Archive for March, 2015

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Work is an interesting thing. Many people do not take kindly to it, not even the term itself. I have never felt this way. I’ve always liked to work in the abstract and often truly delighted in work in the particular. Work yields meaningful productivity. To accomplish something, whatever that something is, feels fantastic.

smallwinsI had a small work victory this week, inspired by a conference I attended in March. Throughout two days of four-hour discussion sessions, the conference didn’t seem particularly valuable; however, in that time, I did formulate one fresh idea. One new, useful idea can affect remarkable change.

I am both an English professor and a reference librarian at good ol’ RMU, flexing into the library when I am needed, as I am this term. I have done three rotations into the library. When in the library, I crave a project, inventing them for myself.  I am happy to have the support of the head librarian, Sue Dutler, who readily accepts my offers to change, to rearrange, to contribute. Work encourages involvement and creates an impact in our community at every level. This is why doing “good” work feels good—no matter what it is.

My new idea was in response to a significant problem: paper waste in academic libraries. As an educator, I am perfectly fine with students printing any documents they need and will use. My complaint is with the terrifyingly tall stacks of print outs left behind, unused, completely and utterly wasted. It is this kind of behavior I am hoping to correct. In order to address the problem of paper waste, I proposed an awareness campaign.

Because the university’s image makers are not fond of excessive signage, I knew my message could not be printed or posted in a traditional sense. Moreover, it would be hypocritical to print flyers asking students to print less. I proposed an electronic message to students: a reminder to consider whether or not they should print a document before doing so. A request to reflect is central to all initiatives; little changes have a large impact. Recently, I started reading a book that addresses the power of small wins within the context of big changes The Power of Habit: Why we Do What We Do in Life and Business. Happily, the serendipitous intersection of ideas pervades higher education.

The head libr3rarian helped me put my plan into action, advising me to get approval from various entities, including asking the IT department to help us install the screensaver on all the computers in the library. Amazingly, this process only took a few days, and on Monday, March 30, 2015, my small vision sprang to life on the computers, as if by magic.

The message is good and clean. One of the IT professionals even went so far as to call it “elegant,” for which I take only the credit of selecting an image that is balanced and beautiful and instantly recognizable. I wrote the ‘copy’ with an intentionally gentle and positive message, “Think Before You Print; In Honor of Earth Day, April 22, 2015, Our Environment Thanks You.”

A “thank you” is always nice, and personifying the environment was an intentional strategy to help the students feel connected to our environment.

Each day, work offers the small win of doing something meaningful, and an occasion to celebrate a job well done.

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By Jasmine Ng, RMU Student

The latest snowstorm in the Chicagoland area has come and gone. In saying that, I’m pretty sure Winter Snow Storm “Beck” will be upon us as we speak. We can only hope this snow storm can respect my “artistry,” because I have approximately 475 design projects due. So while this last snow storm has invigorated the rock salt, snow shovel, and lawn chair businesses it has some if not most Chicagoland residents acting like they’ve never even seen snow.

Yes..Jay and Queen Bey, it’s winter in Chicago. Imagine that? I mean, what do you expect? Unless you’ve just moved here, you know the deal. It will snow, and it will snow a lot. Unless you have four wheel drive you will be sliding your way to school or work. Your car will be buried alive, and Grandma herself will be waiting to smash her snow shovel over your head if you even think twice about moving that lawn chair away from her parking spot. But guess what? That’s winter in Chicago for you. But you wouldn’t think that from looking at all of the news reports leading up to the storm. There’s live reporting from the battle grounds and man on the street interviews with average Joes looking as bundled up as Randy from “A Christmas Story.”

Yes, thank you local news, I really need the opinions of other people to confirm that Olaf from Frozen will be having a blast in this weather.

It’s not like we live in Miami and the only thing white is the hair on most of the wealthy people that live there. Don’t get me wrong, the snow was terrible. You know it. I know it. Rather then waste both of our precious time, just sit back relax and deal with it. You live in, or around Chicago. Why not focus on being more productive? For example, check out this really cool video of a DJ Bulldog.

I’ll catch you at the next snow storm when we’ll all be huddled around that heat lamp on the EL platform.  Yes, I know it sucks. The only two people who think snow is cool is my five year old cousin and Tom Skilling.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Last night, I attended a staged reading of a new theatrical piece written by my friend and former colleague, H.V. Cramond, and her coworker Cayenene Sullivan entitled Tenure Track: A Musical.

Witnessing any creative process from its inception is thrilling, and I was impressed by the results of their work. As a staged reading, it was a preview of what is to come should they be successful in securing a large-scale production, which I fully hope they are. The initial writing and staging was supported by a GoFundMe campaign. They achieved their fundraising goal of $2,000, used to rent theater space, and pay the actors, musicians, and director involved in this early stage in the evolution of their play.

