Upshot mid-February. Maybe Valentine’s Day or the day after, but before the 16th. Snowdrops or snowbells or crocus. Is the plural for crocus, crocuses? Doesn’t matter if they’re snowdrops. I’m sure they’re snowdrops. Well, almost sure. Surer is that Michigan’s regreening is mistimed this time. The snowdrops keep to themselves, don’t express a whole lot, or not anything I can hear where I stand when I pass by them front door in-going and out-going. But then this one photo jogs a memory about how last season’s tomatoes wilded into an unmanageable mess yielding more on vine rot than wedges of lightly salted gushes tomatoseed and sunshine. It’s something. Cannot say yet whether it’s the snowdrops or their photo or the tomatoes long since turned over in the side yard that share the quiet wisdrom, not quite lesson and not quite imperative, do better with gardening this year.
Immersed in prepping this talk for much of the morning, noticing as closing in the constraints of time and purpose and what I’d supposed possible before really squaring with the script. Deck is drafted, talk is drafted, and still there isn’t quite enough explicit about this business of standing on shoulders–so much more I’d like to do with footing for newcomers, hospitality for initiates.
So many to choose from, but this is the photo that best captures–hinge-relay–the juncture between the old year and the new, a recent selfie, maybe Christmas Day, back wall echoing in school portraiture their aging, foreground punctuated with their resilience and sturdiness and joy. I don’t know about every parent, but photos of your kids laughing together elicits, elicits, elicits a delightful and lasting effect.
Photo aside, I made a list yesterday, touched it up for five minutes this morning: I am resolving in 2017 more laughter, longer beardgrowth, occasional blog entries, regular running, new tattoo, Grand Canyon, more kimchi, early yoga and earlier meditation, watercolors, heartier alliances, coalition building, political resilience, generosity and kindness, when to habituate and when to digress and when to rest, longer olive branch, mightier dynamite, more olive branch dynamite, cayenne hot chocolate, eclectickler reading, more drawing, bigger optimism, more sunshine, and more laughter.
Decluttering email and here’s a missive I received as a reminder: purpose, audience, context, then analysis and practice, genres and texts, circulation. But the second paragraph (ensuring background) complicates the first, or at the very least positions the first set of fundamentals in relief–sharp contrast!–with professional development and meaningful experiences sustaining instructors of all rank. Even when the purpose (para. 1) is lucid and visible and constantly tended, the eidos in the second paragraph requires resources that too easily ebb and flow with the changing tide of administrator mindset and fiscal-budgetary conditions. Not at all meaning to be vague or inconclusive with this, nor suggestive hint-hint wink-wink with this, nor anything much other than reminded that re-reading principles’ statements is measures affirming and measures yes, difficulties and challenges remain.
10. Sound writing instruction extends from a knowledge of theories of writing (including, but not limited to, those theories developed in the field of composition and rhetoric).
The most fundamental purpose of classes devoted specifically to writing instruction (such as first-year or advanced composition courses) is to engage students in study of and practice with purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing. In practice, this means that writers engage in supported analysis of these purposes, audiences, and contexts and through supported practice with genres and texts that circulate within and among them.
Institutions and programs emphasize this purpose by ensuring that instructors have background in and experience with theories of writing. Ideally, instructors have ongoing access to and support for professional development, including (but not limited to) attendance at local, regional, or national Composition and Rhetoric conferences. Institutions employing graduate students from outside of the discipline of Composition and Rhetoric to teach writing courses support development of this background knowledge by ensuring students receive sufficient grounding in and practice/mentoring with regard to key concepts associated with theories of writing.
About wind direction. Something about wind direction. About circulation studies. Something about circulation studies.
No, none of that. Using aggregate wind direction data, wind map projects national billows, any given moment’s breeze pathways. It offers a kind of air-truthing, a geography of the felt-unseen, forces I notice when the windows creak from gusts at night or when I lumber out for a few slow miles north by northwest near the horse stables, upwind from the horse stables.
Source: Wind Map
“Across the calm heavens the murk of flying atmosphere–I have always maintained that if you looked closely enough you could see the wind–the dim, hardly-made-out, fine debris fleeing high in the air;–these faintly hinted at intense movements rushing down through space” (195). Stewart White, “On The Wind at Night,” The Mountains
Dear Coach Creighton,
I don’t think we’ve met, not in person. I sent you a welcome to EMU email a few years ago when you accepted the position of head football coach, noting that I remembered you from your time in the early 2000s at Ottawa University (Kansas) because I was in Kansas City, working as NAIA Region V information officer, among other things.
