AAS Palaima Aug 25 2017 UVA UT Austin Texas A&M reactions to white supremacism

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/opinion/commentary-how-uva-helped-its-studentsrecognize-the-evil-around-them/FRmJH8rBJIPDNxUQc1Fl0J/

Commentary: How the University helped its students recognize the evil around them

Opinion

By Thomas G. Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman

Posted: 11:34 a.m. Thursday, August 24, 2017

photo by Andrew Shurtleff  University of Virginia’s President Teresa Sullivan, right, walks with students, faculty and Charlottesville residents during a candlelight vigil on the campus on Wednesday, Aug. 16, in Charlottesville, Va (Andrew Shurtleff /The Daily Progress)

This is a hard time to strive to be a decent human being, but an important time to do so. The recent loss of life and harm to flesh and blood and hearts and souls in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 involved students from the University of Virginia.

We live in one of the centers of civilized culture and higher education in our state. We may be tempted to view Charlottesville as an isolated remote event. This would be a mistake.We saw in images and in words the deep-rooted feelings of hatred and anger that motivated individuals on both sides in Charlottesville to act as they did.

VIEWPOINTS: On racism, a president who’s lost the moral authority.

It can’t happen here we might say. Only we know it can.

A key figure in the Unite the Right rally, Richard W. Spencer, spoke in Charlottesville on the morning of Aug. 12. Last December, he spoke at Texas A&M and was scheduled to speak again until A&M officials — citing the “risks of threat to life and safety” — recently canceled theevent. Were they wrong to do so? If your child were on the A&M campus, what would you want to happen?

Keep in mind that the organizers of the planned Spencer event issued a press release saying, “Today Charlottesville, Tomorrow Texas A&M.”

Spencer himself did not react to what happened in Charlottesville with the horror and sorrow a great many of us felt. He declared, “It was a huge moral victory in terms of the show of force.” He rejoiced that the “political violence” that he thought “had just become impossible” was right there just waiting to happen.

Ahead of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, UVa president and former University of Texas graduate dean Teresa Sullivan called for students to view the demonstrators as provocateurs and simply ignore them. Indeed, they did on Friday night. During their torch-lit rally, the white supremacists paraded through the UVa campus peacefully, despite their hatefilled chants. The violence Spencer longed for — that took him back to the days of 1930’s NaziBerlin — came on Saturday.

ALBERTA PHILLIPS: Think the Klan, Nazis are history? Not with Trump’s blessing.

Think it cannot happen here?

White and black extremist groups are on the Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map throughout Texas. The United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, aka the Texas KKK, proudly lists chapters in 31 towns and cities; 18 are concentrated north of I-20 in the far northeast.

The KKK is multifaceted. It directed hatred in the 20th century against immigrants, blacks, Jews, Catholics and even unionized workers. The SPLC Hate Map lists a neo-Nazi Web site, The Daily Stormer, right here in Austin. Given the economic, social, racial, gender and educational disparities and tensions in our country right now, almost every community should consider itself a tinderbox.

Would you want to be a university president making the kinds of decisions that had to be made at A&M and at UVa? In my opinion, UT Austin president Greg Fenves offers us a way forward by example. Fenves mobilized all forces on campus in response to what turned out to be a true perception that incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault have been vastly under-reported.

The CLASE report of Spring 2017 brings out into the open — as Charlottesville did for race hatred — the true nature of the problem. One figure suffices: Fifteen percent of female undergraduate students surveyed reported having experienced rape since enrollment at UT.

Fenves’ decision was gutsy and risky in these days of spin. However, I would want my child attending an institution where a problem is known and acknowledged and faculty, staff, students, mental health counselors and police officials are informed and aware and sensitive to it.

DEBBIE HIOTT: Why do headlines focus on racism? Because it still lingers.

We can only fight the enemy we see.

Sullivan made half the right call. She let the event take place. She should have made sure that those called upon to show the restraint of Gandhi’s followers or civil rights demonstrators who put their faith in Martin Luther King would get their say at soon-to-be-held open public forums.

A&M officials responded in good faith to protect the students in their charge — but they might have erred in not letting those students give witness to the open-minded decency and self-discipline they possess.

Palaima, a regular Viewpoints contributor, teaches courses about music and societyat the University of Texas. He is Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics.

 

UT-Austin doesn’t really care to educate football players

Dallas Morning News August 26, 2017

https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2017/08/25/ut-austin-really-care-educate-football-players

Written by

Thomas G. Palaima, Contributor

Connect with Thomas G. Palaima

I have followed and written commentaries about big-time sports at the University of Texas at Austin for some 15 years. Between 2008 and 2011, I was the UT and Big 12 representative on the national Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics. I was invited to lunch by former athletics director DeLoss Dodds, who knew and adeptly practiced the art of keeping your enemies closer. I sat in his and President Bill Powers’ skyboxes. The idea seemed to be that I would find this misuse of adult time and tasteless display of conspicuous consumption — which should find no place at a public university — so desirable that I would not rock the boat in the future.

It did not have that effect.

