Category Archives: Cross-Generational Conversation: YAFS & OFFs

“Nation Building” on the Moon? Smarter than the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Tom Friedman, longtime NYTimes columnist, treats us to some snippets of diary entries from his first trip to Afghanistan, in early 2002, with then Senator Joe Biden. Friedman opens the piece in the posture of sadder-but-wiser sage:

“I was not surprised that Joe Biden decided to finally pull the plug on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Back in 2002 it was reasonable to hope that our invasion there to topple Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies could be extended to help make that country a more stable, tolerant and decent place for its citizens — and less likely to host jihadist groups.”

Was that really a “reasonable idea? In what is justly called the “graveyard of empires”, or more properly the graveyards of too many loyal troops sacrificed on the altars of hubris erected by heedless, foolish imperial “statesmen”?

Friedman insists he had doubts even then: Continue reading “Nation Building” on the Moon? Smarter than the U.S. in Afghanistan?

David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Besides his work and example, Friend David Zarembka also left a valuable and underestimated resource of writings for Friends and others.  We’ll sample that legacy here, and point to where more can be found.Zarembka -Book Cover

Besides some personal contact, I learned most about Dave from his book A Peace of Africa. Here’s part of that context from my review: Continue reading David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

This is a developing story. Watch for Updates.

I’m stunned.

I just learned that David Zarembka, aged 77,  a very distinguished Friend from Baltimore Yearly meeting, who lived for more than a decade among Friends in Kenya, and his wife Gladys Kamonya, 73 have both succumbed to Covid. Both passed in Eldoret Kenya. Gladys Kamonya died on March  23, 2021;  David  died on April 1.

Below is his autobiographical sketch published in the book Passing The Torch. More to follow:

David Zarembka, in his own words: From Passing the Torch

I find the world an extremely interesting place and I participate in as many aspects of it that I can. Conversely, I don’t find myself very interesting at all and therefore don’t often write much about my life’s 76 year journey. This article therefore is a major exception.

In order to understand where I ended up, I have to explain where I came from. Although it might seem that my life has been unconventional, it really hasn’t been when one considers where I came from and how I grew up.

My paternal great-grandfather, Mathias Zarembka, came from then Russian-occupied Poland to the United States to work. Those were the good, ole days in the late 19th century when people could just come and go. He stayed in the US for seven years and then went back. He had seven children, six of whom immigrated to the US, while only one remained in Poland. My grandfather, Frank Zarembka, immigrated to the US in March/April 1914.

If he had waited a few months longer, the guns of August which started World War I would have begun, and he probably would have been drafted into the Russian army where the ill-equipped and untrained Polish soldiers were mowed down by the Germans. He left behind my grandmother, Lotti Wilant (notice the German name although she knew of no connection to Germany), and my one-year old father, Richard Zarembka. They were not able to immigrate to the US until 1921 when the family reunification act was passed in the United States. They lived in St. Louis in the Polish section of town. My grandfather worked for St. Louis Coal and Ice and pulled ice from the ground to be cut up in blocks to be put in iceboxes. Even when I knew him as a child, he was physically very strong.

My maternal grandfather was Ernest Elmer Colvin. He was a newspaper man. My Mom, Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, was a great family storyteller so I have lots of old stories. My grandmother was so worried about my grandfather when the Associated Press in St. Louis assigned him to cover the 1919 so-called “race riots” in East St. Louis – it was actually just a massacre of what were then called Negroes. When he retired around 1954, he was copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My maternal grandmother, Flora Scott Colvin, died even before my parents were married. She had grown up in Kansas City where my grandparents met. She and her sister, Fanny, started the first kindergarten in Kansas City. Each morning they would hitch up the horse and pick up the kids for school – something that women were not supposed in those old days. So, my roots run deep. Continue reading Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

A Guest Post: Preserving the Work of a Photographer Who Documented Native Americans

This remarkable tribute is by Mark Schwartz, an attorney from Bryn Mawr PA. It is a remarkable tribute to the work and memory of a photographer friend, Christopher Cardozo, who in turn had made a career of preserving and paying tribute to the work of an earlier pioneering photographer-ethnographer. It was so striking i am posting it here, with Schwartz’s permission:

Christopher Cardozo: Foremost Authority on American Indian Ethnographer and Photographer Edward S. Curtis, died on February 21, 2021 in Minneapolis at age 72

Despite a family lineage in the law going back to Justice Benjamin Cardozo, Christopher Cardozo serendipitously took a very different path, candidly observing  that “I would probably be a walking malpractice suit”.