I’m faculty at EMU now, where I’ve worked since 2009 and where I am beginning my fourth year as Director of the First-year Writing Program. It’s a large program, one of the largest cohesive academic programs insofar as we are responsible for curriculum and staffing of over 150 sections of WRTG120 and WRTG121 per year, sections that reach approximately 3,000 EMU students each year.
Early this morning I read about your media day press conference. Here’s the article: Eastern Michigan football survives rumors, with plans for progress. And then I went on a run, just a few miles around the neighborhood where I live three miles from campus. It was a great morning for a run; there is much to love about living in this area and about working at EMU.
As I ran, though, I was nagged by something you said on media day, something that was quoted in the Free Press article. For context, here’s the longer section where it appeared:
Athletic director Heather Lyke has broached the situation with open arms, fielding questions from concerned students and alumni, as has former interim President Donald Loppnow, current President James Smith and the Regents.
But Creighton said support from alumni and former players has been even better.
“It’s been the response to the riffraff in April from alumni that has been awesome,” he said. “People love this school and people love this football program.
“Guys put four, five years into playing college football. There’s life changing values, lessons, teammates, discipline, commitment, teamwork, overcoming adversity — it changes you.”
When you referred to “riffraff,” it comes as a poke, a finger in the chest of people like me, my colleagues, the students we work with. I want you to know I read it as such: a jab, an unkind instigation. When you say “riffraff,” it seems like you are referring to people who participated in campus dialogue in April about EMU’s subsidizing athletics at the university with 26 million dollars annually from the General Fund. In those dialogues, students expressed surprise at more than 10% of their tuition dollars underwriting athletics. And many faculty voiced concerns about that level of spending–what appears to many to be an unchecked and unquestioned rate of expenditure, calling questions of whether it is ethical, much less sustainable at a modest regional, public university like ours. Twenty-six million dollars a year is $500,000 per week. Not many universities–even the wealthiest–can afford to spend that kind of money for long.
Riffraff names “undesirable” people. It is a pejorative term, akin to name calling. Are we really riffraff for speaking openly and freely about what concerns us at the university? Maybe you would be willing to say more about who you are referring to? I hesitate–with great concern–to think you are talking about others whose work at EMU directly relates to teaching and to supporting student academically, or to the students themselves.
I’ll spare you idealistic platitudes about how open dialogue is vital to our institutional mission, or about the importance of noticing when some units at the university, such as yours, are supported by resources that far and away exceed units like the one I am responsible for. For perspective, consider this. The tuition dollars from the First-year Writing Program generate approximately 2.7 million USD per year for the General Fund. With last year’s 7.8% tuition hike, credit hours in this program alone brought an additional $260,000 to the university. We had a budget of approximately $15,200, which underwrites things like pizza lunches, the biannual Celebration of Student Writing, and $50 stipends for all in the program who attend a full-day professional development workshop in mid-August, our only such event of the year. We underspent that $15,200 by more than 25%, which is to say with a modest measure of pride that we are a frugal program and that we have been resourceful. Our new graduate assistants–there are thirteen this fall who will be teaching WRTG120, which some of your football student-athletes very well may be enrolled in–spend two weeks on campus in August without any compensation for their time besides parking vouchers and lunches for one week donated by a textbook publisher. And even though every section is full this fall, even though our program is nationally recognized as thoughtfully designed and even innovative, we just learned that we may be facing a 54% budget cut for the year ahead due to flawed budgetary projects. Granted, the current budget situation affects all of EMU (doesn’t it? I’m not sure whether you are hearing about 54% budget cuts in your program this year). And it points to only a tiny sliver of all we might say about how the expenditures and investments disfavor academic units, generally.
This message has already gone on too long, and although there are myriad other examples, illustrations, and anecdotes to point out, about our part-time lecturers not being paid until after a full month of classes, about how poorly paid are our graduate assistants who are entrusted with full responsibility for teaching classes, about aging technology infrastructure and declining support for the maintenance and refresh of the one laptop cart shared by our entire program–what I set out to convey to you, above all, amounts to two points.
First, I hope you’ll reconsider your characterization of those who are bold enough to call the question of EMU’s athletic spending as “riffraff.” Your program is the beneficiary of considerable institutional support, and as such, a degree of modesty and self-awareness would go a long way to improving goodwill. As a former student-athlete myself and as someone who worked in athletics administration at another university for seven years, I tend to be in support of athletics and all that it can offer. But this is incredibly difficult to do at EMU when what we see is a kind of spending-be-damned hubris. Whatever else can be said about the strengths and limitations of the programs we are responsible for, if we are colleagues, and if our respective goals are commensurable, then we need to do better than to name-call.
