“We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
Rudyard Kipling, “The Light That Failed”
“The Light That Failed” is a story about a young painter who loses his sight. Kipling had it published in 1891, and it takes place in London, India, and Sudan.
All this week University Advancement has been soliciting donations from IUN students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Thursday I arrived with a check and expected to contribute $10,000 to IU Foundation, with the money earmarked to go into the Arts and Sciences Steel Shavings account toward publication of my forthcoming Steel Shavings volume (number 43). I had followed this procedure a year ago to finance volume 42. When I checked with the Dean of Arts and Sciences to make sure he and the Vice Chancellor for University Advancement had touched base concerning the transfer so that I could start the requisition process, he said there was a problem. He had gotten instructions, he said, not to approve the transaction because the university was allegedly disassociating itself from my magazine after 40 years. I asked who made that decision, and he replied the Chancellor’s cabinet, meaning, I assumed, the four vice chancellors. When I tried to find out who was on the cabinet, I learned that there isn’t an official cabinet, only a Council and a Leadership Team, and that neither group had discussed terminating the university’s relationship with my magazine. Whatever person or group made this decision did so without granting me an opportunity to speak in my defense or even learn that such a action might be taken. I was profoundly hurt, especially given my 44-year association with IUN and my pride in the high quality of the magazine. In fact, for the past year, while working on the new issue, I had no inclination this might happen.
I asked the Dean why this policy was being put into effect, and he claimed that I had strayed away from the magazine’s original purpose, to publish student oral histories. The fact is, when Ron Cohen and I started Steel Shavings, the purpose was to document the social history of the Calumet Region. We published student articles, including oral histories, but we also were interested in other primary and secondary sources, especially holdings in IUN’s Calumet Regional Archives and writings by area scholars and ordinary people alike. Over the course of 42 issues the magazine has not only published writings by historians but also poets (i.e, James Hazard and William Buckley), folklorists (Richard Dorson), humorists (Jean Shepherd), and authors of autobiographies (Rudy Kapitan). Volume 34 on the Postwar period (1945-1953), for instance, contains excerpts from the diaries of Kathryn Hyndman and Stanley Stanish, minutes from the Gary Post-Tribune Newspaper Guild, and an article by historian Lance Trusty. Several issues contained no student histories at all, for example volume18 (“Totin’ Ties in the Harbor” by John Letica), volume 24 (“The Autobiography of Louis Vasquez”), and volume 32 (“The Signal” by Henry Farag).
About 15 years ago I became more interested in persuading students to keep journals as a way of capturing the contemporary social history of Northwest Indiana. Volume 33 on the year 2000 contains no oral histories, only journals, including my own and students, as does volume 36 on the Ides of March 2003. For the past six years since my retirement from teaching, I haven’t had many students to employ as researchers, and the magazine has become mainly a refinement of my blog (entitled Northwest Indiana Historian). As the subtitle “Calumet Region Connections” indicates, however, the aim has remained the same - to document Northwest Indiana social history, both past and contemporary events. When possible I have solicited student papers, and volume 41 (2011) included about 20 journals kept by students enrolled in Steve McShane’s History of Indiana course.
Nobody in on the decision to disassociate IUN from Steel Shavings has directly asked what will be in the forthcoming issue, which expands on my blog and includes poetry by IUN students, commentary on a student article published in South Shore Journal (i.e., “Public Memory in Gary: An Examination of the Elbert H. Gary and Michael Jackson Memorials” by Amalia Shanks-Meile and Elizabeth LaDuke), excerpts of oral histories and papers by former students (including interviews with Vietnam veterans Raoul Contreras and Gary Wilk), coverage of student forums about “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros (as part of the “One Book Initiative”), accounts of IUN student papers delivered at a Gender Studies conference, and portions of former professor Mike Certa’s “Memoir” about growing up in Gary and attending IU Northwest. In my blog I discuss research projects I and other professors (including Ken Schoon, Ron Cohen, John Fraire, and Fred Chary) are currently working on, as well as social, political, economic, and cultural events that had a major impact on the Region in 2013. Following the advice of historian Andrew Hurley, I also wrote about bars (Flamingo’s), bowling alleys (Cressmoor Lanes’ Sheet and Tin League), and trailer parks (Ted’s in Portgae).
