Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Changing Hearts and Minds

“I had a modest goal when I became a teacher.  I wanted to change the world.” Historian Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn, left, and William Allegrezza
English professor William Allegrezza put out a 66-page volume of poems by students in a class of his.  Alyssa Black wrote about being a servant to her cat (“Why do I serve this creature with no soul?/  My love for fuzzy cuteness must run deep”).   Vanessa Power’s “Thea’s House” captures the remnants of ethnic flavor still found in the Region.  She wrote:

Most of all
I remember the smell, the loud voices
As it started to snow.

Old, musky perfume
Dark coffee
Greek food and Ouzo too.

Booming voices
Over the holiday music,
Laughter of women
Recalling their past.

NWI Times correspondent Carmen McCollum wrote an article about Anne Balay’s case entitled, “IUN instructor files bias complaint.”  It listed not only Roy Dominguez as her attorney but Christopher Cooper of Chicago, who has taken on many discrimination suits.  The Windy City Times also ran a long article.  After it was posted on Facebook her colleague Patricia Buckler responded: “You deserve a break!!!!!”  Within hours 33 others wished her luck and offered their support.  Jill Wester noted a definite pattern of denying tenure to gay women and added: “Damn girl!  Go get ‘em.”
 Roy Dominguez and Christopher Cooper

Lake County surveyor George Van Til accepted a plea bargain and pled guilty of using his office’s employees during his campaign to be re-elected.  He’s a good man, and I hope he doesn’t get any jail time. 
 Rudy Velasco and Renae Jackson; NWI Times photo by Ken Benman
Former sheriff Roy Dominguez was in the news as a board member for Everybody Counts, a disability-rights group.  In 2006 a consent decree ordered the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) to comply with the Americans for Disabilities Act.  Gary and East Chicago’s transit companies have complied, as has North Township Dial-A-Ride, but NIRPC has been dragging its feet.  In May Portage mayor James Snyder had police on hand to intimidate demonstrators.  In September Crown Point mayor David Uran changed the rules to prevent Everybody Counts representatives from speaking at upcoming meetings.  Roy Dominguez said that over the past six months NIRPC commissioners have rebuffed all efforts at cooperation.  “Instead,” he added, “they called armed police officers to place us under surveillance and implemented new rules to suppress public comment.”

Dave’s friend and fellow E.C. Central teacher Bill Stenberg wrote a letter to the Editor thanking his school’s football players for a great season and being an inspiration for those facing formidable odds.  He wrote: “While tears were shed after their loss at Fort Wayne Dwenger, I’m inclined to think it was largely because for the vast majority, it was their final game at Central.  They certainly had nothing else to feel bad about.”

James Mlechick, in the archives before Steve McShane’s Indiana History class, mentioned that he and his brother moved to Portage near the cemetery where his grandfather is buried.  His sister is divorced and remarried and has two kids.  His dad, one of my first students, still lives in Glen Park and is a good neighbor, I’m sure.

History Press approached Jeff Manes about doing a book called “Lost Gary” that would focus on dilapidated structures.  He turned them down – good for him.  He prefers to put out one called “Book of Salts” that would reprint the best of his SALT columns.  In his proposed intro he says, I have had the advantage of growing up on the banks of the Kankakee River and the coke batteries of the Indiana Harbor. I’ve worked hard and played hard with folks from Chicago to Valparaiso, from Lake Village to Lake Michigan.”  At my suggestion Jeff interviewed Chancellor's assistant Kathy Malone about her life, focusing on her activities in a citywide church choir.

Nicole Anslover’s final Sixties class of the semester again was on legacies.  Two enduring legacies worth mentioning are the resilience of the institution of the family during a time of tumult and the military industrial complex trumping the War on Poverty.  At the end of class Nicole and several students thanked me for joining them.

Anne Balay and attorney Roy Dominguez asked me to make some remarks to members of the Faculty Board of Review in support of her case for tenure and promotion.  Because I will be on the record I opted to read this statement in order to be concise and precise.