Second, it is incredibly, incredibly difficult to keep morale high in an environment like we have in EMU, where the two-tiered haves and have-nots are sitting side by side in a classroom. This dynamic reaches well beyond campus, as well, into community spaces, as well, where character and integrity circulate, not always favorably though oftentimes warranting notice and even raising questions. After one of my daughter’s soccer matches early this summer, I sat down with my dad and her at The Bomber for lunch. A group of football student-athletes, coaching staff, and eventually you along with your son, came in, sat down within earshot. Just before you arrived, some of the discussion loudly enough expressed for us to overhear was about drinking the night before, about how great it would be if The Bomber would serve up a pitcher of bloody marys. My daughter, who is now ten, gave me a hard look and asked what those were, why someone would want them with Saturday brunch. You see, there is consequence to the ways we conduct ourselves on campus and away from it, particularly when attired in (institutionally underwritten) green and white, when acting as agents of the university, when forgetting even for a moment that we are implicated in something bigger.
Just as you will, I will continue to do my work–to go to campus and be a professional, to boost morale, encourage and support top-shelf instruction in an aspirational if modest academic program, and to ask questions, sometimes hard questions, of the university I work for. I’ll urge everyone at EMU to do the same. And I am idealistic enough to think the university will be better for it. But I’m also idealistic enough to think we’ll all do better to undertake this if we are not, when we encounter dissent, willing to jab at those whose views differ from our own.
08.21.2016 (7:52 p.m.) Moments after I posted this, I caught one minor typo and made the change right away. I also reworded the description of the experience at The Bomber so as to be clearer that I was there with my dad and daughter. This is significant because I was direct witness to the remarks; they are not second-hand.
I received a note from an EMU administrator on Sunday calling attention to two factual errors. The first is that part-time lecturers this fall will be paid on September 15. My description of that problem was based on the way things were handled last fall, when part-time lecturers were not paid until after the first full month of classes. I am encouraged to know that this has been addressed and improved.
And finally, the budget cut I noted applies to one department’s SSM operating budget. What does this mean? For starters it means that budgets are being cut unevenly across the institution right now. This entry does not in any way mean to establish that a campus-wide or uniform budget cut of 54% is a certainty. -DM
Drove for seven or eight hours, crossing the Mackinaw Straits and the Saint Mary River, winding along the wonderfully scenic northeastern shoreline of Lake Superior with its thick greenery, steely juts, pebbly inlets, and watch out for moose signage every few hundred kilometers. Canadicity. Is that the right word for it?
I knew Ontario allowed for roadside park and sleep alongside the TransCanada Highway, but I pressed on into Lake Superior Provincial Park before realizing the rules shifted and also that Wawa was another 100km ahead. Too far. Stopped at the welcome center for the provincial park to find it closed and with bear sighting posters in the window. And finally I found a park ranger who couldn’t have been more helpful, stepping me through all the options for hiking and camping, the fees for parking in a designated campsite, how to handle payment without Canadian currency, and so on. He even retrieved a more detailed paper map from his truck and delicately unfolded it onto the hood of the Element. Best option turned out to be Agawa Bay campground, a paid lot, since I’m Elementing this night and not having any regrets about it because no thank-you to tent sleeping among the bears.
North and then west, on the road in an hour or two, hugging L. Superior’s Canadian shoreline for a few hundred kilometers before pausing in Thunder Bay. Been to Thunder Bay before? I haven’t. Eventually, by the TransCanada highway, Winnipeg and Folk Fest. Intermittent dispatches here more than on FB is my plan.
The desire in me to be alone hasn’t changed. Which is why the hour or so I spend running, maintaining my own silent, private time, is important to help me keep my mental well-being. When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at the scenery passing by. This is part of my day I can’t do without. (p. 14)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami (2008)
Six miles this afternoon. A sweat bath. Slow. There is a phase shift from that moment when the black flies hover and linger to when they dive bomb, touch skin for a taste of salt or land for a chance for more. Do you know if this phase shift is in a summer (e.g., June 15) or a day (e.g., precisely at 3:15 p.m. EDT)? I don’t. Or maybe it hinges on a body’s heat or slowness or sweatiness or fatigue. They can smell fatigue. That must be it. Whatever, it happened midway along this runroute, from no-touch flies to divebombs and landings. During mile five.