At Dodds’s insistence, I even had personal sit-down time with soon-to-be-disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. His revered high school mentor, Fr. Thomas Bermingham, S.J., had once been a dear colleague of mine at Fordham University. And I heard Graham Spanier, then president of Penn State, emphasize to Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics reps in January 2011 what high moral standards he enforced within his entire NCAA athletics program, top to bottom. Ten months later, Jerry Sandusky.

In 2009-10, I thought we had reached the promised land. Then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who had been a student athlete at Harvard; then NCAA president Mark Emmert; and then President Barack Obama all called for “independent faculty oversight of NCAA programs at universities and colleges.” Emmert told us that it was a bad idea for any institution of higher education to have separate fundraising organizations for academics and athletics, as UT Austin still does: Texas Exes and the Longhorn Foundation. I brought these proposals to the floor of the faculty council.

It turns out that no University of Texas president wants to lift his rod and take us across to the promised land of real education for all student athletes and serious integration of sports into the academic, cultural and scientific mission of our great public university. Instead we stay in the land of smoke and mirrors, make-believe, and even immoral looking-the-other-way.

Recently, I went online with the Longhorn Foundation to see what ordering season tickets for this fall would entail. Three tickets in Section 28 for 6 games were each $660, total $1,980. But those tickets will not be sold to anyone without a $2,500 “donation” to the Longhorn Foundation for each ticket. So, three season tickets cost $9,480, and $7,500 is considered a voluntary tax-exempt donation to higher education. I would say this is the morally gray world our university leaders tolerate, but it is just black-and-white wrong.

Okay, so they raise lots of money this way. What does the football program do with it? Well, our program this spring videoed its new head coach Tom Herman taking a sledgehammer to football lockers in good repair. They were all replaced with $10,500-apiece lockers that the UT director of high school relations proudly proclaimed via Twitter as “unfreakingbelievable.” The Dallas Morning News called them “uncharted territory” in a “college football world where a teams’ facilities are pretty much indistinguishable from a high-end Vegas hotel.” Worse yet, UT President Greg Fenves explained, “You have to impress 16- and 17-year-old kids when you’re looking at locker rooms across the country.”

I disagree. No, you do not. You are not a pimp or a drug-pusher.

What you should do is sit down with those players and their parents or guardians or favorite teachers and tell them this:

“If you come to UT-Austin, we run a tight ship. We don’t want to outdo Las Vegas in order to fool you into thinking a few years spent in glamorous facilities will mean something to you and your families in 10, 20, 30 years. We’ll give you a real education. We’ll limit your playing and practice time to the NCAA regulation of 20 hours a week. We won’t be like all those other conniving programs where players spend 37 to 43 hours, according to the NCAA’s own survey. We’ll teach you how to keep to a budget so you won’t blow $28 million in NFL salary, as UT’s Vince Young did, or the $30,000 to $50,000 you’ll hopefully be making at first after you graduate. We’ll look out for you.”

But no, we won’t.

Thomas G. Palaima holds the Armstrong Centennial Professorship of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. Email: tpalaima@austin.utexas.edu

Let Confederate Statues lead charge promoting clear principle, symbolic chains, and open Socratic self-criticism

Featured

UT should keep Confederate statues but add context with plaques

Posted on-line: 11:27 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 Austin American-Statesman

Print Edition Wednesday August 12, 2015

Al Martinich and I wrote this public response to the report of the Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary released to the president and the public yesterday morning (August 10th), arguably one of the deadest days of the year for drawing faculty, student, staff and community response.

The subject phrase summarizes our main points. We explain them more fully in the commentary here below.

We particularly were concerned about direct or indirect notions in the report (1) that our University could not openly be seen to be involved in self-examination and self-criticism and (2) that a clear statement of ethical values on an important social issue might be considered ‘inflammatory’.

Ours is a public university that proclaims on its seal that the education it offers is the guardian genius of democracy.  We should obey always the Socratic principle that “the unexamined life is not worth living”—and certainly not worth paying tuition money for.

TGP and AM

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/ut-should-keep-confederate-statues-but-add-context/nnHS4/

By Al Martinich and Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman

The Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary presented University of Texas President Gregory Fenves this week with five options for the controversial statues of Confederate leaders.

One option is to keep the statues but to add “explanatory plaques that would enhance the educational value of the six statues and provide historical context.” We think this is the best option. But it can be improved.

“Educational value” and “historical context” are too vague and evasive. An objection to that option is that it is “difficult to provide contextualizing statements that are strong enough to counteract the powerful message sent by bronze statues on high pedestals on our Main Mall, while not so strong or intemperate as to be simply inflammatory.” We think otherwise.

What if all six statues had a plaque with the same unequivocal message: “The University of Texas condemns slavery and regrets that its history is closely tied with slave owners who never recognized the equality of African-Americans and Hispanics”? Would this message be weak or inflammatory? No, it would forthrightly declare the true values of the university and the state of Texas.

In addition to the plaques, chains should be added at the ankles of the statues. The meaning would be clear and conspicuous. If anyone should be enslaved, even symbolically after the fact, slave owners should be. Slavery shackled the ideal of developing a society that treated all people equally.

