General Faculty Meeting

Today there was an emergency General Faculty meeting. We considered four motions. All were approved by the faculty more-or-less unanimously.

The Officers of the MSP and the Rules Committee met yesterday to draft the motions. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. The first one was amended slightly in the meeting. We had tried to keep them free of issues of "personality", but the audience insisted that the vote of no confidence refer, not only to the actions of the Board, but also to the actions of the President with respect to the firing of the Chancellor.

As part of the committee that had drafted the motions, I was asked to meet with the President before the meeting. He is a gifted speaker and very persuasive -- I tried to go into the meetings with an open mind and simply listen. I was almost persuaded. But during the General Faculty Meeting, Ernie May drew people's attention to the issue of what was discussed during the "Trustee Dinner" on May 3rd. The President responded and claimed that there were no deliberations on the policy during that time. Missy Lieblum, the student trustee from the campus, took the microphone and point-by-point denied his statement. She said that, in fact, substantive deliberations were made at this meeting and trustees were encouraged to "raise any concerns now" rather than to bring them up during the actual board meetings. She said that trustees spent a long time discussing in detail the kinds of changes the One University plan would entail -- she said she was embarrassed to admit that much of their interest, or concern, centered only on whether or not there would be a single football team. When President Wilson dismissively said that we could take those concerns to the Attorney General, if we wanted to pursue them further (since he would not), the audience lost its cool for the only time, and devolved into catcalls.

Wilson again leaves the campus seriously wounded, with his policy in tatters. He's been put into an untenable position by events. He won't say what actually happened, but I suspect that when Lombardi heard of this plan, he resigned in protest and that his action precipitated the series of events we've seen.

It does appear that we'll get an independent commission to review the events that led up to this debacle and to propose a path forward. I still hold the trustees accountable, but after today I don't have as much sympathy for Wilson as I had had previously -- he's fully implicated in the whole sad sequence of events.

Talking about a process...

When President Wilson spoke at UMass, he referred over and over again to "the process" like it was some kind of mantra. I thought it would be interesting to find each statement where he referred to "the process":

Remember, now, I am talking about a process, not a result.
We have decided on a process, and even that is not decided [...]
We have decided to recommend a process [...]
[...] we are proposing a process, a year-long process [...]
My comments about the process are a process [...]
The decision [...] to go through this process and to suggest this to the Trustees, that is done.
What I am proposing here is a process which is built on the philosophy that it’s really the community that is going to have to define how they want to organize themselves [...]
It’s a process that we go through during the year [...]
I think that’s a fair kind of question to ask in this process.
[...] what we are proposing [...] isn’t a plan. It’s a process. A process to develop a plan.
It’s a year-long process that we defined [...] and was in my statement from day one
[...] all I can do is tell you the truth is it’s a proposal for a process.
By coming to regular meetings [...] and by working through the processes on the campus.

Remember, now, he's talking about a process, not a result.

Its interesting that he talks about the "community organizing itself" when, so far, there has been no opportunity for the community have any input in what's happened. So far, it has been presented as a fait accompli. Some process...

An Open Letter to Deval Patrick

Dear Governor Patrick:

I am a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I was there when you addressed us at the Higher Ed Summit and said that you would be the champion of higher education. I'm asking you to step up to the plate now. The University system is in crisis due to the recent actions of President Wilson and the Board of Trustees -- and the ouster of Chancellor Lombardi. I call on you to dissolve the Board of Trustees of the University and appoint a new board that can establish an open, accountable, and democratic process to examine the current actions and recommend a path forward.

When President Wilson spoke to the faculty yesterday, he repeated a mantra that he was "proposing a process", yet he had already forced out our chancellor without consultation of our legislative delegation, faculty, staff, or students -- when the outcome is predetermined, it does not seem like it is merely a "process". When asked to explain this "process" or his vision for the university system, President Wilson could offer no meaningful statement of goals or values. It seems clear to me that he had been planning to spring this takeover at the trustee meeting on June 21st, by which time half the local population and many of the stakeholders would have left town. Furthermore, when the plan became public, I believe he exhibited a serious lack of judgment to try to push it through in a half-baked form. President Wilson is only the most visible part of the problem, however.

Last week, I met with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Steve Tocco, when he came to speak at Amherst. He said a number of things that seriously disturbed me -- in particular, when we discussed moving the agenda of the University forward, Chairman Tocco said that the University needed to have business leaders carry the agenda forward, because when faculty speak, it is dismissed as a labor issue. His advice might be a useful statement, in a de_facto sense, in the same way someone might say, "you need an adult to say that, because no one listens to teenagers". The University is being systematically crippled by its increasing subordination to a few corporate interests in the state, rather than being empowered to act as an independent community of scholars in the pursuit of knowledge. The University can and does act as an economic engine for the state, but also holds the potential to offer a separate voice, that can look beyond purely economic interests. Unfortunately, I believe this voice is being choked off by the current Board.

