Interim Editor's Note: Hi. John Servais, the esteemed publisher, will be back from vacation soon and I had very little to do while appointed interim editor of Northwest Citizen in his absence. Most of the writers, like me, are producing very little work, presumably taking advantage of the season to garden and play. Things always go a little slow after school ends and before the primaries heat up. John and I have worked together on a number of neighborhood issues, several involving the University. I thought, what the heck, why not publish this neighbor's impression of the University and see what it stirs up? Cheers!
2nd note - July 12: Since Tip posted this article as a guest piece, Kamalla has become a writer and so the byline now reflects that. - John Servais
It's fun to attend university at my elementary school, exploring the playground of my youth. When asked to introduce myself in WWU classes I mention how I attended Campus School as a child and how my father taught at Western way back when.
Sometimes I glance down at my feet while walking across Red Square and see little saddle shoes with ankle socks edged in lace. The green grass under them remains forever wet and squishy. Beneath Red Square lurks the ruins of our soccer field, a wetlands during rainy seasons. A blacktop area with tether ball poles existed where the Miller Hall addition sits today - but won't sit tomorrow. Miller Hall, including the old Campus School building, morphs again soon. Remodeling.
Fascinating to be so often the oldest person in class and to interact with modern professors - most in their thirties and early forties - and with today's youth. Luxurious to be a Creative Writing major, not that I could get as good grades in any other academic discipline. Classes at WWU prove challenging, as they should. At age 54 I lack the competitive edge, and/or the will or desire to compete - certainly not with bright and talented career people in their primes.
Sometimes I see the moccasins I wore, against bright red bricks, back in 1969. But Red Square faded long ago. Orange Square now. Or we could rename it, Terracotta Square?
"Terracotta Square at Western Wash It Down Universally." I muse to myself.
Feel that? The bodies of my parents and their professor and administrator colleagues rolling in their graves under us? Buildings change. That doesn't make the dying and dead elders spin But when did Western Washington University become like everywhere else? Since when did they start hiring so many professors and administrators from other places, who fail to understand that it is important to become Pacific Northwesterners if you live here in the Pacific Northwest? When did Western lose touch with so much of it's vision and mission?
From the vantage point of Northeast America, Washington State seems undeveloped wilderness. Only Seattle sports a big enough dot to lodge itself onto the mental map of a New Yorker's universe. Pacific Northwesterners take pride in Bellingham's vast isolation from the power centers of this country and this world. We prefer the company of whales and cedar trees and eagles and salmon to that of people, generally speaking. You don't need to be born here to be a Pacific Northwesterner. Just buy local, and avoid multinational corporations and shopping at strip malls. Preserve our ecosystem and culture.
Traditionally Bellingham shelters hermits and sourdoughs, lumbermen and fishermen, artists, intellectuals, lots of prostitutes, and other working women seeking teaching certificates. Historically Washington attracted escapees from USA and European "civilization", utopian dreamers, homesteaders, and outcastes. In my teens, Bellingham became a fair haven for hippies and environmentalists as well.
Nowadays Bellingham sits halfway between Seattle and Vancouver BC, looking and acting more and more like everywhere else in the USA. When the sun comes out while driving through North Bellingham, experience California - same condos, same businesses, same street called "Cordata".
Surely most WWU professors still wish to combat what David Mason calls the Los Angelizing of the Puget Sound eco-system. Don't they?
Puzzled I mention - once a quarter, in every class I take - that there are hundreds of tons of mercury in Bellingham Bay left by Georgia Pacific. This appears to be new news to many students and faculty.
I test them: “Who owns The Weekly?
They fail. (Rolling!)
So I point them towards the Northwest Citizen which they often haven't heard of..
Given a chance I also attempt to introduce professors, students and WWU staff to Bellingham local artists and regional cultural educators - people like Swil Kanim, Dr. Linda Allen, Dana Lyons, Flip, and Tip. Not that I have many chances because I am an undergraduate and have little clout (rolling, rolling) - when did Western get so caste stratified?
