Thursday, April 28, 2016

May 2 schedule and updates

The anonymous "May 2 Strike Committee" has only one 'official' event, a 10:00 am rally by the fountain in front of Faner Hall. In a DE article published today, they say that they now hope May 2 events will focus on racial justice.

Various faculty are also planning May 2 events on campus, open to all. Info on the following can be found on the Facebook site for Teach in for Social Justice.
  • 12-2 pm, Faner Breezeway. Open Forum with presentations, discussion, screen printing, music, film, other activitie.
  • 2 pm, Library 752/54. Screening/discussion of Strange Fruit, a 2003 documentary about the famous Billie Holliday song, the Jewish teacher who wrote it, and the shameful history of lynching in America that inspired it.
  • 4 pm, Faner Hall Humanities Lounge (Faner 2302). Open Mic Reading for Social Justice (featuring SIU creative writers, among others). 
I think this can still be a very positive day, despite the vile racist video, the latest video provocation today, and some administrative overreaction. More after the break.

The anonymous "May 2 Strike Committee" has a channel of communication with the Carbondale Times, which quotes them at length but still saddles them with the headline "Anonymously, SIU Turns on Itself." The May 2 group there shows an impressive level of self-awareness, owning up to certain mistakes, and showing themselves fully cognizant of what a double-edged sword anonymity is.

The main factor getting everyone so nervous about May 2 is no doubt the racist video, but certain administrative comments haven't helped matters. I haven't reviewed every administrative statement to the press, but I think the May 2 group has every right to complain about this sort of thing (from the Carbondale Times story):
“We see things building off of each other,” said Rae Goldsmith, the university’s chief communications officer. “It may not be that this group is connected with this group, but they’re watching each other and building off of it. We can’t say today who’s doing this and who’s doing that, but clearly they are playing off of each other.”
Here's the May 2 group's response (again from the Carbondale Times).
“We were shocked that rather than specifically focus on the racist video’s use of hate speech and call for lynching, Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell instead painted with a brush broad enough to implicate us as well,” the blog post reads. “His announcement focused not on racism, but on anonymity and calls for disruption – as if there is an equivalence between writing anonymously to call for disruption against the many issues destroying higher education and those who would use anonymity to call for white supremacist violence.”
They are absolutely right there, at least as far as the statement put out by Goldsmith goes. Any  effort to lump together peaceful protests with a vile call for racial violence is pretty despicable in itself.

The DE published what the May 2 group says will be their final group action (other than the rally at 10 am on Monday). The article reveals that most members of the "Strike Committee" are actually alumni rather than current students. Their original list of issues was pretty broad. Several note that while they weren't in favor of the graffiti tactic, the university's rather prompt response, which they found disproportionate, particularly compared to what they regard as a lesser response to racist speech, confirmed their plan to do something splashy on May 2.

An administrative message sent out tonight was rather moderate. It more or less green-lights students skipping class with this curious sentence: "Generally, we anticipate that faculty will be lenient in their attendance policies." The justification for that would appear to be student concerns about safety. The statement reasserts the "standard protocols" for faculty, not giving them the green-light to cancel class. But this sort of language doesn't exactly threaten faculty with dire consequences for cancelling class, either:
We encourage faculty members to hold classes as scheduled. If a class is canceled following existing protocols, we hope the faculty member will re-schedule any due dates for assignments.
The administrative message did not mention the possibility that some faculty would bring classes to alternative events on May 2. The message and a linked Q & A for students (and parents) also makes a big effort to be reassuring about safety, saying that extra security will be at hand. My main fear, frankly, is that security from "outside agencies" will prove heavy-handed in responding to disruptive but peaceful demonstrations, particularly if they see shouting matches breaking out at some event or other, as seems likely. In one message or another Interim Chancellor Colwell suggested that everybody keep cool: this applies to the authorities above all.

Administrators are tasked with ensuring the orderly function of the university--but that's not their only function, or their highest one. Any effort to prevent any peaceful, non-destructive activity some authority deems "disruptive" because it does not fall under the heading of  "calm, respectful discourse" (a phrase from the end of the administrative message sent out today) will backfire. There's a distinction between safety--which the authorities must make every effort to ensure--and a clamp down. That's the distinction Goldsmith missed when lumping together a striking with lynching in the quotation above: let's hope the administration rediscovers it by May 2.

The May 2 group's intention was to disrupt the normal university routine, something they will almost certain succeed in doing, with the 'help' of others. I don't agree with all their demands or all their priorities. But public higher education in this state is being threatened with extinction, a threat which isn't solely about budgets but also about social justice, given its disproportionate impact on the poor and minorities. It is no coincidence that the public universities in Illinois hurt most by the budget crisis are also those that serve the most underrepresented students. In our context, then, peaceful but disruptive protest is fully justified.

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