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Practice What You Teach

Free speech and leadership at SSU

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SSU's recent decision to not rehire me—in the wake of my leadership role in the "Shame on SSU" protest against banker Sandy Weill—is a political and not an academic decision.

Ironically, the high point of my five years at SSU was this semester's creation of the Mario Savio Speaker's Corner. Savio, who taught at SSU from 1990 to 1996, is best known as a leader of the Free Speech movement at UC Berkeley in the mid-'60s.

It remains to be seen if SSU's administration will improve its respect for free speech. Last year, the student newspaper published articles on the "Shame on SSU" protest, which opposed giving Weill an honorary doctorate for donating $12 million to the Green Music Center. The newspaper mysteriously disappeared from newsstands (SSU staff was seen taking them away).

SSU's leadership course, which I taught for three years, has an excellent text, Exploring Leadership. It advocates inclusiveness, empowerment, ethics and diversity. Being a college administrator is not easy; I served as one for a decade at Harvard. This book might help not only students and teachers, but also their administrators.

After being informed in a terse, impersonal email that I would not be rehired, I asked for the reasons for my rejection but received no real response. I deserve an explanation of why I was not hired. It would be the relational way to communicate that is taught in the SSU leadership course.

I wonder what selection criteria were used for leadership faculty. It is usual to consider things such as having a doctorate, experience teaching the particular course and teaching in general, rank, publishing and student evaluations. None of the nine chosen teachers had better academic qualifications than mine.

I plan to continue exercising free speech at Mario's corner, including critical thinking about the administration and how it mistreats lecturers. I welcome others to join me and exercise their free speech in various ways at SSU, even as it becomes more corporatized by the likes of Weill and MasterCard, and prostrating public higher education to meet the financial goals of corporations rather than the needs of students.

Shepherd Bliss teaches college at various North Bay campuses.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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