The musical presents a satirical, and thus utterly honest, look at the state of higher education. Anyone who has occasion to encounter the collegiate system, whether as students or through their college-aged children, suspects that there are more than a few aspects of higher education in need of repair. Most everyone I know who works in higher education would argue (after a drink or two) that the system may be quite completely broken. It is this sad reality that feeds the dark humor in the musical.

tenuretrackThe primary purpose of the play is to reveal the struggle endured by adjunct instructors at colleges and universities across America. It is an intellectual and academic double-bind, creating a set of dependencies and abuses indicative of a deeply flawed relationship, and fodder for some potentially great theater. The universities use adjuncts to save money while the adjuncts continue teaching in the vain hope that someday, their tenure will come.

The play features a protagonist in just such an unhappy situation. P. S. Latte, played by Elizabeth Elston Shiry, is a longtime adjunct in the English Department at Garbanzo University, which is situated in a major Midwestern metropolis. She has worked diligently as an instructor for ten years, teaching, publishing, and serving on committees, including the preposterously named (and right on target) ‘Office of First Year Sustainable Technology Experience Projects.’ She even finds time to write a work of racy historical fiction called The Shame of Sister Agatha. This woman is trying really hard, so hard that she neglects her purposefully ideal boyfriend, Allessandro, played by Andrew Spatafora, who knits, cooks, and supports his partner, a pleasing gender reversal. Nevertheless I wish his character had a bit more depth, mostly so the “perfect partner” as type, regardless of gender, gets phased out of modern drama.

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This button served as entry to the performance.

One of the crucial hardships adjuncts face is economic instability, addressed in the opening musical number “The Couch Song” an all-too accurate portrayal of the types of luxuries an adjunct cannot afford, even furniture.

Of the remaining musical numbers, the best feature duets or most of the cast, the classroom conflicts well wrought in pairings and groups made jaunty by a big musical feel.

Like any satire, the play is raw and real, funny and sad. Many jokes elicited exasperated guffaws rather than laughs from the audience, a majority having experienced similar career frustrations.

The rest of the cast is filled with academic types, the sardonic and sassy librarian, Betty, (no doubt inspired by me) and brilliantly embodied by Sarah Beth Tanner. The older, full-time member of the English department no longer pretends to be interested in academic standards. The dean is a horny sycophant, and the provost an even broader caricature of out-of-touch administrators. Sadly, all of these characters are thoroughly believable.

Did I mention the puppets?

The key crisis, and the one that holds P.S. back from attaining the long-desired full time position, involves a disappointed and entitled student, Sarah Lawrence Snow, each line delivered with smug perfection by Hillary Sigale, another standout from the cast. The student is unhappy with her grade and happens to be the daughter of the provost. In the end, Sarah gets her way, and her “A,” and P.S. Latte leaves academia, the spoiled dean abandoned to the onslaught of student grade complaints.

There is a lot to look forward to in the promised full production. I’d venture to guess that this ambitious piece would give American college students something to discuss in literature classes, should they ever learn how to do so.

Happy Little Trees

Posted: March 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.~Emerson

Great friendships have been a hallmark of my life. The reason for this is a mystery. I can’t claim responsibility for such an extraordinary advantage. Doing so would be akin to a great singer taking credit for the astonishing beauties of music. Like a devoted musician, I develop and nurture my friendships, but the realization of so many close and lasting relationships is a mysterious and innate talent I have somehow been bestowed. how_i_became_a_fairy_godmotherI shall presume an incredibly wise fairy godmother worked to ensure that my life positively overflows with enchanting friends.

My closest friends possess similar traits, but are all different types of people. Early on, I established a habit of seeing a potential friend in any and every kind of individual. Happily, contemporary life allows for my friendships among men and women to thrive, no matter their relationship status. Throughout much of history, the kind of intimacy between the sexes would have been perceived as odd, or problematic. Childhood friends have remained close, spending time with me with or without their partners. My friends are wealthy, middle class, and struggling, or in some state of flux. I find that money rarely matters, and if I any of us have a bit more, the only thing that changes is the regularity and expense of gifts and trips. I have friends in every age group. Many of my friends are a decade older or younger than I am. Whether older or younger, these friends provide an opportunity to witness the exquisite, shapeshifting nature of life, the eagerness and anxiety of youth transforming into certainty and contentment. I am privileged to have friends from different backgrounds of every sort. I like all types of people, and, fortunately, they like me, too.

Fantastic friendships are phenomenal treasures.Of the things my friends do have in common, here’s the only absolute: they all make me laugh. As for the rest, they are just geaudennerally too good to be true. They tend to be graceful, and find my clumsiness amusing. Often they are beautiful, in ways subtle and intense. They surprise me with thoughtful and generous gifts of time and attention. They inspire me to try new things; they challenge my rigidity; they encourage me to stay up late and go out dancing.

