this system must not stand.

The embracing of Horowitz led to unprecendented national coverage in reputable circles like the Chronicle of Higher Education and disreputable alike. Like mushrooms in a damp pasture, the weirdo blog sites lit up with DuPage and Horowitz. Gunslot and Jingoists crowed at the comeuppance of lefty liberal faculty. We greeted the new president at his first board meeting with a powerful but thoughtful condemnation of the consequences of the board's ill-considered, wasteful and thorougly unnecessary dalliance with this controversial individual. Though he later came, the event passed without fanfare. A disappointing anti-climax to the few months of drama.

The election process began and the candidates revealed themselves, followed closely by the objections, an unprecendented number for a sleepy little community college election, all but one originating from one individual. Once again the board room was the scene, this time serving as the (kangaroo) court to hear said objections. Much has already been written about the "trials," so no need to belabour it again. If the November board meeting had set the resolve, then Sandy Kim's long afternoon's journey into night confirmed the cause to be just. Sandy, calm, dignified, resolute, old beyond her youthful years, thank goodness for the help of a good lawyer, faced the combined forces of the incumbents down. So many times we were assured that the process was "legal." One began to wonder what really is the meaning of legality; do we sometimes place the rule of law on too high a pedestal? Whatever the legality of this travesty, it was not right. Despite her ultimate triumph, there was scant cause for rejoicing. Raw emotions, usually preserved for love affairs or Formula 1 racing, welled up within; actual tears may have been shed, hatred the scale of which I had not thought possible. For Sandy and the others we must prevail. And we did. Thus were we sustained for the phone calls and the rest: walking the platform in a biting March wind, offering cards to strangers, self-conscious, fearing rejection. Most of the time it did not come. In the end the results were almost beyond one's wildest dreams. It was all worth it.

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