Convocation is an important ceremony that opens the senior year for Bridgewater State College seniors. The faculty seriously considered boycotting the September, 2004 convocation to demonstrate our frustration after working for two years without a contract. Senior class officers Shannon Moriarty & Elizabeth Robbins wrote the faculty, imploring us not to boycott this important event. For this and other reasons, we did not boycott the event, though we did engage in informatinoal picketing. At the convocation, Ms. Moriarty spoke eloquently about the need to support public higher education. This is my response to her talk and to the original letter.
September 26, 2004
Thank you for representing your fellow students well in a difficult time, both in communicating with faculty members and in speaking to the campus community at convocation. I have a few thoughts to share as an individual (and rather opinionated) faculty member.
Your speech, Shannon, invoking our origins in the egalitarian vision of Horace Mann, reveals a nuanced understanding of the challenges we face as public education champions in this rather peculiar Commonwealth. Unlike any other state in which I have lived, public higher education is the enemy of politicians of both parties in Massachusetts. I came here most recently from Texas, where former Governor George W. Bush's own daughters attend a public institution. That would never happen here, for reasons that remain a mystery to me.
I think that you now understand the reasons that many members of the faculty were willing to boycott this year's convocation. It is not for a lack of dedication to students that we think it is time for dramatic action; our motivation is precisely the opposite. The Board of Higher Education knows that we are dedicated to our students. One reason that they are able to treat us shabbily is that they know we are committed enough that we will not allow you to be harmed in our struggle with them. I call this being "punished for our loyalty," a phrase I have been using almost since the day I started here in 1997.
After convocation, I overheard a colleague saying that it was good that we participated, because students should not become pawns in our struggle with the Board of Higher Education. Although I have said similar things in the past, I can no longer describe the situation in quite this way, because it is an inversion. I now see the faculty and librarians (and custodians, secretaries, and managers) as pawns in a struggle between the Board of Higher Education and students. That is, some members of the BHE do not think state college students deserve - or can even really absorb and use - a liberal arts education. They are trying to get us to deny you a world-class education. We refuse.
As we move forward, I think we need to recognize that the stakes really are this high. We must avoid doing real harm to students in the short term, but it is even more important to keep Horace Mann's dream alive for the long term. Participation in real higher education is a public good, and the Commonwealth should support you in that endeavor.
You may have noticed that faculty members and librarians in attendance today were wearing pro-contract buttons today and that some of us were handing out fliers. We had decided that this approach would be more effective than boycotting an event about which the BHE does not care at all.
You might also have noticed that some of
us had red bumper stickers reading "Attacking State Colleges Is Class Warfare."
We have had one on our car for about five years. I keep thinking I will take
it off when the attacks end, but so far they have not. Even when the faculty
and librarians got a contract, the attacks started in a new form on the other
unions and college operating budgets. I still hope to take it off some day,
but when we got a new car this week, one of my first priorities was to get
a replacement sticker. Professor Stonehouse has a supply of these. I would
encourage you, fellow students, administrators, and fellow faculty members
and librarians to ask for some. I did not get Prof. Stonehouse's permission
for this, but if she runs out and we have to print more, I would take that
as a positive sign!
JAMES HAYES-BOHANAN, PH.D.
Associate Professor of Geography
Bridgewater State College