Today the faculty of Xavier University got together for what we call a Faculty Institute. What I had thought was going to be one of the happiest days of my life was actually quite depressing. It was sort of like a big soggy blanket. There were great things about today, like seeing my colleague and friend Phil Linden for the first time since the hurricane. He doesn't have a place to live, as his home was destroyed and he is waiting like so many people on a FEMA trailer. Here he is sitting next to Jerry Farmer:
It was a miracle that we were able to get together and that Xavier will be opening its doors to students this weekend. But at this meeting things didn't seem right. When we had the Faculty Institute back in August, there were absolutely no chairs to be had. We as faculty had outgrown the auditorium. In fact, back in August there were more students than ever before registered at Xavier. Today there were plenty of open chairs. And the room had been gutted and rewired. There had been permanent chairs in the room, now we were all sitting in portable desks, and wires were dangling from the ceiling. People would look around the room to try to assess who was still at Xavier and who had been "let go." Some of the best teachers I ever met had been "let go." Our department got hit hard, losing three positions, and keeping four. Later those of us left in the department met. I started off the meeting by saying that I believed that in a more just world Gerald Boodoo, who had tenure, and who had been my mentor and chair when I arrived at Xavier, would be sitting where I was. We tried to figure out the criteria the administration used for deciding who to keep and who to let go. But in the end I have to realize we will never know. I am glad I didn't have to make those difficult decisions. But I especially missed my friend Mark Gstohl. I hope and pray that we can find a way to hire him back in the next academic year when his Howard Hughes grant expires. The president of our university, Norman Francis, said that letting faculty go was the most difficult decision he had ever had to make in his many years as president. He said the faculty found out they were terminated so late (end of October) because he had hoped that in the end the government or someone would have given him the money to keep the faculty. He said that as of today Xavier had not received even a single dollar from FEMA or the government. He said something that I strongly agree with, that this country has not fully appreciated the totality of the destruction down here. And the destruction is not just to physical buildings, but to the prospect of the future. Education, especially K-12 is in a real crisis and we need help.
Dr Francis said that Jesse Jackson had nothing to do with the evacuation of students from Xavier. The buses camed from Grambling and were organized by Ed Phillips. Jesse Jackson showed up in a limo and shook hands and took pictures, but Xavier staff made sure the students were never in danger. I will be very happy to see students. They are supposed to be here Sunday for orientation and classes begin Tuesday, the day after Martin Luther King Junior day.