My blog also devoted considerable attention to happenings at IU Northwest, from Asia Day and Soup and Substance gatherings to Gallery openings and Holiday parties. And much more. I wrote about faculty who retired and staff members who passed away Alex Mitic could have been a professor if properly mentored in school), people honored in the local papers, such as Marianne Milich and Kathy Malone, and athletic accomplishments by the Lady Redhawks basketball team. I provided details about interacting with students I met while speaking in the classrooms of Chris Young, Chuck Gallmeier, Jonathyne Briggs, Steve McShane, Nicole Anslover, and Anne Balay.
I also wrote about the case of Anne Balay, winner of numerous teaching awards and author of the nationally acclaimed University of North Carolina publication “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers,” who was nonetheless denied tenure and promotion due to a claim that a small minority of students complained, perhaps due in part because she was an open lesbian, that she taught to an agenda. While I expressed strong opinions about this matter, I did not criticize anybody by name and stuck strictly to the issues, chief among them academic freedom and sexual discrimination. I believe this case to be one of the most important Region stories of the year, and to have ignored it would have been negligent. Besides serving Clio, the muse of historians, my motives in speaking out were to convince the administration of Anne’s worth to the campus but also to spare IU and IUN the criticism that would surely follow if she were terminated. Indiana’s reputation among LGBTs and people of good will has already suffered enough from the utterances and actions of reactionary legislators and state officials. Let’s not provide one more reason for outsiders to claim Hoosiers are prejudiced.
After stating my case to Chancellor Lowe, I concluded: “I believe that denying me access to an account that I have used for 40 years is mere retribution for coming to an invaluable faculty member’s defense. The money in it is a result of my previous donations, and I’ve asked for no funds for the forthcoming volume 43. A few years ago, Vice Chancellor Malik and I talked about the magazine’s sustainability. I expressed a desire to find a successor as editor, an American historian probably, such as Chris Young, Steve McShane or Nicole Anslover, but someone interested in preserving the Region’s compelling social history by all means available. Until that time, when there would be a body of student work to publish, I pledged to fund the magazine myself. That arrangement seemed to suit everyone until just recently. At the very least I feel I deserve a chance to explain the mission of the magazine to whoever or whatever group has made this arbitrary decision.”
Chancellor Lowe, incidentally, appears in the forthcoming volume a total of 21 times, all in a favorable light. He is a good man, compassionate and appreciative of the energy Anne Balay brought to the campus, bringing out in the open a dialogue about the most important issue of our time; I just wish he had the power to resolve Anne Balay’s case. Here is an entrée from volume 41 in a section entitled “Gay Suicides (Oct. 8, 2010)”:
“At the Rainbow Connectionsz program Anne Balay emphasized that gay suicide victims usually feel alone and without a place to turn to and that IUN provides a welcoming atmosphere and fun entertainment for LGBT students. After reading a statement affirming IU’s nondiscrimination policy, Chancellor Lowe said that he had a second reason for being at the program, that his brother, who was gay, committed suicide when he was 28 years old. The audience was stunned, and tears flowed freely. . . .
People wrote messages on multicolored ribbons that were tied together. Mine, referring to Doc Terry Lukas, read: “Terry, I miss you. Love, Jimbo.” On Facebook Anne wrote: “I feel so proud of our students, of the university, of the Chancellor. I feel glad to be queer, and I love my IUN family.”
How unbearably sad and disillusioning to have her optimism subsequently snuffed out. When she goes, there will be no openly gay professors left and probably nobody with guts enough to be adviser to Rainbow Connectionsz or protest injustices women faculty and LGBTs suffer on campus.
I emailed SGA president Larissa Dragu, whom I’ve met on several occasions, this email: “I attended the event where you moderated a discussion about Sandra Cisneros's book ‘The House on Mango Street’ and you took a photo of my arms with Rainbow and Connections written on them at an event Ellen Szarleta and Sandra Hall Smith held. On Monday March 10 at 5:30 at Gino's in Merrillville I'm talking about the book to members of the History Book Club and wondered if you'd like to be my guest. You could mention events at IUN in connection with the book and perhaps say why you think it is worthwhile reading, especially for young people. I'll pay for your meal and could drive you there from the university if you wanted me to - otherwise we could meet there. Gino's is at 600 E. Lincoln Highway (Route 30) just east of Broadway.”
