• Categories

  • The Golden Rule

    “That which is hateful to you do not do to another ... the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.”

    - Rabbi Hillel
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Remember to click "manage" to set your preferences, such as daily or immediate and the time of delivery.

  • Subscribe Via Email

  • Lists of posts and videos

    Dandelion Salad Videos

    Dandelion Salad Posts

    Don’t Enlist, But Don’t Just Take My Word For It by Lo
    Please pass this on to anyone you know who may be considering enlisting as a soldier (mercenary).

  • Amendment I

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
  • Disclaimer:

    The views and/or opinions posted on all the blog posts and in the comment sections are of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Dandelion Salad.

    All content has been used with permission from the copyright owners, who reserve all rights, and that for uses outside of fair use (an excerpt), permission must be obtained from the respective copyright owner.

  • The Internet is Under Attack

  • US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush. Click here to learn more.

I Wonder How Mario Savio Would Be Treated At SSU Today by Shepherd Bliss

by Shepherd Bliss
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
December 13, 2012

Free Speech Mural, Berkeley

Image by George via Flickr

The creation of the Mario Savio Speakers’ Corner this semester was my favorite event during my five years at Sonoma State University. It was a good example of what is taught in SSU’s Foundations of Leadership course, UNIV. 238, which I taught for three years.

The dynamic Savio was a beloved teacher at SSU from 1990-1996. He is best known as a leader of the Free Speech Movement in the mid-sixties, while a student at the University of California, Berkeley. That movement galvanized students around the U.S. against the American War in Vietnam. The Savio memorial committee wanted to inspire people, as Savio did, “to act upon conscience to insure justice.”

The sixties student movement, inspired by Savio, helped convince me to resign my commission as a young military officer and dedicate my life to the study, teaching, and practice of social justice. I also taught SSU’s “War and Peace” course for three years, as well as “Identity and Global Challenges” for six semesters. I am indebted to Mario and his collaborators. I wonder how Mario would be treated at SSU today, in spite of being recently honored. A professor informed me that on the day before he passed away Mario was critical about how lecturers are treated by the SSU administration.

Public higher education in the U.S. today, especially in California, is in a mess, for a variety of reasons. Student fees continue to rise, as do class sizes. Students who do graduate have huge debts. It is being further privatized and corporatized to meet the financial goals of the super-rich 1%, rather than the needs of students and the society as a whole. I’ve taught college for most of the last 40 years and can report that it is much worse today for students and teachers than it was in the sixties. What follows is a first-person account and case study of what is happening at one college.

After the Nov. 15 dedication of Mario’s corner, it remains to be seen if SSU’s administration will improve its respect for free speech, even for free press. One example last year was when the student newspaper published articles on the ShameOnSSU protest against banker Sandy Weill buying an honorary doctorate by giving $12 million to the Green Music Center. The newspaper suspiciously disappeared from newsstands, which SSU staff were seen taking away. I helped organize the protest and then wrote about them. Students, faculty, alumni, Occupy activists and community members participated in the dignified protest.

SSU’s Leadership course is well designed and will fortunately be offered again this spring, after being cut last year. For two of the years I taught it, the course was cancelled, until students, staff and faculty bravely protested its elimination. I helped lead those successful struggles, which resulted in over 200 students being able to take the course in ten separate sections, thus improving student leadership on campus and beyond.

The course’s excellent text, “Exploring Leadership,” teaches the Relational Leadership Model. It advocates being inclusive and ethical, empowerment, and diversity. SSU administrators would do well to read and practice these principles, rather than violate them. Being a college administrator is not easy, which I know from being one at Harvard for a decade. This book could help not only students and teachers, but also their leaders–administrators.

I applied to teach the course again next semester. I was disappointed when informed in a terse, curt email (anything but “relational”) by a likeable administrator, whom I know well, that I would not be offered one of the seven sections. Perhaps he has not read the text about the importance of relationships with those that one manages, empathy, the appropriate use of power, and good communications. The trend in higher education, as well as in other social institutions, is for administrators to be “removed, impersonal, and unaccountable,” writes a colleague.

I have asked for the reasons for my rejection, to which I have received no real response. I deserve an explanation of why I was not re-hired, which would be the relational way to communicate, as well as provide some needed transparency. This is not the only time this part-time instructor–as well as others of us–has received an unfair or disrespectful communication from an administrator, which seems to be a pattern.

It is one thing to advocate critical thinking for students, and another for administrators to allow it to be practiced without retaliation. There might be lessons in my situation to understand the corporate culture of administrative leadership at SSU, as well as at other colleges. SSU teaches one thing and then does its opposite. “It’s an old-fashioned abuse of power that communicates ‘do what I say, not what I do,’” one colleague notes.