Born February 27, 1948, after graduating with a degree in photography and film from the University of Minnesota, a professor invited him to Oaxaca, Mexico to help make a film.  After taking five months to save up to buy a 10-year-old VW Beetle, camera lenses and film, Cardozo made the trek across the continent,  finally arriving only to be informed that his professor had  decided not to make the film. The curt apology was,  “I should have written.”

Notwithstanding, Cardozo stayed on in the remote Mexican village of  San Andres Chicahuzxla, Oaxaca, Mexico.

He spent six sometimes dangerous months in 1972 documenting a place and people who were losing their way. Chris’ sepia-toned images of the villagers prompted a friend to observe that his photos were remarkably similar to Edward Curtis’ work.

Christopher Cardozo with a portrait

His curiosity piqued, Cardozo furiously studied, acquired, exhibited and  replicated Curtis’ work. This became the making of a career spanning more than fifty years.

He thus became the foremost authority on Curtis. Cardozo came to realize,  “I was led to this. This was my soul’s purpose. Why I ended up on Earth at this particular time was to make this  work available to people.”

Edward Curtis’s exposure to Native American culture came some seventy years earlier than Cardozo’s parallel experience.   In the summer of 1900 , Curtis (1868-1952) witnessed one of the last performances of the  Blackfoot Indian Tribe’s “Sun Dance” ceremony. Ushered in to the lives of Native Americans , Edward Sheriff Curtis wrote “It’s such a big dream. I can’t see it all.” This became Cardozo’s catch phrase in sharing and perpetuating Curtis’ dream of preserving the history and legacy of these magnificent people.

Curtis had left a promising career as a society photographer to photograph Native Americans in their home lands. He spent three decades at this.

Smithsonian Magazine said:

At the beginning of the 20th century, Edward S. Curtis worked in the belief that he was in a desperate race against time to document, with film, sound and scholarship, the North American Indian before white expansion and the federal government destroyed what remained of their natives’ way of life.  For thirty years, with the backing of men like J. Pierpont Morgan and former president Theodore Roosevelt, but at great expense to his family life and his health, Curtis lived among dozens of native tribes, devoting his life to his calling.

Over the course of thirty years Curtis had compiled a photo-ethnographic study: The North American Indian. In 1911 the New York Herald characterized it as the most gigantic undertaking since the publication of the King James Edition of the Bible.

Consisting of  twenty leather-bound volumes,  twenty portfolios containing more than 2,200 original photogravures, and  4,000 pages of anthropological text. His attention to detail included transcriptions of tribal language and music,  and the work involved the active participation of  over 10,000 Native Americans.

Finalized in 1930, in the depth of the Great Depression, less than three hundred sets were actually produced with only two hundred actually sold. This published work was in addition to some  45,000 to 50,000 negatives (many on glass) , ten thousand wax cylinders of ceremonial music and language recordings, and motion picture footage, all taken by Curtis.

The magnum opus completed, having driven himself to the limit, Curtis lost everything,  suffering a physical and nervous breakdown in 1930. He died in 1952 essentially unknown and penniless.

“Northern Plains Brave 1905,” a portrait by Edward Curtis.

It was in the seventies, in large part owing to Cardozo’s activities, that Curtis’ work enjoyed a resurgence.

Summing up his own contribution, Cardozo told the Minneapolis Star & Tribune (12/18/18),

“I believe I was instrumental in changing the conversation about Curtis. He’d been thought of as an ethnographer….. But I got people to see his work as the artistic achievement that it was. The platinum prints, the gold tones, the cyanographs—they leave me speechless at times.”

Cardozo is the author of nine monographs on Edward Curtis, and has created and curated one-person Curtis exhibitions that have been seen in nearly one hundred venues in over forty countries, and on every continent, but Antarctica. Why? He summed up his vision in a Forbes interview:

Edward Curtis created the most valuable and sought-after set of rare books in US history and left the world a legacy of inestimable importance. It is a deeply human story which, at its essence, is imbued with beauty, heart, and spirit. I believe that in no small part, this is why these iconic images have endured for over a century. It also helps explain why Curtis is the most widely collected photographer in the 170 year history of the medium, and why his photographs have been exhibited to rave reviews all over the world, from Papua, New Guinea to Paris.