Because the way I remember the story, my father and his friends and colleagues arrived at Western Washington State College after fighting in World War 2. They dropped hope of prestigious academic careers to teach humble humans at a minor college far far away from the power centers of the USA..
Why? I mean, Western was still kind of a girl's school back then. How come so many exceptional professors joined together after the Big War - after the Holocaust - to create such an unusual college in this equally unusual town in the Pacific Northwest, of all places?
"Liberal Arts Education, my daughter!"
"Son, I have one concept to impart to you, get a Liberal Arts Education!"
"Don't specialize too soon."
"We don't know what the future holds, or what demands may be placed on you."
"Learn to think."
"Learn to problem solve."
"Explore the arts and sciences fully, do math too."
"Don't specialize too soon."
"Learn how to discuss and read and read and write and write and to practice the scientific method."
"Have fun and be ethical."
"Who says learning shouldn't be fun? Humans learn better, also faster, when lessons are fun!"
"Everyone needs to be life-long learners."
"Liberal Arts Education!"
"Liberal Arts Education!"
Trust me, those young professors would have taken a bullet for the cause of Liberal Arts Education. And they wanted education to be available to everyone.
Present day WWU professors may well be better teachers (maybe better people) than my father and his colleagues were. Of course, back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s Western hired mostly men (lecturers) but they, in turn, hired many terrific women professors before they retired.
One big difference between WWU then and now? Professors in my youth smoked tobacco. Though it killed my father and others young, in a way tobacco helped their political cause and futuristic visions. You see, as Western transitioned from a being a Normal School to a State College my father and his friends, denied the right to smoke their pipes, cigars and cigarettes in their offices, scurried to the faculty smoking room between every class. There they engaged in interdisciplinary discussions and planning, fighting and choking together. They enjoyed learning from each other, and loved teaching each other. They shared a deep personal and community goal, vision and mission - to be great Pacific Northwestern professors.
By hiring locals with PhDs while carefully recruiting professors from around the country who backed the cause of Liberal Art Education For All!, Western created a superior faculty and reputation. Thankfully there remain many WWU professors dedicated to protecting our amazing ecology, our climate and our culture, who also honor the Lummi and other Pacific Northwest natives. Professors who remind me of David Mason.
Why did David Mason come to Western Washington State College in 1966. A “savior” of California's Mono Lake, only son of two super-renowned UC Berkeley academics, an Antarctica explorer and early environmental scientist (also amazing actor, composer, theater director and fabulous teacher).. How did Western recruit him? What could we offer?
1. Commitment to Liberal Arts Education!
2. Colleagues dedicated to keeping Western from becoming like every other university.
3. To that end, a plan to create small satellite colleges so that Western students could continue to experience all the benefits of being in a small Liberal Arts college as Western grew into a big university.
Fairhaven College, the Ethnic Studies College and Huxley Environmental Studies and Environmental Science College proved progressive and forward thinking ventures. But no matter how successful Fairhaven and Huxley are today much of their original organizational, creative and progressive vision faded like Red Square - and the Ethnic Studies College closed.
Now Western Washington University beams dull and bright as Bellingham's biggest employer - a corporation. Visiting university trustees sit around an extremely fancy table, at the top of Old Main, and they eat fancy food there, on fine china; enjoying lots of pomp and ceremony. (Rolling, rolling.)
The food sold in campus markets? Not so great and very high priced! (Rolling)
Professors busy busy trying to keep their jobs and handle their crazy class and work loads and publish lest they perish.
Professors engaged in work with other academics at Western and also at all sorts of other universities - just like professors everywhere who live anywhere.
Professors and administrators working high on a hill, miles above us, often ignorant of local concerns and politics.
Professors who don't know who David Mason is anyway and who don't act like Pacific Northwesterners one bit. Not yet they don't. And they may not care. Not enough to publicly question their employer.
Not nearly enough - not yet at least - to honor the memory and cause, the lives and mission, of WWUs fading and dead patriarchs.
(Rolling, rolling rolling rolling rolling…)