URGENT: Support Job Security for College Teachers
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call me old-fashioned
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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

"make the librarians our servants, fire hitler in the library"

2/10/07

A few weeks ago I noticed that one of my fliers containing my essay, "Washington University of Utopia," had been defaced, so I took it down, posted a fresh copy, and kept the defaced flier as a prop to be used in my courses, as is my policy in such cases. A week later, I returned to the same site (outside Holmes Lounge), and noticed that the replacement flier had been defaced in almost exactly the same way.. I took this down as well, and replaced it with a flier of my "Minimum Demands," entitled "Do the Right Thing." This has not yet been defaced, to my knowledge, and I have not seen any other defaced fliers. Over all, the response of the Washington University community has been overwhelmingly positive and sympathetic to my cause, and the cause of Lecturer's Policy Reform. I have received a few crank calls, but no hate mail, and much affirmation, especially from students and alumni.

On top of the first flier was written "make the librarians our servants." On the bottom was written "start with hitler in the library." The second flier read "fire hitler in the library," and contained a marginal note, "Yes," next to my proposal that the existing Focus Programs should be expanded into a core curriculum.

I am not sure if this curious, anonymous message is pro-Hitler or anti-Hitler, or simply unhinged. I am not sure if it was intended to be humorous or inflammatory, personal or impersonal. Apparently it was written by someone rather fond of our freshman programs.

My students tell me there is a reading room in Olin Library with books about Hitler, and perhaps some people are upset about this. Perhaps the author thinks a staff change at Olin is in order, and books about Hitler and WWII do not belong in our library. (Please see "Harris Room")

Or perhaps the author has seen the Washington University Cooperative Library website, and noticed that our Coop Social Thought Reading Group read William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich last summer, on the recommendation of Dr. John Ikerd, a speaker at the Coop Earth Healing Month series last year, who feels that every American citizen should read this book, lest we go down the path of fascism. The reference to making the librarians our servants could be a criticism of my bibliographic method of teaching. I tell all my students I am their bibliographic assistant, as I was when I worked in Penn's Van Pelt Library South Asia Reference Room. Whenever a library patron asked for help, I dropped what I was doing, and never asked why the patron wanted a certain book. "Make the librarians our servants" could be an endorsement of my neutral, bibilographic teaching method! Yes, I am your servant, and happy to serve.

Or perhaps the author had seen the Coop Library's Photo Gallery, with pictures of the Coop Librarians cataloguing books, and is accusing me of exploiting my servants. For the record, I paid them generously from my own salary, and I paid a Linux programmer (a former student in need of a job) to set up our Rochdale server. I paid a couple of needy students to build the library bookshelves. I purchased library supplies from my own salary, and the Coop Library is housed in my home, purchased with my own money, in order to provide a privately owned, neutral Washington University Cooperative annex, not controlled by the University. I felt this was necessary to stabilize the Coop, to which I have been fully committed from its inception. We are currently considering other ways in which this property could serve the needs of our growing cooperative community network. One scenario involves me moving out of my own house and taking a cheap studio apartment in the neighborhood, in order to be the sympathetic landlord to a new Coop core group. Another involves me renovating the basement and moving down there, in order to lease the entire top floor to the Coop. I could afford to do this only if I retain my salary and benefits next year. I am most certainly not exploiting anyone, by any stretch of the imagination, as my Coop students testify.

Perhaps I am the Hitler in the Library, who should be fired. Perhaps this author endorses the University's elimination of my position in favor of someone with a different ideological perspective, of some sort. Perhaps the author thinks my house, named "Cervantes," after my first cooperative house at UCSB, and the author of Don Quixote, is my little Reichstag on Pershing Avenue. Okay, no problem. I am Hitler. I have Hitler-nature. I am Spartacus as well, and I am Buddha, with Buddha-nature. So are we all. Everyone has the potential to be a war criminal, and to be a hero, and to be enlightened, and to teach others the path of enlightenment. Self-criticism is always healthy, self-denial is not. I conclude one of my lectures with a quotation from the comic strip Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us," a play on Julius Caesar's "We have met the enemy, and he is ours." Please, let's not take the path of hatred and genocide, ever again. I always tell my students I am okay with almost every perspective except that of the Nazis, but really, neo-Nazis, and similarly confused people, such as the anonymous defacer of my signs, are welcome in my classes. I would like to talk you out of your crackpot thinking, as a public service.