Having collected Curtis’s artwork for decades, Cardozo created the world’s largest and most broad-ranging Curtis collection. His personal collection has been exhibited in major museums internationally, and was the subject of his widely heralded monograph on Curtis: Sacred Legacy; Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, and a new monograph on his personal collection titled Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks, in which Cardozo said

“Curtis’ work changed the way our nation viewed Native Americans and generated a broad-ranging dialogue for greater compassion, understanding, and inclusion. For more than a century, his images have moved and inspired diverse audiences, transcending economic, cultural, social, educational , and national boundaries. He accomplished this at a time when Native Americans were commonly viewed with disdain or hatred and some individuals were still actively advocating for the extinction of all Native peoples on the North American continent. Contributing to that work was Minnesota writer Louise Erdrich who wrote that Curtis’ images of women were “ as disquieting as they are profoundly beautiful.”

With the few remaining 160 sets of Curtis “The North American Indian”  financially and physically out of reach  of new generations of  scholars and students, Cardozo undertook the three-year painstaking task of artisan republication of  the 20-volume work and accompanying portfolios, so as to coincide with the 2018 sesquicentennial of Curtis’ birth.

With the republication accomplished, Cardozo, long bothered by the fact that he was a white man owning so much of Native America’s legacy, launched the “10,000 Print Repatriation Project”  to connect the descendants of those photographed with their ancestors’ images.

As the founder of Cardozo Fine Art in Minneapolis, he has pioneered techniques for preserving and revitalizing  historic photographs, as well as developing cutting edge techniques for contemporary photography. He was also the founder and board chair of the Edward S. Curtis Foundation,  dedicated to preserving and exhibiting the work of Edward Curtis. No one has done more to increase the awareness, understanding, and appreciation for Curtis’ work than Cardozo. Friends and family are committed to continuing his work.

Author Mark Schwartz.

Upon reaching the age of 70, he wanted to return full circle to his own photography which launched this incredible journey.

Christopher Cardozo is survived by his beloved Mother Patricia, Sisters Julie and Claudia, Brother Jeffrey, his Niece Brittany Lease (Lewis) and their children Alden, Ben and Milo.  Chris also has ten Goddaughters and Godsons with whom he shared many years of companionship and mentoring.  His network of friends, scholars and artistic colleagues knew him as a man with a lovely zest for life lived with no estimated time of arrival . . . .

 

 

That N-Word. I’m Going to Say It. Right Now. It’s time.

Negro.

There. I said it.

You were expecting that other N-word? The unspeakable?

Nope. But it’s timely to take note of this one.

Over time, words change meaning & status. Ninety-one years ago, on March 7, 1930, Negro became a thing. Or rather, a proper noun.

Such changes are often mysterious.  Supreme Court rulings don’t make them. Congress doesn’t pass on them. They don’t come down from Sinai on stone tablets.

Though in the case of Negro, almost.

How do I know Negro arrived today in 1930? Easy:
The New York Times told me so.

There was a lot going on in 1930. The “Great” Depression had thrown millions out of work. Its impact fed labor unrest and political radicalism, some violent. Herbert Hoover was under siege in the White House. In India, the British Empire was too.

In the U. S. that year, there was a sudden increase in lynchings, which had previously been in decline: 21 were recorded, and 20  of the victims were black.  Late that year 26 southern white women created the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, which they kept segregated because, “only white women could persuade other white women” to join them . . . .”

Withal, the Times nevertheless took a moment to update its style book.

The notice is right there, in the March 7 issue, on page 20. In the fifth column of a six-column layout, halfway down. Not exactly a ticker tape parade with elaborate floats and ranks of blaring trumpets. But official enough.

The notice continues: “certain popular and social traditions have resisted this tendency. Races have their capitalized distinction, as have nationalities, sects and cults, tribes and clans. It therefore seems reasonable that a people who had once a proud designation, such as Ethiopians, reaching back into the dawn of history, having come up out of the slavery to which men of English speech subjected them, should now have such recognition as the lifting of the name from the lower case into the upper can give them. Major

Of course, there’s a back story here.