Retain Anne Balay
By James B. Lane, professor emeritus of History

I have been associated with IUN for 43 years as a teacher, department chair, member of the Arts and Sciences Promotion and Tenure committee, and archives co-director, and I have written with Paul Kern a history of IU Northwest.  In all that time this is the most unfair, unjust egregious decision I have ever come across.  Anne is an impeccable scholar, has an exemplary service record, and is a great teacher.  I know because I sat in on one of her classes the entire semester.  But don’t just take my word.  Read the conclusions of the English Department committee, whose members included Mary Russell, who, like Anne, taught Children’s Lit and is a former Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Ana Osan, a former student here and distinguished faculty member, and poet Bill Buckley, who recently retired.  Together they represent about 70 years of teaching experience.  Or read the reports of the many distinguished faculty who attended her classes, including Alan Barr, Cynthia O’Dell, and others.  It is rare for a recipient of teaching awards to be denied tenure on the basis of inadequacy in teaching and virtually unheard of to base that denial on withdrawal rates, random student comments, and the claim that she teaches to an agenda, especially if that agenda is opposition to discrimination in any of its forms.  I have attended Arts and Sciences conferences and heard close to a dozen of Anne’s students deliver scholarly papers.  I know some of them and they rave about what an inspiring teacher Anne has been to them.

The Gender Studies class of Anne’s that I attended all semester had about 16 students.  She had excellent rapport with them, never appeared to be judgmental or disrespectful of their opinions, and presented a variety of points of view.  Discussing feminism, for instance, she mentioned that in the past there have been several waves, with differing points of emphasis.  While she said that she tended to identify most with those feminists who argued that the personnel is political, she made it clear that other points of view also had validity.  While the class became aware that she was a lesbian, she did not put down men or heterosexuals or married people.  If the African Americans in that class knew that Anne’s department chair was claiming he received criticisms about Anne being a racist, they, I’m sure, would shake their heads in disbelief.  The class talked the concept of unconscious bias – how people can be prejudiced without realizing that they are.  We also discussed an article about women in the workplace and how sometimes traits that are valued in men – aggressiveness, competitiveness, having strong opinions – are discouraged in women. 

When I saw the dean’s negative evaluation of Anne’s service record, that article came to mind.   In the past almost nobody has been judged to be inadequate in terms of service unless they did virtually nothing other than just teach class and then leave.  Anne, on the other hand, organized a Gender Studies conference, helped plan a Clothesline Project to increase awareness of domestic violence, organized an event to prevent suicides among gay teenagers, was an equity adviser on departmental hiring committees, served on numerous university committees, and was faculty adviser to the LGBT student group Rainbow Connectionz.  So it must not have been the amount of service that bothered the dean but the type of service she was engaged in.  She accompanied students to Gay Pride parades, made a fuss when Allied Health faculty docked students’ grades if they looked too “butch,” and also made a fuss when a department didn’t follow proper affirmative action guidelines.  Had Anne been less outspoken, my guess is that her case for promotion and tenure would have sailed through.  As it was, not only did her department committee unanimously support her, so did the Arts and Sciences p and t committee – also unanimously.  So in the end did the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, but given the negative recommendation of her department chair and dean, who portrayed Anne as essentially troublesome, President Michael McRobbie elected to side with people who should have recused themselves from judging her.  Thank goodness the university in the past tolerated such “troublesome” faculty as F.C. Richardson, who agitated for a Black Studies program, Nick Kanellos, who agitated for a Latino Studies program, and Robin Hass Birky, who agitated for a Women’s Studies program.

Let me say a few words about the accusation that Anne taught to an agenda.  Would that apply to a Keynsian economist or a consensus historian?  What about a deconstructionist Literature professor or a New Left scholar like, say, Howard Zinn in his time?  Would a Black Studies professor who believed in civil rights have been criticized or a Chicano Studies teacher who used a textbook entitled “Occupied America”?  By that standard college academic life would be pretty boring, not much different from high school.  My guess is that many students who complained of being uncomfortable with some of the material Anne covered, such as a character in a story stating that it’s harder to be gay than black, will be thankful in the future for the exposure to such things as the plight of transgendered people in prison, and remember what they learned from her more than from less provocative professors.