Larissa thanked me for reaching out to her but was sorry but that she had a “Young Leadership” conference in Merrillville that night. Growing up in Romania in a house without indoor plumbing, this amazing young woman closely identified with “Mango Street.”I wrote back: “Let me know if you're involved in any more ‘Mango Street’ forums on campus. I'll be with some interesting folks May 10, and even if you just want to stop by any time between 5:30 and 7:30, the book club meets in a big room on the right after you enter Gino's. Otherwise maybe some other time. I'm hoping to have Anne Balay talk about "Steel Closets" there soon.”
Anne Balay’s friend Riva Lehrer thanked me for standing up for her. I replied that Anne was my close friend and great person, but even if she weren’t, I would still have defended her. It was the right thing to do, and her adversaries were robbing students of an exciting teacher and the Region of an impeccable scholar whose findings about closeted steelworkers hopefully in the future will improve the lives of countless workers unjustly meant to feel shame at their biological destiny.
According to J. David Baker’s “The Postal History of Indiana,” for five years beginning in 1874 Miller Station post office was re-named Vanderbilt. During the Panic of 1873 Cornelius Vanderbilt had acquired the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, which ran through the town, and the railroad mogul probably had something to do with the decision. He did after all have a huge ego. Then in 1879 the post office became merely Miller. Ken Schoon, Steve Spicer, and I are on a search to know the details of the switches.
IU Press had me review a book proposal by Tamsen Anderson entitled “The Factory and the Skyscaper: The Rise of Chicago’s Industrial Suburbs and Metropolitan Growth.” I was familiar with Anderson’s work from being a reader for the Indiana Magazine of History article “Beautifaul New Homes: The Development of Middle-Class Housing in the Industrial Suburb of East Chicago, Indiana,” winner of the coveted IMH Emma Thornbrough award. The proposal included an impressive chapter different from the IMH material on East Chicago. My suggestions for revisions were not major ones, and I recommended extending Anderson a book contract.
Walker Rumble, one of my best friends in grad school who disappears for years at a time, asked me to be a LinkedIn friend. I’ve tried to join LinkedIn after getting similar requests but this time succeeded. I emailed him about my blog and added: “Because of you, I spent an hour getting into LinkedIn, but now I have to remember to check it.” He replied: “I am LinkedIn under duress. People, even people whose opinions I respect, have lost patience with my unwillingness to engage in social media. Your blog looks terrific. I love the title. It's so prosaic and straightforward that it's cool. I remember back in Taliaferro Hall a group of us were sitting around announcing sexy chapter titles for our dissertations - tomes that were, of course, uniformly boring as hell (present company excepted). And there was Raymond [Smock], who we all feared would never get the damned thing written at all. He had submitted his - what do you call it? - his preliminary hypothesis. ‘Now, why do I have to write it,’ I remember him saying, ‘when I've already announced to my committee what I'm going to say.’ Not a promising point of view! But funny.” I wrote back: “When I was working on my dissertation about Jacob Riis, Louis Harlan was very skeptical about Jake's attitude toward Jews, Blacks, Italians, etc. One day as a joke Ray told him I was titing the dissertation ‘Great Dane.’ He almost had a conniption and even after assured it was a joke brought it up several times to make certain that wasn't the title.”
Archives volunteer Dave Mergl, a photographer, wants us to do a book on Hobart. I suggested we start small and do one newspaper article at a time. That’s how my Gary book, “City of the Century” got started.
Badly needing a haircut, I took a chance with Nancy at Quick Cut because Anna had three customers ahead of me. Despite my trepidation, Nancy did a great job. I learned she grew up near Auburn, Washington, where Gaard and Chuck Logan lived until recently.
Dave’s family came over for Chinese food and brought a delicious birthday cake since they missed Tuesday’s dinner at Applebee’s. Dave helped plan and put on a Black History Month stage performance. We played Uno and Pitch. Tom Wade wanted to join us for board games but is still suffering from flu-like symptoms. Tom Horvath called from Germany. Thinking it was a solicitation, I almost didn’t answer it, but the caller’s number was longer than normal, so I picked up.