Pauli Murray, who is just now gaining some long overdue recognition for her amazing career and life, was then a militant advocate of the change. She wrote later:

I was born during the era when “Colored” was the prevalent usage, along with the ignominious lowercase “negro,” which I passionately hated because the absence of capitalization conveyed the status of a thing and not a person.

During my  college days in the early 1930s I routinely went through my textbooks, using a fountain pen to change the small n to capital N wherever I  encountered the  term “negro.”

Pauli Murray (1910-1985), from a public mural in her hometown of Durham NC.

My generation of activists was part of a long struggle  to  elevate the designation to its  capitalized  form, so that “Negro” became a mark  of dignity  and  respect.

The Times didn’t notice or heed Murray, who in 1930, was an unknown, impoverished, but brilliant student at Hunter College. But the paper did notice the man who was regarded (by elite whites) as the official spokesman of “his people”. That was Major:

All this is very high-minded; but I suspect there is more to the back story. Consider:

In those days, black voters were few, especially in the South, but in a national election they were not irrelevant. In 1928, Moton had supported Republican Herbert Hoover for president; most black voters, remembering Lincoln and emancipation, were Republicans.

Hoover had promised to include more blacks in his administration, and in particular to bring aid to black flood refugees trapped in a levee camp after disastrous 1927 floods in Mississippi. But once elected, Hoover double-crossed Moton and the refugees.

Moton got even, though. In 1932 he switched parties and backed Franklin Roosevelt, who beat Hoover decisively. Moton’s biographer asserts his switch marked the beginning of a move by back voters en masse into the Democratic camp, where they remain pillars today.

The Times had long backed Democratic presidential candidates. Was their openness to Moton’s request part of the courtship that drew him away from the old GOP allegiance?

In any event the Times was ready  to do what Moton recommended:

Pauli Murray was among those who was gratified:

“That struggle was finally won when textbook writers and newspapers adopted uppercase “Negro” in the late 1930s, and official government publications followed suit in the middle and late 1940s.”

“Negro”with a capital N had a pretty good run, about thirty years. Another “Negro leader” who considered it an advance was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who proudly used it until his death in 1968.

Not only that, even many white southern politicians, including the notorious George Wallace of Alabama, learned (with obvious effort) to pronounce “Knee-grow” clearly enough to make linguistic space between it and the cognate slurs they had been repeating for decades.

But as we said at the beginning, language and usages change, and not by any orderly or fair, process. By the time Dr. King was buried, “Negro” was under pressure, not from segregationists, but from a new generation of militants for whom it was a term for fuddy-duddies and an over-the-hill black establishment.

One of the many targets of this younger impatient militance was a now older militant, who had overcome many obstacles to make it through law school, and then do outstanding work on the historic 1954 Brown school desegregation case, and raised pioneering hell on many other issues (too many to do justice to here), who was now teaching civil rights courses at Brandeis University, Pauli Murray:

Symbolic of the heightened racial consciousness that invaded the class­ room was an exchange with one of the . . . students which threatened to disrupt my class on my first day of teaching. I was outlining the content of the course when a young man interrupted me with the question, “Why do you keep saying ‘Knee-grows’ when you’re talking about black peo­ple?”

The young man’s querulous inquiry caught me off guard. I was having my usual first-day jitters, meeting a strange class in a new setting, and in a combative manner embarrassed me. I explained that “Negro” was a legitimate usage, a proper noun adopted by scholars and official government publications, and was preferred by many people, including me.

The young militant was unmoved. Pauli Murray stuck to her convictions, but she was clearly on the losing side of that usage struggle. She died in 1985, content, it’s reported, but not for that reason. And she was preserved thereby from reading releases like this one, from January 2008:

UNCF Adopts New Brand Identity, Without the Word ‘Negro’

In its new logo unveiled Thursday, the United Negro College Fund has dropped its full name, opting to go as UNCF as part of a branding strategy that conveys the organization as a contemporary and progressive advocate of Blacks in higher education while also maintaining its heritage.

During the four-year effort to update its logo, UNCF officials heard suggestions that it change its name, Dr. Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, said during a press conference at Spelman College to announce the new brand identity.