As Secretary of the Amherst Democratic Town Committee, I first met you when you came to speak in Amherst at our invitation a year before your election. I stood with you in Springfield as the Vice President of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, when we endorsed your candidacy before the primary. My wife, an Amherst elected official, has been very inspired by the remarks you've made to the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and at Senator Stan Rosenberg's Municipal Conference. We are very committed to our local community and the success of the University system. I understand that you're incredibly busy, but I call on you now to step into this crisis and act in the interests of the University. We need to have an open, accountable, and democratic process for exploring any new governance structure -- not a palace coup. Please don't let this process go forward with the current Board of Trustees in place.


Steven D. Brewer; Assistant Professor & Director
Biology Computer Resource Center
Biology Department

Bicycle Breakfast

Amherst Bicikla MatenmanĝoI rode my bike to the Amherst Bicycle Breakfast this morning. This is only the second or third time I've made it. One year, I volunteered and came early to help set up. Other years, I've been out of town or busy -- or we've had rain. It was chilly this morning and sprinkled lightly after I got there, but overall it looked like it was going well. I chatted with some folks from Northampton Cycle Club (mostly about what a wonderful person Tom Hoogendyk is. :-) I spoke to some of the town planning people, who all thanked me for letting my wife serve on the select board (as if I could stop her from doing anything.) I also chatted with a faculty member from Microbio about the stirring events of yesterday and about teaching. I also entered a drawing for a new bike and picked up a cool bicycling map from the town planning office -- the map alone was worth the price of admission!

Faculty Senate Drama

There was high drama at the Faculty Senate meeting today. Several days ago, there were cryptic announcements coming out of the UMass administration: Lombardi said, in a very brief statement, "[...] I have agreed to extend my term as chancellor [...]" which sure made it sound to me like he had quit and had agreed to stay on. Wilson said, he planned to take direct control of the UMass campus and there would be an evaluation of whether or not that arrangement would continue. At the beginning of the meeting, there were a variety of expressions of suspicion and concern that the plan was premature, ill-considered, and for which any evidence of due process was lacking. No-one had been consulted and, in spite of President Wilson's protestations that nothing had happened yet and this was all pending the approval of the board, there was a strong sense of being presented with a "palace coup" as a "fait accompli". Then Senator Rosenberg stood up.

Stan made an impassioned speech to the audience echoing the grave concerns of the faculty and extending them with a powerful indictment of the UMass administration and Board of Trustees. He claimed that Lombardi was driven out - not in the short term, but by the fact that his agenda to advance the University had been systematically marginalized by the upper administration. He said that the legislators were also unaware of any of these new arrangements. He continued that the Amherst campus had never received the support that it needed to become a leading flagship campus and that Lombardi had never received the support needed for his initiatives. He described the frustration he felt when he learned only 48 hours ago that this plan had been under discussion for months, secretly among the leadership. Wilson left the meeting severely damaged. The whole university system is damaged at this point. It's no longer clear how to move forward and this scandal will undoubtedly make advancing the University's agenda much more difficult.

Afterwards, the motion on Andrew Card was brought up again. The presiding officer ruled that the motion presented by the Rules Committee was out of order because it hadn't been put on the agenda soon enough and, when a motion was made as new business, the claim was made that, once again, there wasn't a quorum. A vote was taken 31 to 0 in favor of the motion. It still isn't clear to me what it means. The Faculty Senate has rarely seemed so irrelevant: as the big events flow around it, it accomplishes little or nothing.

Andrew Card in the News

As if we needed any reminders of Andrew Card's role in the Bush White House, the current news is all about the testimony of James B. Comey. While John Ashcroft was in the hospital, Comey was acting Attorney General. When Comey refused to sign the order to allow the warrantless wiretapping they tried to make an end-run around the acting Attorney General and get Ashcroft to do it in the hospital:

Comey said he received a call from Ashcroft's chief of staff, David Ayres. Ayres relayed the fact that Ashcroft's wife, Janet, had just received a call from the White House that Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. were en route to the hospital.

Mrs. Ashcroft was upset because she had forbidden visitors and phone calls; her husband was recuperating from surgery the previous day.

Suspecting an end run was in the works, Comey ordered his security detail to head for George Washington University Medical Center


Shortly thereafter, Comey said, Gonzales — carrying an envelope apparently containing the presidential spying order — arrived with Card.

"They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there: to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was," Comey said.

"And Atty. Gen. Ashcroft then stunned me," Comey continued. "He lifted his head off the pillow and, in very strong terms, expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact … drawn from the hourlong meeting we'd had a week earlier … and then laid his head back down on the pillow, seemed spent, and said to them, 'But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the attorney general.' "

Card and Gonzales then left, he said.

According to Comey, Card called later to angrily demand that he meet him at the White House. "I responded that, after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness," Comey said.

