A note from Senate Vice President Sinclair

[updated 12/23/2016]

The fallout from the black face halloween incident (BFHI) has divided our community at a time when it is least welcome. Higher education is, or soon will be, under an unprecedented assault from our own government. At this moment the BFHI-divided campus is in no position to present unified resistance to this threat.

Regarding the BFHI, I would suggest to the free speech folks (FSF) that sometimes words and actions are as terrifying and damaging as threats of physical harm. I would say this doubly so to FSF who, due to no fault of their own, have not had the experience of living outside the comfort of a social majority. To the social justice folks (SJF) I would suggest that sometimes damage inflicted is inflicted out of ignorance, and in such situations isn’t forgiveness (together with a liberal dose of education) warranted? I say this doubly to those SJF who do not understand that the no-prisoners response to the BFHI has many on campus afraid that one day they too may be run out of town on a rail for some ignorant, but well-meaning act.

To the FSF who demand that speech be without consequences, I cannot stand with you. The BFHI has clearly damaged our campus and each of us must be held responsible for our actions, well-intended or otherwise.

To the SJF who say there can be no forgiveness for this act, I cannot stand with you. If you believe the perpetrator here is irredeemable then you are as guilty of dividing our community as she is.

To those who know that this situation lies on the complicated boundary between competing ideals, I stand with you. I stand with you ready to find a path forward.

Finally, to the administration (JH), I’d like to introduce you to the Kobayashi Maru. Do I think your reactions to the BFHI have been stellar? No. However, I doubt that I could have done any better (at least without the benefit of hindsight). I will offer a few critiques. Hiding in the bunker of Johnson Hall and waiting for this to blow over (ahem, denaming Deady Hall) is not leadership. Releasing a public report on the BFHI three days before Christmas, may be smart, but it is not leadership. Leadership is putting forth a plan that addresses both the fears of the FSF and of the SJF, and secures us as an institution that is known both for our stalwart support of free speech, but also for our inclusion and compassion towards others of different backgrounds and narratives.

Here is what I hope. I hope that JH can address both the fear that minorities on campus harbor (especially given the recent election), but also the fear that pitchforks await the next unwitting purveyor of social ignorance. I hope that JH can find a way to reassure campus that they are strong supporters of both free speech and campus inclusion. Finally, I hope that JH together with the SJF can orchestrate a path forward for the perpetrator of the BFHI to be brought back into the fold of the university. This would be real, unifying leadership, of the sort we are going to need over the next few years.

If I can help in some regard, please let me know.

[old stuff below]

Welcome back for fall!  As I write this I am in the last throws of teaching an 8-week calculus course.  Teaching this summer has been a bit of a mixed bag.  On one hand, my students have been great and being on campus everyday has been good for planning the various projects and initiatives that are in front of the Senate.  On the other hand, stepping into the Senate VP role has been plenty of work on its own without the additional time in the classroom.  Regardless, it’s been a productive summer, and I’m glad to be able to elaborate on some of the things I’ve been working on.

First and foremost, is this new website.  While I didn’t mean for it to be as all encompassing as it turned out, the obvious solution to the mountains of human-generated data produced by and for the Senate was a relational database: basically a spreadsheet with recorded relationships between rows in different tables.  This database is still evolving and growing as we update past and future information about committees, those who serve on them, the reports they produce as well the motions and legislation moved in the Senate.  The goal of this database is to keep this information in one central repository from which we can query and serve on these web pages.  There will undoubtedly be hiccups in the delivery of this information, and the information itself may not yet be the most up-to-date.  If you see any errors, please let me know so that I can address it.

Several lives ago, during a brief stint as a graduate student drop out, I was a web developer for a government research lab.  Technology has changed a lot in the intervening 20 years, and it has been nice to revisit and update those skills.

Besides teaching and web development, I have also spent the summer meeting with Senate President Harbaugh, Senate Executive Coordinator Betina Lynn and Senate Program Assistant Kurt Willcox. They have helped get me up to speed on the ins and outs of the business of running the Senate, and in particular the constellation of committees, advisory groups and task forces where so much of the work of the University is done.  One of my overarching goals for the upcoming year is to build an organized view of the committees, what they do, and who serves on them.  I hope to make it easy for people to see what the committees are doing and provide mechanisms by which people can share their thoughts about this work in a constructive manner.

In order for this to be successful, I will need your help.  Please let me know what sorts of information are useful for you as a constituent of the Senate or as a member of a committee.  Visit this site often, and share your opinions on topics of interest.  If you are on the Senate, I implore you share your ideas and debate the issues of the day so that we can fully vet all policy proposals, legislation and resolutions in a thorough manner.

As particular issues arise, I’ll add my thoughts to this thread.  Until then, I’m going to enjoy the prospect of a few weeks of Eugene summer before the whirlwind of fall quarter begins.

Thanks for reading this far, and here’s to a productive upcoming academic year!


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