“One of the issues in the full name, African-Americans don’t view themselves as Negros,” Lomax said, recounting a conversation in which editors and writers at VIBE magazine told him the name is not “speaking to the hip-hop generation.”

“For most young people, it is a barrier,” Lomax said. “We’ve found the happy medium.”

About the only consolation Pauli Murray and the other champions of “Negro with a Capital N” can take is that history shows that the wheel of language usage keeps on turning, so who knows if or when it might be back.

Oh, and by the way, it’s good thing the Times acknowledged it was late to the “Negro” party, even in 1930.

The issue shows elsewhere that the paper was hardly a pioneer. Indeed, the Times didn’t hire a Negro/Black/African American reporter until 1966. His name was Thomas Johnson.

What’s In a Name (Change)??

A pre-revolutionary Washington, with William Lee, one of his enslaved servants. In his will, Washington freed Lee and a hundred other enslaved people. Not good enough to keep his name on a public school?

“May I be boiled in oil,
And fried in Crisco,
If I ever call
San Francisco, Frisco.”

–Ogden Nash

All right, let’s stipulate that some of those San Francisco schools SHOULD be renamed. But some other cases are, well, complicated.

I mean, if living in an independent country has any value for us, the bad news that George Washington was a slaveowner can’t be the end of discussion about him; dammit, he and his ragtag army did win the revolution.

Then he declined to celebrate by taking on the crown his victory had displaced.

That’s a gesture which some of us have just re-learned is definitely not chopped liver. (Tho some of us evidently just haven’t.)

Ditto for the fact that Lincoln was a stone segregationist who hoped slaves would be freed so they could all be shipped to Central America.

Terrible “optics, in politico-speak. And a completely  cockamamie idea; but then Abe still got woke enough to end legal slavery. And he gave some boffo speeches, huuugely better than, say, “The carnage stops here.” There’s a whole lot of reckoning yet to be done there.

Two Roosevelts. Toss a coin to toss one?

Instead, tho, according to numerous press reports, the  SF renaming process turned into a contender for the worst imitation of a bad SNL cold open that ever made comedy writers spew their coffee.

The renamers even voted to toss Roosevelt Middle School, tho they couldn’t seem to be bothered to figure out which Roosevelt it was, FDR or Teddy, to whom they were giving the boot. (But who cares? They were both dead white males.)

Well, anyway. Looks like becoming a laughingstock finally got under somebody’s skin there, and the renaming is now toast.

But it really ought not to be. Some of the names probably should go. Plus there are definitely new names that need recognition. (Looking at you, Harriet Tubman. And my sentimental Sixties favorite, Wavy Gravy.)

Besides, the reexamination of all 44 could be a Golden Gate into substantive educational experiences involving the students too. (Students? What a concept.)

Well, Frisco school folks, you gave yourselves a big load of lemons.

So now get busy, catch up on that history homework you skipped, and make your city some serious educational lemonade, meringue pies and (gluten free) pound cake already.

Sacramento Bee: Plan to rename 44 San Francisco schools during pandemic on hold.

‘Mistakes were made’
BY DON SWEENEY — FEBRUARY 22, 2021
Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco will be among 44 schools which was to have their names changed following a 6-1 vote by the school board. Those plans are now on hold, school officials say.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s disappearance has also been stayed.

Gabriela Lopez

Gabriela Lopez, newly elected as president of the school board, said in a statement Sunday that school officials must focus on reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Reopening will be our only focus until our children and young people are back in school,” Lopez wrote. She canceled further hearings by a renaming committee.

Lopez called the school renaming issue “one of many distracting debates,” noting the process began before anyone anticipated a pandemic shutting down in-person schooling.

“I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process,” Lopez wrote.

When the renaming project reopens, district leaders will seek a “more deliberative” process involving historians along with parents and educators, Lopez wrote.

The school board voted 6-1 Jan. 26 to strip the names, now considered offensive, from 44 San Francisco schools, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“It’s a message to our families, our students and our community,” said trustee Mark Sanchez at the time, according to the publication. “It’s not just symbolic. It’s a moral message.”

Parents and teachers at each school would have had until April to propose new names to be approved by the board, Courthouse News reported. The renaming project was expected to cost $440,000.