The report also objects that adding plaques “would be like engaging in vigorous self-criticism on the university’s homepage.” Yes indeed! And all for the good! This is no objection. It is a strong reason to do so. No human institution is perfect, as the statues themselves show. Self-criticism is crucial for a healthy democracy.

Universities, especially public universities like UT Austin, are special places. The values of the university should be expressed clearly and discussed. UT’s core values are generally cited as marketing tools that establish what in the present discussion is historically ironic, a “brand” that distinguishes UT Austin from other universities competing for students. The core values are learned by rote like the Ten Commandments: Once learned, they are rarely consciously put into practice. The values should be examined again and again in the context of what has happened in our society over time, what is happening now and what is likely to happen under the guidance of those few graduates who become our future leaders — and the many, many other students who become the day-to-day doers and the heart and soul of our country.

We have long been preoccupied at the University of Texas at Austin with maintaining a façade of high achievement. We focus on those who attain high distinction in the classrooms, out in service to the community and on athletic fields. We forget that our university, like our society as a whole, is made up of struggling human beings with varying talents and abilities. To have all passersby, students, their friends and families, and other outside visitors be reminded on a regular basis of the fundamental questions — historical and contemporary — posed by race, ethnicity and other behaviors within society as whole will work to strengthen our democracy.

Socrates in 399 B.C. accepted a death sentence rather than go on living without questioning the moral and ethical values of his society. The one core value of our university that should trump all should be that the unexamined life is truly not worth living. It was a lack of strong commitment to imaginative self-criticism in Texas that enabled slavery and later promoted racial discrimination. Imagine yourself and your children as slaves. Feel the chains around your ankles. Would you support slavery?

The other four options presented to our president involve removing one or more of the statues to some other location. Keeping any of the statues unaltered is offensive. Removing all of the statues is a way of suppressing our history and missing an ongoing teaching opportunity.

Once more: No human institution is perfect. Self-criticism is crucial for a healthy democracy. Universities are special places where the values of our culture need to be discussed in the future much more than they have been. Let the Confederate statues lead the charge in what is always an uphill battle against human ignorance and prejudice and toward examined lives of dignity and respect for all of us and all our children.

Al Martinich and Tom Palaima are professors at University of Texas at Austin.

Helping musicians helps keep the music alive in Austin (HAAM)

lhs-Haam-benefit-day-04Palaima: Helping musicians helps keep the music alive in Austin

Posted: 6:00 p.m. Saturday, March 21, 2015 Print edition Sunday March 22, 2015

By Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman

Can you imagine your life without music?

Really think about it, and not just about right now.

Think back through all the different stages of your life, your treasured memories, the rough seas and the stretches of smooth sailing, lonesome thoughts and spontaneous joys shared with friends and loved ones. Chances are you’ll remember songs and tunes along with them.

Rather than where were you when you first heard a song or a musician, think of the performers and their music and remember who you were then and who was with you in your life. To paraphrase lines from Austinite James McMurtry’s recent CD “Complicated Game,” songs write our lives. They remind us of our common humanity, in big ways and small.

This is no new development. In the period that is the focus of my research at the University of Texas at Austin, the late Greek Bronze Age (1600-1200 BCE), the oral songs that defined the culture most people think of as the golden age of Greece were already being sung.

On a wall painting to the right of the royal throne in the sacred hearth room of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos (1200 BCE), a colorfully robed male singer, lyre in hand, sits outdoors on a well-worn rock outcropping. He sings and plays to banqueters sharing drink. A mythical bird flies off toward the throne, symbolizing the “winged lyrics,” the phrase Homer uses to describe the magical way inspired music reaches our ears.

Three centuries later, as Professor Joann Hackett reminded us in a recent presentation to our UT Institute for Scripts and Decipherment, from excavations of a shrine at an Israelite-Judean caravan stop in the eastern Sinai, we have large storage jars with painted “Hebrew blessing formulae and cultic scenes” referring to Yahweh and his potential companion goddess Asherah. Prominently depicted is a seated woman lyre player, perhaps singing out the blessing.

And the Rev. Will Rambo of Tupelo, Miss. — fittingly the birthplace of Elvis Presley — recently observed, after watching shepherds at work during a trip to the Holy Land, that the image of Jesus as a good shepherd derives partly from the fact that at herd collecting stations where shepherds brought their flocks for protection at night, there were no problems in the morning separating out whose sheep were whose. The sheep really do know their shepherds’ voices from hearing them sing their pastoral songs, just as I instantly recognize a Denny Freeman, Richard Jessee or John Inmon guitar riff or a line sung by Carl Hutchens, Jesse Gregg or Jimmy LaFave.

Pope Francis recently took aim at the “disastrous” homilies his flock of faithful hear from their priests, words that “do not reach the heart.” You know you cannot say that about the Austin musicians you regularly go to hear. They reach your heart.

Now try to imagine Austin without live music. A frightening thought, isn’t it? It will never become a reality so long as we continue to be good shepherds to the 9,000 musicians who, according to Chris Alberts, director of development for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, now live and perform in the Austin area.

