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Rolling Rolling In Their Graves - What happened to WWU?

By On
• In People, WWU,

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
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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.

(Rolling. Rolling.)

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?

(Rolling, rolling.)

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…)

About Kamalla Rose Kaur

Notifications • Bellingham • Member since Jul 12, 2009

Comments by Readers

Tom Pratum

Jul 05, 2009

Took me a few days to get to reading this, and I guess this is one impression of how WWU has transformed over the years. I grew up in Bellingham, not far from the campus. I now have the opportunity to teach there (part time).

I feel that WWU has greatly elevated itself over the past several decades. In my area - chemistry - it is a highly rated school for its size. It got that way by at least trying to hire the best and brightest from wherever they might be. WWU’s pay is very low, but fortunately they have still been able to attract some really good faculty members.

I have worked at several universities, and I think it is common for faculty members to be somewhat disconnected from their local community. We should encourage them to be more involved - so thanks for doing that - but understand that they often don’t have time.

I feel that WWU is and will continue to be a tremendous asset to this area. I look at it now and think back to my childhood and am amazed to see it has become what it is today.

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 06, 2009

Thanks so much for your comment Tom.

Feedback appreciated greatly and I basically agree with everything you say.

How about we all send this link to WWU professors and students we know and see if we can evoke their readership and participation in local political discussions here at Northwest Citizen?

Because like you the city of WWU excites me. Fifteen thousand students and hundreds of professors, and yes, the professors there are fabulous and competitive. I’m impressed with my WWU teachers, and also respect many professors, and their programs, from a distance - because students recommend them to me - but financial aid won’t pay for me to explore much beyond my major.

Recently hundreds of adjunct professors and lots of staff disappearred - laid off - and “The Western Front” (not a free press by any stretch of the imagination) failed to post a list of the victims of the big cut. I do know that Rosemary Vohs and the WWU Storytelling program died - no matter how popular and needed and regionally and nationally respected a program it was, and no matter how amazing a performer and professor and scholar Rosemary is. She worked at WWU for twenty four years as an adjunct professor. The remaining tenure track professors appeared very underpaid, over-worked and afraid they will go with the next cut.

It is common for the lower and middle class to be worked so hard we have no time for reality, much less doing something about it. Many WWU put in 60 hour weeks and it shows.

Even so, even with crazy class loads and too much competition, and fear for their careers, many WWU professors do lots of community service. The Center for Pacific Northwest Studies makes me so proud. Check out the David Mason Collection there: http://www.acadweb.wwu.edu/CPNWS/mason/masonhist.htm

Students from Woodring College soon learn about the differences between Shuksan Middle School and Fairhaven Middle School. “Uncle” Paul Woodring smiles down on his “college” I’m sure. 

Particularly, “The Journal for Educational Controveries” blows my mind; in a good way, such a good way. http://www.wce.wwu.edu/Resources/CEP/eJournal/ 

Also never forget that Shirley Osterhaus teaches at Western as does Babara Rofkar, Korry Garvey, Chris Friday and many other amazing Pacific Northwestern stars.

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 07, 2009

Barbara Rofkar and Korry Harvey (not Babara Rofkar and Korry Garvey).

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 08, 2009

6:05am (no matter what the blog clock says): Just checked the WWU forum where 717 people have viewed the link to this article so far. Couple friends reported to me that they await clearance from NW Citizen to achieve the status of posters here.

COMMENT FROM WWU FORUM:

As a non traditional student, I got a kick out of the story. I love Bellingham and am doing my best to become hip to the area. I feel in the last two decades, greed and corprate America has taken away much of what we hold dear and special in our lives. These things don’t make money. “Best things in life are free” Beatles. But that does not pay the rent. Or shop at REI, just kidding. I am impressed with most of the students I see here at Western and I hope they read this story and realize the world changes faster all the time. Nothing is static. Do what you love. Follow your passion. In the end you will be a happier person.

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 09, 2009

Morning,

6:40am - 914 views to the “Rolling Rolling In Their Graves: thread on WWU’s Forum.

“The Western Front” asked me for an interview a couple days ago and I accepted. I joked in my phone message about the irony that, as an English major, I can’t write for their paper, but they want to interview me.

And I wish to interview “The Western Front’s” summer editor too. Again, why not enhance communication between the citizens of Bellingham and WWU students, faculty, staff, administrators, cashiers, grounds keepers and construction crews?