School names honoring Paul Revere, Francis Scott Key, Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Hoover, Father Junipero Serra and Robert Louis Stevenson were also among those scheduled to be changed, according to a district list.

The renaming committee faulted Washington for owning slaves, Lincoln for the hangings of Native Americans and Feinstein for reports she once ordered the replacement of a Confederate flag torn down by protesters.

Other names to be changed include those of conquistadors who explored California and notable San Francisco residents, including a former superintendent, who held racist views.

The board also voted to rename Roosevelt Middle School despite confusion over whether it was originally named for Theodore or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fox News reported.

A committee studied the proposed name changes for two years before the decision was made, according to a presentation from the San Francisco Unified School District.

The presentation says involvement in colonization, slavery, genocide, exploitation of workers, oppression, racism and other human rights abuses are reasons to remove someone’s name from a school.

Some of the criteria for possible replacement names included a grounding in social or economic justice, local rather than national figures and those who bring “joy and healing to the world.”

The proposed name changes generated national commentary, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed criticized the proposals in October, KGO reported.

“The fact that our kids aren’t in school is what’s driving inequity in our city, not the name of a school,” Breed said, according to the station.

Another personal favorite for a new school monicker: political whiz Stacey Abrams. Okay, so she’s not from California. Well, lots of the others weren’t either.

Former President Donald Trump posted to Twitter about the proposal in December, calling it “so ridiculous and unfair,” The Hill reported.

Critics of the name changes argued that historical figures should be judged in historical context of all their efforts, not dismissed for individual questionable actions, Courthouse News reported.

Quakers: From Peace to Civil War (Again?)

This week, while many American Quakers (& others) wait anxiously to see whether a new civil war is about to break out, the question of what Quakers can or should do in response to such events continues to linger.

I don’t have answers to that question; or rather, there is a surplus of answers, and sorting them out is “above my pay grade.” But I have studied how Quakers faced the (first?) U. S. Civil War. And these studies have been both reassuring and challenging, Perhaps they are worth reviewing briefly.

With the coming of the Civil War, a great many young Quakers felt themselves faced with a dilemma that was stated as well by Abraham Lincoln as by anyone:

“Your people–the Friends” he wrote to a Quaker minister, “–have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some the other.”

To be sure, Lincoln was a politician, skillfully framing the choice in a way biased toward the war he was waging as the “only” way to “practically” end slavery.

But even Friends who declined to join accepted the binary formulation. And once fighting began, pro-war propaganda was relentless. Here’s a sample I just discovered. It’s a popular song, “A Quaker Letter to Lincoln,” from 1863: Continue reading Quakers: From Peace to Civil War (Again?)

ESR Upheaval: Dean Resigns, Is Abruptly Banned

Matt Hisrich, who was in his second year as Dean of Earlham School of Religion in Richmond Indiana, was abruptly banned from campus on Wednesday December 16 2020.

Matt Hisrich, smiling but not amused.

His Earlham email was revoked that morning, and he was directed to vacate the campus by 3 PM. Co-workers hurriedly gathered that afternoon to bid him a shocked, impromptu farewell.

Hisrich said in an interview with this blog that he was able to leave campus without the customary perp-walk escort by campus security, but only because, due to recent staff cuts,  the college only has one remaining campus police officer, who was busy elsewhere.

A 2008 ESR graduate, Matt became Director of Recruitment and Admissions in June 2012. Appointed Acting Dean in July 2018, he was appointed Dean, in addition to becoming an Earlham College Vice President, in March 2019.

Early this month, Hisrich announced his intention to resign at the end of 2020.

However, his bums rush exit was early, evidently provoked by a letter he sent to the ESR Board of advisers.

In the letter, Hisrich criticized recent changes in the school’s status, called for them to be reversed, and denounced what he called a “toxic culture of fear of speaking out,” under the administration of new president Anne Houtman, which he said “debilitated the creativity, energy, and community so absolutely necessary to pull off a re-imagination of what the College could be in a radically new context.”

Anne Houtman, President of Earlham College & ESR, not amused either.

This “re-imagination” is underway, as Earlham struggles with major budget deficits and faltering enrollment. Major staff cuts have recently been imposed. (For our earlier posts on Earlham’s financial/academic travail, go here, and here, and here.)