History also proves unfortunately that being a musician, literally one of those dedicated to the arts of memory goddesses known as the Muses, generally involves an itinerant lifestyle and getting by on the kindness of strangers. Few Homeric or Judaeic bards, medieval minstrels, Appalachian folk singers, blues artists on the chitlin circuit or British shoegazers were free of troubles with money. Few of their descendants who perform at the Cactus Café, Poodies Roadhouse, the Saxon Pub, the Mohawk, the Gallery or the Skylark Lounge have large investment portfolios to manage.

HAAM got started in 2005 because the late Robin Ratliff Shivers was contagiously passionate about the music in her life and had the crazy idea that musicians should have access to regular medical, dental, vision, hearing and psychiatric care. She went about making that happen. Austin foundations, businesses and individual donors, too many to mention, have made it possible for the 60 percent of Austin musicians who do not qualify for subsidized medical plans and the 40 percent who have gaps in coverage to protect their health before crises develop.

If you enjoy the sounds you hear Austin’s talented musicians, young and old, making, go to www.myhaam.org. And remember Austin’s ever more challenging cost of living the next time the tip jar is passed.

Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas.
– See more at: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/palaima-helping-musicians-helps-keep-the-music-ali/nkbb4/#05de1d51.3469532.735775

Minds of 2015 graduates in Liberal Arts give hope for the future

Featured

Palaima: Minds of 2015 grads give hope for future

Posted: 11:00 p.m. Wednesday, May 20, 2015

By Tom Palaima – Special to the American-Statesman

The University of Texas at Austin at the end of the spring semester is a place of relics and memories. Senior thesis writers and Ph.D. dissertators in the humanities leave their supervisors and readers with an assortment of parting gifts.

Their completed work offers insights into the human experience: how and why our society doesn’t work as well as it should, what individuals can do to make a difference, what lies we are told, what lies we tell, and what lies we want to believe. I speak here personally about five students I have worked with who are leaving my colleagues and me with the kind of empty-nest feelings that other faculty share.

Plan II honors student Brina Bui worked with psychiatrist Stephen Sonnenberg and me analyzing art programs in pediatric hospitals in Texas’s five major cities. Only Dell Children’s Hospital here in Austin employs trained art therapists who use art in an informed therapeutic process to discover what children are feeling and thinking. Bui’s research suggests that art programs, despite their therapeutic value, generally are viewed as inessential add-ons in pediatric hospitals and are not prioritized in their budgets.

Johnathon Reddinger, who is part of the Polymathic Scholars Program, studied representations of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in Hollywood films and documentary films. Reddinger joined the Marine Corps out of high school in summer 2007. He was deployed in summer 2009 to Al Anbar province, Iraq and in winter 2010-2011 to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, serving as 0311 Infantry Rifleman and 0313 Light Armored Vehicle Crewman. He matriculated at UT Austin in 2011. Reddinger doesn’t see the wars American soldiers fought in the war films Hollywood makes.

In his view, Hollywood films do bigger box office when their ideologies match the audience’s. This explains the switch from anti-war sentiments in Vietnam war films to patriotic sentiments in Iraq and Afghanistan war films. Hollywood films leave out, except in hints, “the debilitating injuries — mental and physical — that soldiers sustain on the battlefield and then bring home.” They stereotype the enemy and do not show how our wars devastate other cultures. Documentaries about soldiers and film interviews with soldiers, even ‘stars’ of Hollywood features like Chris Kyle, get at the truth. But the truth doesn’t sell tickets or reassure the general public or help recruit more soldiers.

Ciaran Dean-Jones’ Plan II thesis, directed by me with Sonnenberg and historian George Forgie as readers, helped earn him a $3,000 UT Co-op George H. Mitchell Award as one of the top seven undergraduate researchers this year. Dean-Jonesstudied President Abraham Lincoln’s writings closely to trace how Lincoln’s emotional and psychological struggles in early adulthood related to the theological beliefs he developed during the Civil War. As seen in his second inaugural address, Lincoln took to using the suffering of the Civil War to move our divided nation toward reconciliation rather than punishment of the South.

Commander Mike Flynn, a 1995 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, also came to UT in 2011, like John Reddinger. He is taking up a teaching appointment at the academy this fall. His doctoral dissertation in comparative literature, directed by Katie Arens with Cesar Salgado, Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, Gabriela Polit and me as readers, runs a PTSD Geiger counter — as he puts it — over the literature set during the drug-war violence in Colombia. Flynn identifies the broader social pathology of trauma and highlights the destructive force of human greed, the signifier that destroys all significance. His work focuses our attention on complex PTSD, on the ways trauma is transmitted across generations and from person to person, on how it persists in memory, and on what narration can do partially to heal personal and collective trauma.

Finally Jorge Wong, a classics major and McNair Scholar, explored the crisis — ancient Greek for point of decision — that King Agamemnon, himself an inheritor of multigenerational trauma, faced in the Greek tragedy named after him. Agamemnon was given the same choice Yahweh gave to Abraham: Sacrifice your child or bear the consequences of divine disfavor. Jorge highlighted the Greek ritual vocabulary the playwright Aeschylus used to make clear to readers and viewers from 458 BCE to the present how complicated the factors in Agamemnon’s decision were.