Another brave poster on the Western Forum writes: 

“I don’t think WWU students should have to be typical Pacific Northwesterners in order to enjoy a great college like Western. Also, I think Fairhaven and Huxley are still fantastic colleges and haven’t “faded” in any way, unless by “fade” you actually mean “change.” Change is inevitable. Things change for the better, and they take a turn for the worse, and they turn better again, and this continues to happen all the time. There are always members of the older generation that says “Boy, when I was your age, things were different.” Yes, they were. They were not necessarily better though. Of course we all get accustomed to the way things are sometimes, and often we become uncomfortable when things do change; even if they’re not necessarily bad changes, we may view them that way.

In response to the list you made towards the end of the article:

1. Western still, as far as I can tell, provides an excellent Liberal Arts education for those that want it. But not everyone who goes here does. The GURs, I think, do a great job of giving a brief overview of that area to students majoring in other areas.

2. What exactly is so bad about “every other university”? Is Western not still unique? I would dare one to go to UW or Central or Gonzaga or Yale and say that Western is the same as all of those places now. Sure, Western has conformed a bit more to standards of a “normal” university. But it still offers incredibly unique programs such as the one(s) at Fairhaven.

3. I’m majoring in music, and I would argue that the music program is a kind of island that has a sort of “small college” feel. It’s separate from, but still a part of, the rest of WWU. So again, I don’t think this has disappeared.

To summarize… I disagree with your article. Also, I’m not sure what professors’ smoking habits have to do with the quality of the school, or how it would contribute to a former professor rolling in his grave… And I can’t say whether or not he is, because I know very little about him… but I certainly don’t think he should be rolling in his grave.”

My response:

“I don’t think WWU students should have to be typical Pacific Northwesterners in order to enjoy a great college like Western.”


I dislike the whole concept “should have to” and also “be typical” and limitations on enjoyment. I pray that WWU students love the Pacific Northwest passionately and if they don’t, I am sorry for it.

“Also, I think Fairhaven and Huxley are still fantastic colleges and haven’t “faded” in any way, unless by “fade” you actually mean ‘change.’”

You sure? Organizationally, what was the idea behind creating the satellite colleges? You think they haven’t faded in any way, but they have changed.

So the change is an improvement? In what ways?


“Change is inevitable. Things change for the better, and they take a turn for the worse, and they turn better again, and this continues to happen all the time. There are always members of the older generation that says “Boy, when I was your age, things were different.” Yes, they were. They were not necessarily better though. “

Very wise. Buddhist even. Life is transient and change happens and it wasn’t necessarily better way back when.

Then again, as a child this community included a physician, general practice, who made house calls. When we needed stitches Dr. Jim met us at the St Joseph’s hospital right below campus - Forest street and Beech. Too bad you can’t experience that. You may prefer the modern St Joe’s experience better anyway.

“Of course we all get accustomed to the way things are sometimes, and often we become uncomfortable when things do change; even if they’re not necessarily bad changes, we may view them that way.”

Not necessarily good either. Also I wrote the article as a memorial to WWU’s elders.

“In response to the list you made towards the end of the article:

1. Western still, as far as I can tell, provides an excellent Liberal Arts education for those that want it. But not everyone who goes here does. The GURs, I think, do a great job of giving a brief overview of that area to students majoring in other areas.

2. What exactly is so bad about “every other university”? Is Western not still unique? I would dare one to go to UW or Central or Gonzaga or Yale and say that Western is the same as all of those places now. Sure, Western has conformed a bit more to standards of a “normal” university. But it still offers incredibly unique programs such as the one(s) at Fairhaven.

3. I’m majoring in music, and I would argue that the music program is a kind of island that has a sort of “small college” feel. It’s separate from, but still a part of, the rest of WWU. So again, I don’t think this has disappeared.”


Excellent and debatable points.

Choosing number three: the Music department at WWU, no matter how talented and cozy a department they are, backs the specialist approach. The Theater department, in contrast, promotes a liberal arts approach. Theater Arts majors at WWU must learn all roles to graduate. Theater Arts majors take classes in set design, stage managing, play writing, costuming, lighting, theory, history and directing. WWU students write more plays than other university students elsewhere - or we did until we laid off Brian Willis.