In summation, Anne Balay deserves to be granted promotion and tenure on the grounds of fairness, diversity, and academic freedom.  Anything less would be a clear case of discrimination.  She has gone through more than two years of needless stress, pain, and suffering instead of receiving the mentoring that might have improved her already more than adequate classroom performance.  When I was History department chair, the most complaints I got were about our two best teachers.  In the one case where a teacher needed help, my colleagues and I got it for her, and she is now highly respected and praised.  In Anne’s case, when I decided to audit her class, it was to offer constructive criticism about “toning things down.”  She didn’t need any advice.  The university needs to do the right thing and live up to its expressed ideals; otherwise it will leave a stain equivalent to when controversial professors were fired during the Red Scare.  President Michael McRobbie has been a great leader for IU and all its campuses; this is a historic opportunity for him to act decisively for a good cause and one I know he believes in.

I’d like to conclude by reading a short paragraph from “Educating the Calumet Region: A History of Indiana University Northwest.

In 1993 lab instructor Don Bertolo was the primary organizer of the Northwest Indiana Homosexual/Bisexual Alliance.  The group met at the Cardinal Newman Center, a block off campus.  It defined itself as a support group for those who already knew they were gay and for others questioning their sexual identity.  It promised a non-pressure atmosphere and complete confidentiality.

Librarian Ellen Bosman recalled: “During the late `1990s IUN’s handbook mentioned the existence of a club for gay and lesbian students but listed no adviser.  Its club statement implied a degree of secrecy I thought unnecessary and demeaning.  I offered to be faculty adviser.  We changed the name to Northwest Indiana Pride Alliance and rewrote the club description to make it more positive and inclusive.  One of our goals was to get people to embrace a concept of diversity that included sexual orientation.”

Ellen, wherever you are I wish I could report that things have improved.  A lot will depend on this decision.  I implore this committee to give President McRobbie a clear signal to reverse the decision on Anne and grant her tenure and promotion.  Not to do so will damage the reputation of the university I love so much.

The Faculty Board of Review meeting lasted three hours, and I could only be there while I spoke and then answered questions.  The committee chair asked whether everyone in Anne’s Gender Studies class was basically in agreement with Anne’s views.  I mentioned that there was a soccer mom and a shy, probably sheltered young woman who at times seemed uncomfortable discussing transgendered people of sex industry workers but Anne went out of her way not to embarrass them.  One person, probably a conservative Republican, really enjoyed participating in conversations.  I left five copies of my remarks, and they were all gone at meeting’s end, a good sign.  Attorney Roy Dominguez was able to stay the entire time and even deliver closing remarks.  English professor Bill Buckley also spoke glowingly about Anne teaching and the high quality of the Department committee that unanimously recommended her.  The testimony of IU South Bend Women’s Studies chair April Lidinsky really was important, as she pointed out that professors who teach about sex and gender often have a few disgruntled students, so evaluations have to be analyzed with that in mind. 

During our time outside the conference room, Lipinsky, Buckley, Anne’s daughter Emma, and I enjoyed getting to know each other. I mentioned someone I admire who had trouble getting to the point when she started talking, and April said it was common and called rhetorical throat-clearing.  Buckley discussed being one of two finalists for a job 30 years ago and seeing the other candidate leaving right before his interview was to start.  She was a tall, gorgeous blond woman, and as she walked down the hall the department chair intently watched her go.  “At that moment I knew I didn’t have a chance,” Bill said.

At Abuelo’s afterwards, we were all optimistic that the committee will react favorably to her case, especially in view of the lack of mentoring or warning she received.  Anne said that Roy was amazing, explaining how important IU Northwest was to him personally, bringing up affirmative action issues and telling an anecdote about the temporary furor at the Sheriff’s office when a Lake County officer came out of the closet.  At first everyone was up in arms, but then the most macho officer stood up for him and the crisis gradually evaporated.  Roy even mentioned be a recipient of a Distinguished IU Alumnus award.  As we embraced at meal’s end, I called Roy “hermano” and told him I owed him big time.  Begging to differ, he said he was glad to do something to benefit the university and have an opportunity to explore a new field of law.  Just seeing Anne smile afterwards made it all worth it, he added. April later posted: “It was a very good day for truth and justice, I believe.  And what wonderful company.  Proud to be standing with you, Anne!”
Emma Balay, Roy Dominguez, Anne Balay, April Lidinsky, and Jimbo at Abuelo's

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