My memories and relics of this academic year preserve my faith in students with bright minds and passionate souls who persist in examining who we are as a society and my gratitude to my learned colleagues who provide inspirational nurturing to fledglings in the UT nest and even old birds like me.

Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas.

Failure to reform NCAA is at Root of Cheating Scandal at University of Texas at Austin

Featured

Palaima: Failure to reform NCAA is at Root of Cheating Scandal

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Friday, June 19, 2015 Austin American-Statesman
print edition Saturday June 20, 2015

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/palaima-dont-blame-victims-in-athletics-cheating-s/nmf8H/

By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor LINKS TO COIA reports at bottom

As we move through life, we experience moments of revelation when we see clearly what meaning we want our lives to have, how we will spend our time on this earth. Saul, on the road to Damascus, was surrounded by a blinding light, went three days without sight, food or drink, and changed his ways of thinking. He became St. Paul.

Sometimes we realize we have had enough, like world welterweight boxing champion Roberto Durán 35 years ago conceding his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard by telling the referee, “No más, no más.” Durán was widely ridiculed, but he knew it was the right thing to do. He went on to hold titles as a light middleweight and middleweight and is considered the greatest lightweight boxer of the twentieth century.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Brad Wolverton alleges that three student athletes who played basketball between 2003 and 2014 at the University of Texas were guilty of academic misconduct and “illustrate how the university has appeared to let academically deficient players push the limits on academic integrity as it has sought to improve its teams’ academic records.” Notice how easy it is to blame the victims.

From September 2008 through May 2011, I was the UT and Big XII representative on the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a national organization formed originally to try to make sure that all student athletes in the big-time sports entertainment industry known as the National Collegiate Athletics Association get something we could call an education.

COIA’s members have a bit of St. Paul in them. They are mostly senior professors who have reached a point where the problems that major NCAA sports programs cause for the academic integrity of their institutions obligate them to try to do something.

In my case, the timing seemed right. In 2007 the Austin American-Statesman published a series of front-page stories on the excesses of UT’s NCAA program. Remarks from the UT athletic director and his chief financial officer like “We eat what we kill,” meaning we raise lots of money for sports and are darn sure going to spend it all on sports, and “We are the Joneses,” meaning we kill and eat so much more than most everybody else that they all want to be like us, made me think that someone in a position of power in the UT Tower or the Legislature or the Board of Regents would do something.

I was dead wrong. Likewise, graduation rates for minority athletes were embarrassingly low, and the differentials in standardized exam scores between regular students and basketball and football players were shocking to anyone who prioritized education and intellectual life.

In late January 2011, COIA met at Big Ten headquarters near Chicago. We heard talks from NCAA President Mark Emmert, from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, and then from Graham Spanier, for 15 years president of Penn State University. All stressed the morality and integrity of NCAA sports and the need for independent faculty oversight of NCAA programs. There is still none at UT.
Spanier went further. He assured us that every year he spoke to everyone having anything to do with NCAA sports on his campus and told them if they knew of the smallest infraction, he wanted to be informed so he could correct the matter. Nine months later, in November 2011, came revelations about sexual predator Jerry Sandusky and the “conspiracy of silence” by Spanier and other top officials at Penn State. That was my “no más” moment.

The NCAA mandates that student athletes should devote no more than 20 hours a week to their sport. Their own survey in 2008 proved that football players average 44.8 hours per week. Their Academic Progress Rate requires cumulative GPAs of 1.8, 1.9 and 2.0 at the end of the second, third and fourth years. UT’s average GPA for all students, including athletes, is ca. 3.2. And a satisfactory APR requires completion of only 80 percent of coursework by the end of the fourth year. The NCAA then runs a system in which, in comparison with average students, student athletes have too little time, many make poor grades and many end four years without a degree.
The academic misconduct of the NCAA, countenanced by regents, university presidents, college coaches, season ticket holders, men’s and women’s athletics councils, sports writers and NCAA officials is what needs to be addressed. They should all head toward Damascus before it’s too late.

FOR links to COIA reports 2009 and 2011, see http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2008-2009/reports/COIA_08-09_rpt.pdf

http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2010-2011/reports/COIA%20REPORT%20APRIL%2011%20PALAIMA.pdf

Perhaps we should be honest about unhappiness

Featured

Palaima: Perhaps we should be honest about unhappiness

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/palaima-perhaps-we-should-be-honest-about-unhappin/nkKHw/#a0c0d70a.3469532.735656

Tom Palaima

Posted: 12:43 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015

By Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman

In his recent book “Cowardice,” Chris Walsh points out that the life expectancy of American males doubled between 1850 and 2008, going from 37.2 years to 75.5 years. He pinpoints one momentous effect that this and other changes, like increased urbanization, have had on us. They have made our “greatest fear, that of death, seem distant and vague.”

Here is a related case in point. At a recent meeting of experts on public health care issues in Texas, a psychiatrist speaking on behavioral (mental) health care quoted Sigmund Freud on what his therapy was aimed at. Freud stated that he was trying to transform the “hysterical misery” of his patients into “common human unhappiness.” This prompted general laughter from the audience and other panelists. I wondered why.