In contrast, the Music department specializes in Western Classical Music and Jazz. Fantastic choir. But little world music. Every music major must have a tuxedo or gown and play in a classical or jazz ensemble, even if their play electric guitar, which nobody plays there. Rock and Roll classes, improvizational music, World Music and non-Western musical theory doesn’t exist at WWU.

More than that, neither the Music Department, nor the Theater Arts Department involve themselves in helping fellow WWU professors teach humanities, science and math.

“To summarize… I disagree with your article. Also, I’m not sure what professors’ smoking habits have to do with the quality of the school, or how it would contribute to a former professor rolling in his grave… And I can’t say whether or not he is, because I know very little about him… but I certainly don’t think he should be rolling in his grave.”

David Mason suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is retired and off limits. Feel free to access his life work through the David Mason collection at the Center for PNW Studies.

Sorry if I proved unclear in explaining how smoking tobacco did indeed promote community and interdisciplinary cooperation and brain-storming among WWU’s post WW2 patriarchs. Killed a few and sickened many, of course. Also class sizes were kept down because smaller classes produce better results. Students learn more better. We deserve smaller sized classes given what we pay. Actually universal free education is better yet

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 10, 2009

Looking forward to being interviewed by a WWU journalism major for The Western Front today. I’m writing up the story of our encounter as well. We agreed that we will meet at the historic Burn homestead cabins. They sit in the forest on the ridge between Fairhaven College and Buchanan Towers. Tip Johnson, Fairhaven College graduate, local political force, and a journalist for the NW Citizen, lived in the Burn cabins for a while, as have others down through the years.

June Burn was a Pacific Northwest journalist, a writer. Hope her spirit will visit us today, two modern students of her craft. 

Most Pacific Northwesterners will have read June Burn’s book “High Times.” For Pacific Northwesterners in training, go check it out. Hope our local libraries decide to stock more copies. “High Times” details how backs in the 1920s June and Farrar Burn decided to retire, study, explore and travel early in life, while they were young. They figured they would settle down and work later.

Noel V. Bourasaw, a former WWU student talks about the Burns family cabin located at Fairhaven College at:
http://www.skagitriverjournal.com/Upriver/Uto-Conc/Birdsview/Savage/Pulsipher03-MountainKaty-Parker.html

The Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at WWU:
June and Farrar Burn Papers
http://www.acadweb.wwu.edu/cpnws/burn/burnbio.htm

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 10, 2009

No one jumped in yet to correct me?

“Living High” by June Burn

http://www.skagitriverjournal.com/WA/Library/Burn/Burn01-BookBios.html

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 11, 2009

1043 views of the “Rolling Rolling In Their Graves” thread on the WWU forum but no discussion so far.

Met with a Western Front reporter who taped me babbling. I’m writing a story about being with her too for NW Citizen.

Meanwhile, this comment got posted on the WWU Forum. Not sure how representative a perspective it represents.

Death and Taxes

While I appreciate the author’s nostalgia, I feel like they belong in Bellingham if for no other reason than that they are out of touch with the rest of the world.  WWU is not the last bastion of hope for a democratic society, it is not a shining city on a hill from which the civilized world can take a moment to light a tobacco pipe, take off their moccasins, and watch the salmon spawn.

It is a state college with an exit on I-5.  It’s foolish and arrogant to assume that its local flavor is impenetrable, even more so to assume that it deserves to be so.

Bellingham has its high points, but at the end of the day, it still sucks just as much as anywhere else.  It just sucks in a different way.  Don’t glamorize it for what it clearly is not.

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Kamalla R. Kaur

Jul 11, 2009

My response out on Western’s Forum lacks grace and diplomacy:

Heavens I don’t need to “glamorize’ the Pacifc Northwest eco-system. Koma Kulshan’s voice speaks loud and clear, as do the San Juans and every bright fungus in the rainforest. Pacific Northwest history proves a rip-roaring good read because Pacific Northwesterners successfully fended off suckiness better than others elsewhere.

I live in Happy Valley. Beautiful place. Wonderful neighbors and neighborhood association. Even Bellingham’s worse ghetto (Texas and Alabama neighborhood?) fails completely at being as sucky as you describe us. Not yet at least. Give this community some credit. People fight hard here, generation after generation, to stop suckiness. Who wants to live with people who desire or accept suckiness in life?

You dislike the Pacific Northwest as much as everywhere else? I don’t know what to say. Sounds serious. Seek help.

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