For discussion of good and evil, and American fascism, please see Questions About Religious Studies: Science Marches On? I include the following questions:

"Agree or Disagree:
William James is right: evil is an essential part of our being. Those who don't realize this will sooner or later become the tools of those who do."

"Some people seem to be motivated by a desire for power and dominion over others, in a rational or irrational way. How do we prevent these people from becoming mussolinis? In a just world, mussolini and hitler would have done no harm. How do we build that world? How would your theory of religion help to build such a world?"

To help us answer these questions, perhaps we should study Hitler, in the Library. Donations of books to our Coop Library are always welcome, including Mein Kampf, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, not yet part of our growing collection. Let's make the librarians our servants, and start with hitler in the library! Let's practice free speech, or risk losing that freedom.

 

NEO-CON FASCIST PROPAGANDA

In summer of 2004 I posted many signs to attract students to my University College Religious Studies and International Affairs course, "Fundamentalisms East and West." One of them, with the heading "fundaphobia, n. the irrational fear of religious people," above the course description, was defaced with the words "NEO-CON FASCIST PROPAGANDA." I pulled down the sign and I still use it as a prop in my course, always good for laughs, and a good way of making my point that Ivory Tower people are just as likely to be prejudiced as anyone from the country, the churches, or the working class. In my courses, I teach my students about classic Fundamentalism, neo-fundamentalism, the alliance of the latter with neo-conservatives, and also fascist propaganda. So I didn't really mind the defacement of my sign, it meant I was getting some attention, and stimulating discussion of controversial and important issues..

Something strange occurred after I pulled down the sign. When I returned to put up the next wave of publicity (I kept rotating the signs, so as to pitch the course to a very diverse audience), I noticed that many signs that had been taken down had been posted again, so that the Mallinckrodt bulletin board was covered with my fliers. I did not do this. I suspect that the Mallinckrodt proctor had observed the defacement of my sign, and had also seen me taking it down, by security camera. Perhaps someone was afraid I would sue the University over this.

Relax, I have never sued anyone, and I am not about to start now, except as a last resort. Free speech should be protected here, and that includes writing harmless comments on fliers.

Let's practice free speech, or risk losing it.

 

 

CORRECTION: The "Hitler Room" referred to in an earlier version of this post may be a reference to the Harris Reading Room, which contains books about Hitler, the Holocaust, and WWII, but not Mein Kampf, which is located elsewhere in our library. I never thought this reading room was a "Hitler Room," but I apologize to anyone who might have been offended. I don't think the Harris Room, or Olin, was really the target, but some of my students thought it might be, which is why I mentioned it. Most likely the defacement was done by someone with a grudge against me or a philosophical problem with what I do.

It is ironic that my idealistic, utopian, somewhat tongue-in-cheek op-ed piece would be so misunderstood. I hope nobody really thinks I want Chancellor Wrighton, or anybody else, to resign or be fired, unless we "fire" ourselves, clasp hands as equals, forgive each other, and renew our community. I believe everybody who has served this University loyally should enjoy job security and benefits, and the right of reassignment within the University, and the honor and respect of the community. Call me old-fashioned, if you will, or call me radical, but please don't call me Hitler, on a power trip.

Just because I mentioned Chancellor Wrighton and nobody else does not mean I have anything against him. "The buck stops" with him, that is his job. I think he, like every other American University head at this time, is overpaid, but I hear he is very philanthropic with his money, as am I, on a MUCH smaller scale. I am glad more people now realize that whatever I get from the University, the University community gets back. I believe I am underpaid for what I do. Even so, I am asking only to keep what I have, a modest salary, health insurance, and a shoestring philanthropic budget. For myself, I only want to leave this earth with an honorable mention to my name. (Please see Minimum Demands).

(Please see Anti-Harassment Policies May Be Abused)