I wonder what selection criteria were used for Leadership faculty. It is usual to consider things such as having a doctorate, especially from a prominent university, experience teaching the particular course and teaching in general, rank, publishing, and student evaluations, in which I score high. Those chosen teachers did not all have better academic qualifications than mine, especially since the deadline, which I met, was extended to get enough applications.

The decision not to re-hire me does not appear to be an academic decision but a political one, various students have suggested and published letters about in the student newspaper. This is unfortunately common in colleges, which are highly politicized, especially now as public higher education is threatened by further privatization and corporatization.

SSU teaches one thing and then does its opposite. “False advertising” is what one colleague calls it. I’ve dared to exercise “academic freedom” and do the critical thinking that I am charged to teach. How much real “freedom” is there at SSU, even to practice what we are supposed to teach? It’s ironic that I actually might have been punished for implementing the Relational Leadership Model described in the course textbook.

I extend my appreciation to the capable staff that has guided 238 through the years, especially Julie Greathouse and Bruce Peterson. And best wishes to the instructors and Teaching Assistants who will be guiding it next semester, as well as to the some 200 students who are enrolled in it.

Education in the U.S. changed with the Industrial Revolution and became based on a factory model of obedience to bosses. The abuse of power is common, even at our beloved SSU, as well as elsewhere in higher education. The military’s “command and control” top-down approach to leadership prevails in colleges, producing corporate cultures that discriminate, especially against part-time instructors. Higher education tends to be organized around a rigid class system, with part-timers at the bottom of the teaching peck order.

One reason I was hired to teach certain courses at SSU was because I studied in Latin America with the Brazilian philosopher of education Paulo Freire. He wrote the book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” which affirms education for liberation and cultural action, which is the opposite of attempts to domesticate students. I love teaching undergraduates, using the Socratic Dialogue Method that I learned from Freire.

One of the saddest things is when an administrator comes up through the ranks of the teachers. Such administrators are sometimes more compassionate. Unfortunately, they are sometimes more harsh, as if they needed to prove something now that they are higher-up. That is what seems to have happened in my case, being hurt by a once-trusted colleague.

I may be gone as a teacher of the Leadership course, but not as a member of the SSU community. I plan to speak out at Mario’s Corner, even when it includes critical thinking about the administration and how it mistreats people. I welcome others to join me there and exercise free speech at SSU, even as it becomes more corporatized by the likes of banker Weill and MasterCard, prostrating public higher education to meet the financial goals of corporations, rather than the needs of students and our society.


Shepherd Bliss teaches college, has contributed to two-dozen books, and continues the organic farming that he has done for the last 20 years. He can be reached at 3sb@comcast.net.

see also:

Shepherd Bliss will be missed

***

[DS added the video.]

Mario Savio’s Speech: You’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears (1964)

UndergroundGonzo
December 19, 2007

Mario Savio’s speech before the FSM sit-in

Bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

About these ads

2 Responses

  1. [...] I Wonder How Mario Savio Would Be Treated At SSU Today by Shepherd Bliss [...]

  2. Everything you describe is also true at the university where I teach in Malaysia. I’ve been teaching overseas for over six years now, and I’m ready to go home. My son strongly advises against it, telling me that everything I’m unhappy about in other countries is even more so in the U.S. He and his Chinese wife are college students in Oregon, and his account of the college system today is not pretty. I feel sorry for him. I had such an excellent university education in the 1970′s and 1980′s.

    We must take back our country and our education system from corporate interests. I want to recommend the community of Tamera in southern Portugal. It was started by a group of Germans, led by Dieter Duhm, over thirty years ago. They run a peace university in the summer, and have been consciously building an alternative to our present systems.

    Please investigate Tamera at http://www.tamera.org. I have been participating online in their School of the Future.

    I believe there are three major forces that can lead us out of this militaristic morass that the U.S. has become as a nation: 1) women claiming their voices in decision-making and getting more involved in their communities to support their families and friends in making good lives for themselves, 2) reaching out beyond our borders to expand our awareness of other people without the blinkers of domination and control, not only to share the common struggle of working people all over the world, but also to receive support from other movements, to gain a wider perspective, and to feel the solidarity that they can offer us, and 3) creating new systems that are better than what we have today, systems that are more inclusive and more just.

    We need systems that build cooperation between people and that encourage altruism and community building efforts. We need systems that help us come into harmony with the web of life, and that honor our planet and our existence here instead of destroying it. We need systems that lead us on an evolutionary path.

    As a peace visionary and also as an adjunct ESL instructor at universities in the U.S. and intensive academic preparation in other countries, I am wholly aligned with your concerns and also dedicated to making change happen. We shall overcome!

Please add to the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s