Houtman sent a sharply-worded retort, to Hisrich and the Board of Advisers. (Full text of both letters here: Hisrich-Houtman-Bunner-12-2020)

In it Houtman  declared that

To say I am saddened and disappointed would be an understatement. Matt never once expressed to me the concerns he shared with you, even when I gave him ample opportunity to do so. His “reflections” are filled with misinformation and misinterpretation, and reflect more than anything a deep misunderstanding of ESR’s fiscal situation, its relationship to Earlham, and more broadly the state of higher education in the United States at this time. This is not the first time Matt has behaved unprofessionally in our work together, but I have previously attributed this to his inexperience. It is an unfortunate way to choose to end a working relationship.

For his part, Hisrich firmly denied to me any “unprofessional” behavior, adding that no such charges had previously been made.

He also said that he and the ESR faculty had made numerous appeals to Houtman and other administration officials about ESR’s fiscal situation, and noted that the track record of Earlham’s administrations in recent years did not exactly evince any deep understanding of how to remedy the plight of colleges like Earlham.

About Houtman’s allusion to Hisrich’s alleged “misinformation and misinterpretation,” Hisrich pointed out that the key data his letter mentions are undisputed, namely, that last May ESR was abruptly “incorporated” into Earlham college. The school and  its Dean,  were now put under the direct authority of college officials. Further, and likely more important, the College “de-designated” (i.e., took away) half of ESR’s endowment (about $25 million dollars), which threw ESR’s financial and program plans into complete disarray.

Since then the faculty has been told their programs are subject to revision from above to make ESR a  profit center for the College at large, as it struggles to overcome serious and often called “unsustainable” continuing deficits.

Previously, ESR had its own strategic plan, which was unfolding with reported considerable initial success. Enrollment had doubled between 2019 and 2020, and prospects have been very promising for 2021.

(Meanwhile, overall college admission trends are a mix of a few increases, with the elite schools out ahead as usual, and many others facing pandemic-driven declines or deep uncertainty.) Much of ESR’s endowment income has been going for financial aid for students from non-affluent backgrounds, and headed for non-affluent service professional careers.

Hisrich’s letter argued that

Going forward, tying ESR’s ability to survive to its ability to serve as a financial feeder to the College essentially pre-ordains a negative outcome for the seminary. As the only seminary of its kind, this would be an incalculable loss to the Religious Society of Friends – and many others who have and will find a welcome here.

“Negative outcome” is a euphemism for demise. ESR’s strangulation in an effort to save the College would be a double blow as it has shared facilities and cooperative programs with Bethany Theological Seminary, a school for the Church of the Brethren, for twenty-six years. An informed source told me that Bethany is currently financially sound, but losing its connection to ESR could be fatal.

Hisrich said he had been told that ESR had about eighteen months to reshape its program away from its current offerings to others which would attract a student body affluent enough to pay tuition that was high enough to make the school a profit center (aka “financial feeder) for Earlham’s overall budget.

The reshaping will likely be done from above, based on the conviction  Houtman expressed that Hisrich (backed by his faculty) are mired in a “deep misunderstanding” not only of their own plight, but that of Earlham, “and more broadly the state of higher education in the United States at this time.”

An informed source recounted that in a November meeting with the ESR faculty, Houtman stated that her administration “had a vision” for ESR. Asked what that vision was, she gave no specifics beyond the expectation of it being an income producer. And frankly, it is quite possible to imagine a vision not unlike that of asset stripping by predatory corporate raiders, with ESR being sucked dry to prop up the larger, legally stronger “host,” and the husk then discarded. (Remember Mitt Romney and the depredations of Bain & Co?)

A much younger Mitt Romney and his Bain Co. partners, getting rich. They had fun, but the way they did it did not sell well with the voters in the 2012 presidential election.

What might such new, profitable programs be? Law enforcement was one that’s been mentioned, Hisrich recalled. As well as preparatory courses for pastors in line to run megachurches, with their mega-budgets. Otherwise, the focus will be, as it is in most flailing schools, on attracting students who were shrewd enough to pick wealthy parents.

Well, good luck with that. Speaking from outside the ivy-covered halls, the mess that so many colleges are in makes a hash of claims that administrators have it all figured out.

