A lot happened last Friday (Dec. 9th) at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting, but a new twist to life at CSU was the emergence of the "Chicago Way" on campus. An older man stood near the entrance to the library before the full board meeting at 1 p.m. handing out flyers to those on their way in. As I passed him, he said, "you need to read this before going into the meeting." I asked him how he knew I was going to a meeting, but he just repeated that I needed to read the flyer.
The flyer was a two-page scurrilous attack on CSU faculty member Phillip Beverly.
As I began reading I found out that Dr. Beverly was largely being tainted by association to some disgraced southside politician I had never heard of and who has not been in office for decades. Not being from Chicago some of the other references went over my head. Dr Beverly's teaching was impugned and even his retired history teacher father was referred to disparagingly as not being a supporter of Chicago's African Americans. A series of rhetorical questions implied Dr. Beverly was being paid off by someone, I guess to attack the same African American community.
As I read along, I kept thinking, is it 1928? "Don't vote for Al Smith because he's Catholic..." or 1952? "Don't vote for Adlai Stevenson because he's a communist..."
The flyer listed no author or organization. There was no stamp of approval from the CSU censor's office that all campus flyers are supposed to have. After I had read a few paragraphs of the diatribe, I turned back and asked, "who told you to hand these out?" But the man would only repeat that it came from "interested students and parties on campus." He continued to pass these out as he tried to move away from me since I would not stop asking him questions.
As I walked into the library a few professors were on their way out to see what was going on since the flyers had apparently made their way upstairs to the meeting room. Dr. Beverly was unfazed by the flyers. Eventually what happened was that the Administration told campus police to find out who the man was and what he was doing. When he wouldn't identify himself, merely saying his daughter was a student here and that he would not give her name out, he was escorted off campus. So were two other men who were handing out the same flyer on another side of the campus. At least that's the story I got later on. Mr. Patrick Cage, Dr Watson's legal counsel (and former City College colleague), made a point of reminding Dr Beverly that it was the Administration that Dr. Beverly so likes to criticize that got the man off campus. Dr. Beverly pointed out that he did not ask them to do that.
It was probably only a matter of time until the full force of "The Chicago Way" hit CSU. I mean we saw it in play as the bogus presidential search of 2009 unfolded before our very eyes as CSU's "Godfather" paid off his debts and no one on the state level who could have intervened cared that we got what we got what we got.
But the story of the scurrilous flyers didn't end last Friday. Earlier this week, Dr. Beverly's parents' neighborhood was swamped with the same flyers--this time stuffed into mailboxes.
My guess is that CSU students are not involved in this effort to tar Phillip Beverly and certainly not his family. In the first place our students are not as cowardly as all this. They would have been the ones outside the building passing out the flyers themselves and would own up to their actions. Certain members of the Administration like to think that the faculty are puppet-masters goading the students on in their recent activities on campus--the formation of the Independent Students Union, and the Occupy Cook protest, as well as more student voices at the Board of Trustees meetings. It tells you how poorly the Administration thinks of the students and their capacity for independent thinking and organizing. At another meeting late last month a senior administrator is quoted as saying that faculty in a certain college have been told to pull down any posters or flyers especially from the Independent Student Union "that would disturb" the students. The paternalism that has been traditional at predominantly African American universities is not something that our students here seem to want to continue nor do they respond very well to it. Maybe they are just better at seeing through the banners around campus that proclaim "students are our first priority" or that the CEO has an open door for any student concerns. Langston Hughes' famous critique "Cowards from the Colleges" should be mandatory reading for all Administrators before they take a job.
So, are the ad hominem attacks on Dr Beverly retaliation for his vocal assaults on the university administration? Are they intended to silence him by fear? --"we know who you are and where you live..." By extension are they intended to silence anyone who criticizes the university or the African American Community in Chicago? Dr. Watson is on record as recently as November 17th's so-called "faculty forum" as admonishing faculty not to "air our dirty laundry in public" since we are up for accreditation and the HLC reads the Chicago papers. If that isn't the old paternalism in action I don't know what is. How about the CSU Admin stops doing things that put our accreditation in jeapardy? In other words, stop dirtying the laundry and there would be nothing to air.
The commotion at the afternoon meeting of the Board of Trustees did not stop Dr Beverly from making a prepared statement during public comment. In it Dr Beverly made a plea for faculty primacy in academic matters on campus and outlined for the Trustees how faculty approach issues differently than administrators. It also did not stop approximately 10 CSU students from stepping up to make public comment to the Board of Trustees. Ironically the first student who spoke brought up censorship of another form. In January a mandatory dress code will be instituted for business majors in the College of Business. In an eloquent statement to the Board, our student spoke of wanting to be "educated," not merely "trained" and painted a picture for them of students who work in the morning at a job having to carry a change of clothes from their uniforms or work clothes to business attire to attend a class. She added, what about students who have to struggle to buy books now having the added expense of buying business clothes? In the end she called for a boycott of the Business School and that business majors should all change their majors in protest.
The Board of Trustees meeting last Friday was important for other reasons. Two campus constituencies that have had to rely on indirect contact with the Board were allowed to give reports thanks to the efforts of Senate President Yan Searcy and the new Board Chairman Rozier. The Faculty Senate and the Civil Service Council will continue to be allowed to report to the Board in a formal manner. There is a firm commitment from the Board to ensure that shared governance has meaning on campus and Chairman Rozier charged President Watson to continue to adhere to these principles.
While it seems last Friday that a gauntlet had been thrown down to those who criticize the university (or its southside community) the faculty, administration, and trustees should take to heart and consider the concluding remarks of one of the student speakers. In spite of admonishments and intimidation, he said, "the student voice will no longer be ignored." Neither, I hope will others.