I am rich.
I am rich for respect for the dozens of outstanding students whom we graduated two days ago. I am rich for the experiences I’ve shared with them these past four (and sometimes more) years, for the poems and prose we’ve written together and for the problems and puzzles we’ve solved; for the discussions we’ve had on sensitive subjects from food access to criminal justice and the programs we’ve started and strengthened.
I am rich for the pride I could share with my students’ parents, families, and friends, as I met them after Saturday’s commencement ceremonies: the love and support these people gave to my students was evident, and the pride they had for my students’ accomplishments matched my own. I am truly blessed to do what I do for a living.
I am rich for the honor of sharing the commencement stage on Saturday morning with local leaders in civil rights, art and art education, and journalistic excellence. I am rich for the privilege of celebrating the teaching talent of one of my university’s most incredible teachers, a woman whose intelligence, candor, and humility I’ve admired since I came here eleven years ago.
I am rich for the wonderful family I am soon to marry into, for the love they have for one another and for me, and for the time we had to share a delicious meal with one another on Saturday afternoon before we returned to our separate busy days. And I am rich for the physical health I enjoy, the health that enabled me to cap off an hour of yardwork after that lunch but before racing off to my next appointment, a wedding ceremony where I officiated at the marriage of two former students who honored me by asking me to share in their day. (I snapped the picture at the top of this post while walking from my office to our campus’s botanical gardens, where the wedding was held.)
I am rich, indeed!
But I can’t lie back and rest on my riches like a dragon on his hoard. Not when there’s so much yet to do.
I wrote all of the above except for the last brief paragraph on Saturday evening (though I’ve changed the reference to the day to avoid confusion), and since that time I feel that much has happened that’s worth commenting on. For now I’ll leave aside the minutiae of my conversations today with my colleagues on this coming year’s Honors Program Advisory Committee and with my colleague who’s helping me run a workshop on Honors pedagogy this coming Thursday. It’s not that these issues aren’t important; rather, I’ve written at length about many of them somewhat recently and I’ve no doubt I’ll give each issue significant space in this forum in the coming months.
More pressing is the existential issue raised today by the legal actions taken by the State of North Carolina and the US Department of Justice. Not hours after NC Governor Pat McCrory asked the federal court to rule in defense of the now-notorious House Bill 2, the DoJ fired back with a promise of legal action against the state, including a threatened revocation of federal funding for education. Indeed, the University of North Carolina system is specifically named as a defendant in the Justice Department’s suit, and billions of dollars in monies slated for scholarships, research grants, teacher development programs, etc., could be pulled from the state as the suit moves forward.
I should be able to make it for a few months with a smaller (or…*gulp*…absent) paycheck or without a stipend for helping to plan a workshop or perform my program’s assessment, but what about those in the university system less privileged than I am? What about that first-generation student whose continued enrollment depends on federal financial aid? The graduate student whose teaching assistantship is funded by federal dollars? The contingent faculty member whose three positions at three different institutions all will be cut if those institutions’ wells run dry? All of these folks are members of communities much more vulnerable than my own.
I’ve just sent an email to my provost and the university’s general counsel asking when we might receive more and more detailed information on the potential impact of these legal proceedings on our campus in particular. I’m curious to see how our community responds.
Further bulletins as events warrant.
(P.S.: to my knowledge, UNC President Margaret Spellings has yet to respond to today’s legal jousting.)
UPDATE. Not minutes after posting this initially, Spellings released the following statement to the UNC community:
Earlier this afternoon, the University responded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s letter dated May 4 by again underscoring the UNC system’s commitment to full compliance with federal non-discrimination laws and inviting greater dialogue with the Department to resolve concerns it has expressed about HB2.
Our first responsibility as a University is to serve our students, faculty, and staff and provide a welcoming and safe place for all. The University takes its obligation to comply with federal non-discrimination laws very seriously. We also must adhere to laws duly enacted by the State’s General Assembly and Governor, however. HB2 remains the law of the state, and the University has no independent power to change that legal reality.
In these circumstances, the University is truly caught in the middle.
As the Attorney General alluded to in her press conference today, we have been in regular contact with the Department about ways to constructively resolve its inquiry into HB2 and the University’s compliance with federal civil rights laws. Even though the Justice Department has chosen to file an action in federal court, we intend to continue to engage with further discussions with them on this issue.
We plan to review the Department’s complaint, and in consultation with our Board of Governors and legal counsel tomorrow (Tuesday, May 10) during a special meeting of the Board, to determine next steps.
We will continue to keep constituencies apprised as new information becomes available.
I hope that our BoG and our President get on the right side of history right quick.