Last spring, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Robert Zemsky, who has studied college conditions for years and had just published a book, The College Stress Test, based on his research. The paper noted,

“Before the pandemic, ” about 100 of the nation’s 1,000 private, liberal-arts colleges were likely to close over the next five years, predicted Robert Zemsky, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of education, in “The College Stress Test,” a book published in February. He now says 200 of those schools could close in the next year.”

It’s nine months later and there has not yet been a rash of actual college closures. But our peek into the machinations involved in keeping Earlham College afloat suggest just how desperate some schools continue to be, and the lengths to which they’ll go to stay afloat.

As for Matt Hisrich, he’s already put ESR behind him. He explained that his family was packing up, and by this weekend they expected to be back in his home town of Canton Ohio. There he’ll join with other family members working to help navigate the rapids and shoals of the current economic slump to save a family owned store there.

What kind of store? Wait for it — a hippie store.

That’s right: last week, Matt Hisrich was an eminently straitlaced theological dean. Next week, he’ll likely be in bell bottoms, and helping resurrect flower power, man, in a head shop, an authentic survivor, dating from the classic period in 1969.

Wait. In Canton, Ohiohome of the Pro Football Hall of  Fame?

That’s right, man.

OMG – Vinyl is BACK at the Quonset Hut. Hey, dudes, you got In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida??

Matt & his people will be at The Quonset Hut, a lively emporium featuring, of course, crystals, all the paisley you’ll ever need, cool staff who know what an LP is, a smoke & vape shop, and even — wait for it — an eye-opening sex toys department (but strictly for 18 and up).

Well far freaking out, all you need is love, and who the heck knew?

Meantime, back at Earlham, Anne Houtman will be looking forward to, as she wrote to the Advisory Board,

the opportunity to conduct a national search for a Quaker theologian with administrative experience and expertise, who can lead ESR into a more engaged relationship with Earlham’s wider community while addressing its enrollment and financial challenges.

Indeed.

After taking all this in, I called an ESR alum who has observed the school for several decades. “Be straight with me,” I said,  “you know the Quaker scene. Is there anybody out there you dislike so much that you’d suggest they apply for this job?

This Friend paused, and pondered. Then,

“No,” he said.

Solving the Mystery of “Murder at Quaker Lake”

In mid-2014, a blast of church schism fever blew into the three-century old North Carolina Quaker community like a line of summer tornadoes.

At its annual conference, a purge was suddenly demanded to “purify” their ranks of meetings deemed theologically “liberal” or friendly to LGBTQ persons. The same wave had already shattered Quaker groups in Indiana, and would soon roll west into Oregon and Washington state.

But the targeted groups in Carolina stood up eloquently in their own defense. They issued cogent rebuttals to the doctrinal charges, and stood firmly for the integrity of recognized Quaker decision making. The purge attempts repeatedly stalled.

Yet they continued. For two years the question was, how far would the crusaders go? Were they, like U.S. troops in Vietnam, ready to destroy their Quaker “village” in order to “save” it?

”A house divided against itself cannot stand!” was the insurgents’ refrain, citing the gospels and Abraham Lincoln. Something would have to give.

And ultimately, it did.

Murder at Quaker Lake unpacks this dead-serious true story.  It is now available, in paperback & e-book form.  Since the turn of the 21st century, five U. S. Quaker Yearly Meetings have become battlefields, truly making the opening decades of the 21st Century as The Separation Generation.

Continue reading Solving the Mystery of “Murder at Quaker Lake”

Another Quiet Day at Spring Friends Meeting (not really)

If you drove west on the Chapel Hill-Greensboro Road through Snow Camp, North Carolina on Sunday, November 1, 2020, at about eleven AM, you would have passed a white chapel-looking building on your left. A few cars were parked outside, on the grass under the big old trees, which are shedding their wrinkled brown leaves after a hot green summer.

That was Spring Friends Meeting. From the outside, it looked quiet, secluded, and almost deserted. Easy to miss amid the wooded stretches and dairy farms of southern Alamance county.

But inside, it was none of those. Yes, just a handful of Quakers, or Friends, were sitting, widely-spaced and mostly masked, on its long benches. And they weren’t loud. But a lot was going on.

Pepper spray and guns will do that: liven up what’s meant to be a mostly silent meeting. As will being in national headlines. Continue reading Another Quiet Day at Spring Friends Meeting (not really)