"He replied, 'What conduct? We were just there to wish him well,' " Comey testified. "And I said again, 'After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness." Comey then tracked down Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson at a dinner party, and Olson agreed to be the witness. After meeting with other Justice officials at department headquarters, Comey said he and Olson headed to the White House about 11 p.m. but that nothing was resolved.

Comey said the White House renewed the program the next day without his approval.

This is the guy they think represents "high ethical standards".

Andrew Card Protest

Today I attended a peaceful rally on the UMass campus protesting the honorary degree for Andrew Card. There were 200-300 people -- mostly students -- who beat on plastic water bottles, shook rattles, and chanted. I particularly liked the sign that said, succinctly, "DIS CARD". Reportedly, there was a huge police presence lurking inside Whitmore with vans and paddywagons ready to swoop in if the protest became unruly. There was a brief moment when the crowd looked like it might try to enter Whitmore, but the organizers redirected the crowd off toward another building, telling them that they had already succeeded in shutting down the administators who had basically all left the building. They marched off toward Goodell.

The Hampshire Gazette this morning had an article with extensive quotes from Andrew Card saying that protesters "might want to do some homework." He continued:

'In my experience, protesters have taken quotes in newspapers out of context and the things they say don't always reflect the reality of the burden of the decisions we have to make,' Card said.

For example, when Bush asked him to rustle up some hamburgers or needed Card as a bicycling companion, Card said that he realized his wife, children, and grandkids suffer as a result of his service to the president. "[T]hat is a burden I carry," he solemnly told The Washington Post.

There may be some individual exaggerations, but on whole, I think the picture of Andrew Card that's presented by the protesters is correct. Andrew Card coordinated the White House Iraq Group that was charged with "selling the war" to the American people. Andrew Card was also at the center of weakening environmental protections (he issued the memo that prevented lower mercury standards from being put into place, for example) and setting up advisory committees with industry insiders and people with political connections, rather than scientific credentials. Hundreds of thousands have already died in the Iraq war as a direct result of the White House policies that Andrew Card advanced, but millions will probably die as a result of the White House blocking any meaningful response to global warming.

Not everyone at the protest was against Andrew Card. There were a few members of the Young Republicans there who protested the protest. One fellow would shout periodically that "Andrew Card kept you safe!" I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think that we're more safe now than we were before the Bush presidency.

Bicycle helmets

Mi biciklas ĉe GettysburgRecently, boingboing linked to this study about bike helmets. I first started using a bike helmet in the 1980's, when almost no-one wore them. I got one, more as a novelty than anything else, but quickly found that motorists gave me a lot more respect when I wore one. Now that most cyclists wear them, its not surprising that the effect is reversed.

This morning, I saw a link to the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation that collects scientific study of bike helmets. Their conclusions appear to be that helmets might help some, but don't help much and do discourage people from riding as much. I've never been in an accident where a helmet would have made a difference -- I haven't been in a serious bike accident in years. Still -- I think I'll keep wearing my helmet and just try to compensate for its effect on preventing me from riding.

The Swift Way

Arthur kaj Alice SwiftToday we all rode to the bike path connector to attend a dedication ceremony honoring Arthur Swift, who was one of the key organizers who made the connector happen. Arthur used to ride his bicycle most days from Orchard Valley to UMass where he was a professor in the Physics Department. He's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and requires a lot of assistance now.

The bike trail is much more accessible the campus now than it was before the connector was built. It's been particularly useful to make the trail more accessible for children. Without the connector, it's difficult to ride to the trail from where I live without having to cross several busy roads. The connector makes these crossings much safer.

The ceremony was organized by Rob Kusner, a math professor, former colleague of Arthur's, and a controversial member of the Select Board. Rob is an avid cyclist when he's not embroiled in t-shirt incidents or leaving threatening voicemail. He reflected on various conversations he had with Arthur over the years and invited various other folks to speak briefly.

I knew many of the people there. Our state and federal elected governmental officials were there: Ellen Story, Stan Rosenberg, and John Olver. They didn't ride bikes to the ceremony, though.

MTA Day Two

We passed an agreeable night in Boston and started the business this morning at 8am. For the first hour and a half, the Higher Ed caucus met to discuss a variety of new initiatives and challenges. I wish we could get the Higher Ed caucus to meet more often -- Every time the group meets, I perceive that we have many of the same issues across higher ed that we could address better if we shared information more effectively.

The MTA Teacher of the Year, Jessie Auger gave an effective speech. She had spent 8 months in San Jose Las Flores in El Salvador and spoke movingly of the students growing up with the aftereffectis of the terrible war there. A delegation from El Salvador attended her speech and offered brief remarks afterwards. The speaker, among other things, condemned "neoliberalism". I wonder how many of the audience could give a concise definition of neoliberalism.

The rest of the meeting is primarily devoted to passing the budget. You learn a lot about an organization by looking where the money goes.


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