To borrow a phrase Willie Nelson used when I interviewed him about his classic song “Jimmy’s Road,” the general laughter at Freud’s remark struck me as “some kind of strange thing.” Willie’s song, written back in 1968, expressed his deep feelings about the damage the hard experiences of war can cause to the body, mind and soul of any young person. Listen to it once or twice and you, too, will wonder what is funny about Freud’s insight.

Freud was dead serious, and the word “misery” connotes pity and sympathy for those who are suffering. When I was a young and pious Roman Catholic altar boy, during the Easter season we performed a solemn ritual known as the Stations of the Cross. We followed Jesus Christ on his suffering path from his condemnation (station 1) through his crucifixion and death (stations 11 and 12) to his entombment (station 14). We sang and chanted prayers in Latin in our thankful belief that Jesus, the son of God, took on such misery himself because he saw our suffering and pitied us.

Recognizing our own suffering, we sang the Litany of the Saints, petitioning Jesus Christ, “miserere nobis,” “have mercy on us.”

Freud like all caring medical practitioners treated those who came to him as literal “patients,” from the Latin patior “I suffer.” He knew their psychological suffering deserved to be relieved. He also knew that, no matter how successful he was, all he could do was to return his patients to the normal human condition.

Why does it strike us as “some kind of strange thing” that our normal human lives partake of “common unhappiness”? Is it because not wanting to confront our own doubts about our lives, we look away from the general misery of our fellow human beings? Our founding fathers looked at reality. On July 4, 1776, they declared that happiness was a goal to be pursued. We now seem to view it as a state that is already ours, and rightly so, so long as we ourselves have acquired and maintain the right mix of income, power, education, job security, retirement income, religious piety, and health and life insurance.

We delude ourselves when we equate happiness with a protected and blinkered way of living. This delusion will vanish if we reflect upon the many hardships and sorrows we face moving through relatively privileged lives. It will vanish if we look at those on the bottom of our increasingly steep social and economic and educational pyramids. It will also vanish if we take time to look, listen, read, hear and learn.

To return to the medical profession, I recommend the writings of poet William Carlos Williams, a medical doctor among the urban poor and needy. In his essay “The Practice,” he flatly declares, “I have never had a money practice; it would have been impossible for me.” And he speaks of “the peace of mind that comes from adopting the patient’s condition as one’s own to be struggled with toward a solution.” Rejecting what we would now call nightly news as a useless distraction, he finds “whole academies of learning” in a single patient’s eyes.

Walt Whitman, too, discovered soul-shaking truths about our general capacity to look away from human unhappiness. In late 1862, he became aware of the abominable treatment of wounded Civil War soldiers while searching for his wounded brother George in field hospitals. He stayed and worked devotedly with the wounded. He found that just listening in a human way might be enough to help a soldier pull through.

We all know in our hearts that human unhappiness is not uncommon, no matter how much we want to pretend that it is distant, vague or laughable.

Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas.

Is evicting fraternity for racist behavior the best course?

Featured

Palaima: Is evicting fraternity for racist behavior the best course?
Posted: 6:00 p.m. Thursday, March 12, 2015
http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/palaima-is-evicting-fraternity-for-racist-behavior/nkTjB/

By Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman print edition March 13, 2015

Like many Americans, I watched the two video clips of white student members of the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity dressed in black tie and singing a racist chant on the kind of bus well-heeled groups charter to go to and from fancy occasions. I then read what the president of OU said and did in response. I felt déjà vu all over again.

Remember back to November 2008. Right after the historic election of Barack Obama as our first black president, a University of Texas football player posted on his Facebook page the racist message, “All the hunters gather up, we have a (expletive) in the White House.”

In both cases, those in charge of the universities disappeared the offending parties. The UT student athlete was quickly off the team and transferred to another school. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at OU was closed down fast. Two fraternity members have been expelled.

Do you think that the students involved suddenly decided of their own rational choosing to behave like racists? No one truly educated in the history of racial prejudice in our country and its enduring effects long after the civil rights movement of the 1960s would post the Obama joke or sing the fraternity chant. In Austin in 2008 and Norman in 2015, the perpetrators appear to have acted without even conceiving there was something to think about. They have suffered serious consequences. But are these the right consequences?

Is a larger issue being ignored? Shouldn’t we ponder what kind of upbringing and education kindergarten through 12th grade disposes fortunate young white men at respected public universities to not recognize when they are being racist? If we “disappear” them, are we not in some ways giving them and us an easy out? Are we failing to take hold of an opportunity to unite in learning?

In the case of the UT football player, the argument was made that his teammates would have been uneasy and tense around him, that his transferring was best for all concerned. But wasn’t that an odd kind of enforcement of the status quo? Young men with racist instincts, especially if acquired unthinkingly, should have to confront how what they have done affects those who are objects of their racism. And those who are the objects would benefit by having to confront their own feelings of anger or despair about how ingrained racism still is in our society and try to make their way along the courageous nonviolent path of Martin Luther King.