Good friendships are profoundly beautiful, deeply comforting, and just plain fun. I suppose I ought to write a friend-by-friend discussion and analysis, but that would require much more time than I have at the moment, and I fear accidentally forgetting someone, which would be unforgivable.

 

I have been planning an art project affectionately described as a “friend orchard” along the lines of a family tree. In this orchard, trees would designate different friend groups: Cleveland friends, graduate school friends, library school friends, Chicago friends, 826 friends, work friends, and the Urban Family. This strategy would always allow room to add new friends.

Whether or not the project is ever completed, I delight in the idea of growing friendships enough to fill a forest.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.
Rahm’s bombs fail to hit their intended target–the four challengers running to unseat him and become the next mayor of Chicago. Instead they hit Rahm himself causing considerable damage to his carefully crafted image while significantly enhancing the fortunes of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rahm’s most formidable opponent.

Thus the obvious question is–why did he get beat so badly? Though the election proved more complicated than the media Duncan And Emmanuel Promote Education Dept's Summer Reading Initiativesuggested, a Garcia inspired consensus explanation quickly emerged. It claimed that Rahm was a narcissistic, ego manical, cold, abrasive, power crazed, ambition besotted hard head who loves doing favors for big shots and ignores the little guy–a high flyer who hob nobs in D.C., raises millions in L.A., touts Down Town, and thumbs his nose at the neighborhoods, oh, and doesn’t care for unions. Biggest piece of proof: he mindlessly closed 50 schools on the South Side! Yes, 50 schools! On the South Side!

But a translation is necessary. South Side isn’t simply a geographic designation to be contrasted with its geographical antipode– North Side. No! South Side means African American Chicago. It means black and thus not white. Or, since we’re talking politics, not geography, let’s get serious: shutting 50 schools on the South Side means racism. Period.
So Rahm is not simply an ego maniac, he’s a racist ego maniac. Well not exactly a racist because in fact he comes from an very liberal family (in the 60s, his mom participated in the big civil rights protests going to the South to work for voting rights legislation) and Rahm has always called himself a liberal. And as everyone knows, Rahm was President Obama’s first chief of staff, even getting the President to campaign for him during the last week of the election. Still while he’s not George Wallace, he did close those schools while never closing a single white school, and politically speaking, that equals racism.

Since we mentioned schools, let’s also note that at the beginning of his term, he came down a bit hard on teachers–but again, a translation is necessary for teachers don’t mean teachers, exactly; it means the Chicago Teachers Union. 476915_630x354Moreover, in this case, it means Ms. Karen Lewis, who is one very sharp, very clever, very funny, very media savvy person and the Head of the Teachers Union. In provoking Karen Lewis, Rahm met his match. Looking back in retrospect, from that point on, Rahm’s fortunes tumbled. Like a Russell Terrier, Lewis wouldn’t let go and Rahm knew not how to deal with her.

Now the media had an even better story to tell: Rahm was a hard headed, big shot elitist who ignored the neighborhoods, had racist policies, wasn’t exactly cordial to the unions, and regularly got bested by Ms. Lewis. To further improve this neighborhood, little guy theme, slighting the Hispanic community was added to the cauldron of complaints–and we’re off to the races, which helps explain why “Chuy” decides to put his hat in the ring.

So that’s the consensus view of why Rahm bombed. While this account obviously makes sense, I don’t buy it for the rather naive and obtuse reason that I tend to be color blind and feel that issues are more important than race and ethnicity though surely there’s some relation between one’s race and one’s views on issues. But it’s not one to one. Thus explaining Rahm’s bomb using the little guy big shot theme doesn’t completely work.

My take is different; it focuses on issues and, indeed, focuses on one issue alone. The issue which I believe explains why Rahm bombed is the fact that Chicago is in dire financial straits and will likely go bankrupt if it fails to put together a serious–meaning painful– plan to address this reality. For instance, the Public School System is 1 billion in debt. And folks is screaming at Rahm for closing 50 run down half empty schools. Yet rather than strongly defending his actions, Rahm starts stuttering and flies to L.A. or NYC for a campaign fund raiser whose loot will be used to pay for a 2015 30 second ad criticizing “Chuy” for favoring a tax increase in 1986. Looney Tunes, methinks.

The real point is that Rahm claimed to be the tough guy capable of making the tough calls but the record shows he dodges them never coming clean on how desperate is the City’s plight along nor does he offer a plausible proposal to address it. Instead, he tells stories how he fixed some CTA track lines (good for you, Rahm) and got the schools to lengthen the school day (again good for you)–both, certainly, worthwhile achievements. But compared to the financial crisis he never mentions, these successes pale in significance. Rahm proceeds as if it’s business as usual. But it’s not. So I think the real reason Rahm bombed is that lots of folks believe Rahm simply fiddles while Chicago burns.