In both cases, we see a lack of strongly felt historical imagination. The UT student athlete had no capacity to feel the deep meaning of Obama’s election. And just a few days after the end of Black History Month, many white OU fraternity members had no sense of what it would be like to be on the receiving end of their chant. If any of them had watched the movies “12 Years A Slave” or “Selma,” they had not internalized what those movies were depicting.

Instead of disappearing the problem, why not keep these students on as students and have them live through what their actions mean in a healthy, open communal way? Surely with pressure from college presidents across the country, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members nationwide could sign on to conduct educational events throughout Black History month annually for the foreseeable future. That would do much more social good than forcing a single fraternity chapter to disband and the members to go their anonymous, unthinking ways. Further separation will not promote the human togetherness we all need to feel.

I say all this having come to realize in my adulthood just how segregated my own upbringing was. The Cleveland, Ohio, of the 1950s into the 1970s had no Jim Crow laws. But most black Clevelanders lived on the near East side in neighborhoods left behind by the children and grandchildren of white European immigrants chasing America’s suburban dream.

We had no apartheid. But my Catholic grade school and Jesuit high school had no black students 1957-1969. There were few black students at Boston College from 1969-1973. None ever took a class with me.
Growing up in such racial separation makes it easy not to see racism in the first place. And when we do read about racist conduct in America’s past or about a racist act by somebody somewhere else, it is easy not to feel the continuing presence of racism where we are right now.

Palaima is a professor of classics at the University of Texas.


http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/letters-to-the-editor-march-15-2015/nkWWR/

Evicting fraternity sidesteps issue
Re: March 13 commentary, “Palaima: Is evicting fraternity for racist behavior the best course?”

When hearing about the University of Oklahoma fraternity boys and their racist song, I remembered another song. This was “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” by Rodgers and Hammerstein from the movie “South Pacific.” One of the verses says: “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Then I read Professor Tom Palaima’s column. He argues that the university should not have closed down the fraternity, giving these members an “easy out” by having them disappear from campus.
Palaima poses the question of looking at what would motivate “fortunate young white men at respected public universities to not recognize when they are being racist.” He further recommends that we take hold of an opportunity to unite in learning. I agree that this would be a good start.

MARY LOU GIBSON, AUSTIN

Chancellor McRaven and the Myth of Texas: Dose of Reality Needed

Palaima: Myth of Texas needs dose of reality
Austin American-Statesman
Posted: 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015
Print edition January 22, 2015
By Tom Palaima – Special to the Austin American-Statesman
http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/palaima-myth-of-texas-needs-dose-of-reality/njsc2/

I have lived in Texas full time for almost 30 years. For the past 16 years I have written regular opinion pieces in the Austin American-Statesman. In my first piece I responded critically to the vision William “Bill” Cunningham, then chancellor of the University of Texas System, put forward in January 1999 of what UT-Austin would become in the new millennium, essentially a corporation-like economic engine for the state.

I have learned four things from writing my first piece and almost 300 others. First, even distinguished faculty and administrators do not feel free to speak their minds publicly when they disagree with the regents, chancellor, president and deans above them. Second, my own public views and reasoning have the same effect as the remarks of the proverbial gnat upon the elephant. Third, many Texans believe in their own positive illusions about the greatness of their state, its institutions and the Texas way of life. Fourth, the University of Texas at Austin now is what Cunningham set it on the road to becoming: a corporately managed business-focused institution with an affiliated Godzillatron-sized sports entertainment industry and television sports network.

I have thought about all this after reading the message our new chancellor, former Adm. Bill McRaven, sent on Jan. 6, his first day of office. McRaven’s starry-eyed visions about Texas exceptionalism take American exceptionalism to the third power.

McRaven tells us that in his wide travels “everyone I encountered, from the youngest Afghan girl to the oldest African villager, had a common view of Texas and Texans. They understood that Texans were men and women of character and integrity — strong-willed, independent, bold, risk-takers, who helped the weak and downtrodden, who got up when they were knocked down, and who never complained about their struggles. Texans wore boots and big hats and sat tall in the saddle because there was a grandness in their manner. They understood that being a Texan was something special.”

Such jingoistic cream-puffery hardly needs chocolate topping, but McRaven ladles on a dollop nonetheless: “This image of Texans was universal, and we have rightly earned that reputation through generations of men and women who came to this great land and made it what it is today.”

All this proves that one thing has not changed in my 30 years in Texas: the grip that the myth of Texas has on the minds of our cultural, political and educational leaders.

Some 50 years ago Larry McMurtry published a collection of essays about Texas titled In a Narrow Grave. As Texas writer and memoirist Alvin Carl Greene Jr. put it, McMurtry “(took) apart Texas with all the skill and sadness of a master surgeon performing a postmortem on his mother.” McMurtry laid out in plain-spoken language the “megalomaniacal boosterism which afflicts almost all our cities.” He singled out Austin as a “yet greater megalomaniac to be considered,” adding, “what I have said about Houston and Houston’s pretensions could simply be repeated for Dallas.”

Unfortunately, as thinkers and writers know, thoughts and paper and blogs are ephemeral, but group cultural traits and dispositions, sometimes called prejudices, are fixed and long lasting. So despite McMurtry’s insights that “a Quality-Quantity confusion is something most Texans have come by naturally” and that prominent Texans view things Texan as “biggest” and “best,” the disease and its symptoms still persist.

Here’s the medicine I would prescribe: tincture of reality. The poor people I met in Madagascar in 2007 had no idea what a Texas even was. But when outsiders know something about Texas, many think of a long, dark road in Jasper, the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza, the Branch Davidian Mount Carmel Center outside Waco, Charles Whitman and the UT Tower, Fort Hood in November 2009 and April 2014, Lyndon Johnson and the War in Vietnam, George W. Bush and our missions unaccomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They think of Enron and its financially ruined employees. They note that in 2012-13 Texas ranked 47th in expenditure for public schools K-12 while the city of Allen spent $60 million on a structurally unusable high school football stadium. They may also recall the July 2012 Associated Press story that “Texas ranked worst in the nation for health care” of its citizens.

Texas is a nice state for a chosen few. It can become great for all of us if we look at its problems with a realistic state of mind.

Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas.
tpalaima@austin.utexas.edu

The Forever War on Terror and Thanking Our Veterans

http://www.statesman.com/photo/news/opinion/palaima-this-season-put-ourselves-in-the-shoes-of-/pCWWMg/

Palaima: This season, put ourselves in the shoes of others
6:00 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014 | Print December 25, 2014

Story Highlights:
—Dr. Ronald Glasser’s classic book “365 Days” is distilled from his service as a surgeon during the Vietnam War.
—Palaima: We do not know how to see veterans as individuals, often with deep personal wounds.

Palaima: This season, put ourselves in the shoes of others
Posted: 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014

By Tom Palaima – Special to the American-Statesman

There are 365 days in our non-leaping years. Let us hope we have spent our days in 2014 well, because we are never getting them back.

In the days from Thanksgiving through the seasons of Hanukkah-Christmas-Kwanzaa, we naturally focus on our own families. But a discussion I have been having with someone to whom 365 days were so meaningful that he wrote a book of that title, published way back in 1971, invites us to think about others in a broader sense.

His name is Dr. Ronald J. Glasser. His classic book “365 Days” is distilled from his service as a surgeon to the most critically wounded soldiers during the Vietnam War. “365 Days” should be read and reread alongside other books containing the truths about war by those who have experienced war firsthand. But there is more to be done than reading and developing the classic feelings of sympathy and fear.

Dr. Glasser recommended to me Phil Klay’s “Redeployment,” about Iraq, being there and coming back. I read it.

He then told me that it and other books written by and about soldiers and veterans of our prolonged military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, no matter how powerful, felt to him like “individual efforts unconnected to anything else,” more or less about “our French Foreign Legion rather than our country,” where the things that happen are “all just kind of individual bad luck.”

This put into words some of my own feelings about how we have been invited to look at our ongoing “war on terror,” our “forever war,” to use the title of Dexter Filkins’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning book on the subject. When do we question publicly or privately whether we should support the loss of American and non-American lives in distant lands?

In “Redeployment,” a veteran meets up with a chaplain he knew over in Iraq. He is still seeking, almost unknowingly, help for his anger, sorrow, guilt and moral confusion. The chaplain points to the small cross on his collar, calls the cross on which Jesus died “a torture device” and declares that Jesus “only promised that we don’t suffer alone,” so long as we believe in Him. What the chaplain’s words imply about the isolation from all of us felt by many soldiers and veterans every single day is almost too terrible to contemplate.

Ron’s words made me hear again the invocation before a Texas A&M football game in College Station in November. We, over 100,000 strong, were invited to pray in thanks for the men and women “defending our country every day in foreign lands.” We were not invited to pray for peace or to ask God that our leaders might find a better way to use the lives of all those men and women for the good of our society and the world.

I have other new words to ponder, spoken by a new friend, Joseph A. Costello. Costello is 33 years old, the age scholars hypothesize Jesus was when he was tortured and died upon the cross. Joseph served in the U.S. Army in Iraq during the early phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is finishing a master’s in information science at the University of Texas at Austin as a prelude to doing graduate studies, he hopes, in social work. His goal is “to work with traumatized populations to help alleviate burdens of trauma related to issues such as combat experience.”

Joseph told me that, like many veterans, he has had trouble processing the guilt and shame about what we are doing with our soldiers and contractors in the Middle East. He finds it especially troubling when as a veteran he is thanked for his service by people who do not know, or even seem to want to know, what effects the chaos and violence and amorality and senselessness of fighting a “war on terror” have on the men and women who are doing the fighting and on the men, women and children in foreign countries who are in the way of our shocking and awful military power.

We do not know how to see veterans as individuals, often with deep personal wounds. We take the easy way out. We thank them all and ask God to bless them and us.

Let us all resolve to look at and think about war, soldiers and veterans and our own relatively peaceful lives differently on each of the 365 days we are given in the year ahead.

Tom Palaima is Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas.