The University… or the Professor?

Year in and year out, I see colleges and universities touting their expertise in given “fields” or departments, and I also see those same universities also honoring distinguished faculty, but what amazes me the most is how seldom those universities recognize the professors who are actually the best and most influential teachers.

Over roughly a fifteen year period from 1961 to 1976 the college from which I graduated produced perhaps the most remarkable group of art experts ever to come from one college, especially one that wasn’t noted for being an art school. Graduates from those years went on to hold the following positions, among others – president of the Rhode Island School of Design, deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Art, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, head of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Director of the National Gallery of Art, chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, president of the New Art Trust, curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, director of the Museum of Modern Art, Curator of Northern Baroque Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, and director of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Those are the ones I could track down, and I suspect there are more that I couldn’t. They were all inspired by one remarkable professor and two of his colleagues. Yet during the time I was an undergraduate, and even in the years following, there was little mention of those three men, except by their students, and recognition came to them, for the most part, long after they’d retired. The college, of course, now basks in the reputation of those graduates.

At another institution, during a four year period, before leaving for a better paying position at a much more prestigious university, a charismatic choral director and voice professor mentored individuals who went on to head various noted musical groups, including one who founded a successful regional opera company and another who went on to direct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This large university never before nor never since has produced graduates who went on to achieve anything close to what that small group did.

In yet another state university, a single professor revitalized a voice program that had failed to graduate a student in years and within five years was graduating students who went on to graduate schools. In the following ten years, those efforts resulted in the creation and accreditation of professional music degrees and more graduates reaching professional success, both academically and occasionally on Broadway and in regional opera. That professor’s productions occasionally receive national awards, and while the students who have graduated sometimes credit that professor, the university never has.

In the previous examples, as well, the noted graduates have organized tributes to their mentors, but recognition by the institutions has been belated, at best.

Now… I know that there have to be scores of similar examples from across the nation, possibly across the world, but the point is simple. It’s not the college or university that makes the difference; it’s the people who teach there, and all too often the best of them go unrecognized by the institutions because institutions have a nasty habit of trying to build a generic brand through publicity and athletics, and by rewarding instant celebrity, often from a single prestigious award or event, and emphasizing single event achievements over painstaking hard work year after year by professors who bring out the best in their students. It’s not what’s taught, or where it’s taught, but who teaches it and how effectively. And very few colleges and universities, even those with great reputations, seem to acknowledge this by recognizing such professors.

Winning at Any Cost…. And Manners

Donald Trump is clearly following the path taken by a certain deplored German political figure in the 1930s. He says what his followers want to hear, even when his opponents can prove that he cannot do what he promises – at least not within the structure of law and the Constitution, and the hard constraints of finance. He utters vicious attacks on anyone who displeases him, attacks that are more often completely untrue than anywhere close to accurate. He bullies everyone who tries to point out his errors, and he attacks the entire political structure as being rigged against him. In fact, anyone who opposes him or suggests he might be in error becomes an enemy and the subject of his wrath.

As far as the political arena goes, decorum, civility, manners – they mean nothing to him, because he believes his cause is just and righteous, and no means that will achieve it can be too low or crude or vicious not to be employed.

When his opponent points out flaws in what he has said or promised, she is the liar, the “crooked” liar, although impartial observers have documented that over 70% of his promises and statements are mostly or entirely false, while only about 30% of hers are mostly or entirely false. His response to this has been to claim that those impartial observers are against him, because he doesn’t see facts as facts. He sees them as impediments to his gaining power.

Now… if the polls are correct, at this point, Trump seems likely to lose, but unhappily, no matter what occurs in November, we are all going to lose. We are going to lose because scorched earth politics, brutal name-calling, disregard of the facts, and blatant appeals to the worst in human nature will most likely result in a Congress even more polarized than the current Congress, an electorate more polarized and unwilling to trust anyone not firmly on “their side,” and an economy that is going downhill, because neither party is willing to adopt a bi-partisan economic reform package that has to include [if anything has a chance of getting better] both fiscal restraint and true tax reform, meaning, among other things, slightly higher tax rates on the top half of one percent and much lower corporate tax rates, but with absolutely no exemptions or loopholes. And that’s just the beginning of what’s necessary.

And it’s not going to happen because, no matter who wins, the other side is going to feel not only cheated, but totally disenfranchised, largely because this long and painful election campaign has been about each side portraying the other as worse than anything possible.

Trump is right about some things, such as the pain of the white male industrial worker and that, whether it’s unfounded or not, that people are worried about what they see as unrestricted illegal immigration. Clinton is also right about some things as well, such as the fact that, like it or not, the U.S. cannot bully the rest of the world, not because we’re not powerful, but because we can’t afford the military presence necessary to do that. Bullying people around doesn’t work, as we’ve discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, without boots on the ground, and we don’t have enough men and women in boots, and the soldiers and sailors wearing those boots don’t have enough equipment, enough maintenance, and enough support to fight all the fights that Trump would have us fight, especially not with the huge federal deficit.

And neither one really has a decent plan to deal with that deficit, although both give it passing lip service.

That, in itself, wouldn’t be insurmountable, except that Congress is also hate-polarized, and doesn’t seem able to surmount the mutual antipathy that the parties have for each other… or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that individual members lack the courage to work out something because the hatred out there among the electorate might well result in their losing their next election if any member crosses party lines.

There’s always been a reason for manners in society, and in functioning governments. That reason is simple. Manners allow people to talk to each other, even when they don’t like each other and what they stand for. And that’s the biggest problem with Donald Trump. He’s shredded the last vestige of political manners… and we’re all going to pay for it – unless we reject that approach to politics.


Whether there is a deity or not, that deity, or any of the multiplicities of deities, or different manifestations of the same deity, did not create any religion or denomination. People did, usually men. Those prophets, founders, or administrators may claim that they follow the “word of god,” but I only know of two references to actual physical instructions to worshippers. Supposedly, Moses received the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and LDS documents declare that Joseph Smith was given brief custody of gold tablets so that he could transcribe the Book of Mormon from them. Whether or not these stone and gold tablets actually existed has become a matter of faith, as well, since no physical evidence remains, and there may well be references to physical objects containing instructions from deities in other faiths, but I’m not conversant with such.

In any event, the actual “word” from deities is, shall I say, less than exactly overwhelming, while the amount of proscriptions, prescriptions, theology, beliefs, and approved and disapproved practices from human prophets is indeed overwhelming. And in older belief systems, what one set of prophets or seers or revelators declared often conflicts in greater or lesser degree with what other and later such individuals have declared is the word of the deity or various deities.

In short, religion, no matter what various theological fonts of authority and/or doctrine declare, is a human construct designed to shape human behavior to a desired “theological code.” And the difference in the codes followed by differing groups, even supposedly in the same religion, is often considerable. Yet each is convinced of the supremacy and purity of its interpretation and practices, to the point, where at present and over the course of history, many have insisted on death to unbelievers or those who follow the “wrong” theology.

Now… this might be understandable if a given deity had appeared and leveled a city of unbelievers with lightning bolts while appearing miles tall in the sky. But this never happened. Instead, one group of believers or another decided to take matters into their own hands and unilaterally declare, on pain of death or with some other threat, that those who did not believe would suffer and/or die if they did not acknowledge the “true faith,” an example of might attempting to establish theological right.

Thousands of years of conflict and warfare strongly suggest that this approach has considerable failings, even when a given doctrine or religion manages to gain control of the government and the armed forces. Yet the examples of history don’t seem to offer much discouragement to wars of religion.

Could it just be that there’s something wrong with the entire institution of religion, at least in the most common forms practiced on this planet over its human history?

No… it can’t be that, could it?

Religion and the Arts

This past weekend, I watched a short segment on CBS about a young trumpet player from Afghanistan who now attends music school in the United States, thanks to the efforts of a professional symphonic trumpet player who mentored him and spurred fundraising efforts that allowed the young man to get to the U.S. What amazed me was that, according to the story, and to the young man, playing trumpet in Afghanistan is viewed as anti-religious and that even carrying the trumpet openly would have been dangerous to his life.

Now, for decades there have been news stories and reports about how various religious leaders, largely fundamentalist Islamic types, decry and frown upon the licentiousness of Western popular music, and frankly, some Western popular music is licentious, but how is wanting to be a symphonic trumpet player anti-religious?

All this raises in my mind the issue about how many “fundamentalist” or evangelical religions approach the arts. Some Christian denominations decry dancing, and one popular evangelical Southern Baptist preacher, years ago, declared that “a dancing foot and a praying knee don’t grow on the same leg.” Certainly, most of the books that have been banned or found objectionable have been singled out for “religious” reasons. Certainly, within the “Christian” world, at times, certain paintings and sculptures, if not entire schools of art, have been found objectionable.

Yet I have to ask why any religion should want and be able to forbid activities that are not physically dangerous? Dancing certainly doesn’t disrespect a deity, and is actually considered worship in some faiths, nor does playing a trumpet or any other instrument convey theological disrespect. Bad dancing and bad playing are certainly painful to eyes and ears, but why should any deity even care?

That fact is that religious doctrines reflect an attempt to unify believers in a common doctrine while gaining power for the leaders of that doctrine. And for some religions, free expression, particularly in the arts, is considered as a threat to either the doctrine or that power, if not both. And that’s not only a shame, but a good reason to question a faith that insists on such prohibitions.

Hidden Agendas?

Lots of people have hidden agendas, and baser feelings that they wouldn’t like known, especially attached to their names… and elections and politics have a way of bringing them out, sometimes openly, and sometimes anonymously.

Immigration is one of those issues. While Donald Trump and many of his supporters have expressed violent anti-immigrant statements and proposed punitive and often impractical if not impossible anti-immigrant proposals, this isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States.

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 restricted the rights of immigrants. Then, in the early 1850s, immigration to the United States quintupled, an increase fueled by poor Irish and German peasants, the majority of whom were Catholic, and urban crime increased dramatically. The high crime rate and the rising fear that the increasing number of Catholics would turn the U.S. into a “Papist” nation controlled by the Pope inspired the creation of the American Party, whose members were also called “Know Nothings,” and who espoused an anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant political philosophy, while paradoxically also opposing slavery. In the Congressional elections of 1854, the American Party actually won 22% of the seats in the U.S. House, and captured the legislature in Massachusetts, but failed to gain further ground and largely faded away after the election of 1860. Later movements opposing immigration were the Immigration Restriction League of the early 20th Century and the anti-Asian movements in the American west, which resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Act and an agreement with Japan to restrict Japanese immigrants. The 1920s saw the imposition of immigration quotas and other restrictions, many of which remain in effect.

All of this ignores, of course, the basic fact that every single individual living in the United States is either an immigrant or the descendent of immigrants. Does this mean that only “our” ancestors were the worthy immigrants? The virulent anti-immigrant agenda not only denies our heritage, but also implies an unfounded elitism, yet generation after generation, it persists, and often some of those of the present generation who are most violent in their attacks on immigrants are the very ones whose ancestors were denigrated.

Another issue is that of women’s rights and gender equality, not so much a hidden issue, but one where the Trump campaign is appealing to another set of prejudices that many people don’t want to acknowledge. Although Abigail Adams wrote her husband in 1776, begging him “not to forget the ladies” and not to put unlimited power in hands of their husbands, women didn’t receive the right to vote until a hundred and forty-four years after her letter. Even today, the fight for gender-equal pay and rights continues, and not just in the Presidential campaign, but even on the local levels, as in supposedly progressive Seattle, where earlier this year, a highly sexist and vicious barrage of letters and emails bombarded the five female members of the Seattle City Council who voted against selling a city street to make way for a new sports arena, and outvoted the four male members of the council. The comments ranged from suggesting that all five women commit suicide in highly graphic ways to brutal comments on their appearance, the sort of personal comments that are seldom if ever applied to male politicians. These sorts of comments have become even more common this year, possibly as a result of the misogynistic comments of Trump himself, and just indicate, again, the fact that more than a few men do not want women exerting power, let alone having equal pay and rights. Trump’s rhetoric, the bumper stickers proclaiming “Trump the Bitch,” as well as even more obscene and graphic pins and stickers, polling data, and the clearly sexist (and successful) appeal to “traditional” male supremacy make it clear that Trump is making an appeal to the sexist male, and I find that approach offensive. Obviously, a lot of Trump supporters don’t.

That’s certainly not to say that all men who oppose Hillary Clinton are sexist, but I’d wager that a high percentage are. I’d also bet that some of those are unconsciously sexist, who will protest to their dying day that they’re not, that they’d vote for the “right woman” in an instant, except for them no woman will ever be the “right woman” … because they still believe, deep inside and hidden from scrutiny or self-examination, that politics, business, and government should be a man’s world.

And the funny thing about all this is that it still is and has been largely a man’s world, even in the U.S., and pretty much all of the problems have been caused by men. So… why are so many men, and even quite a few women, so convinced that a man, particularly one like Trump, can do so much better than a woman, especially when his personal record suggests otherwise, and when so much of his appeal is based on anger and issues unworthy of the country we’re supposed to be?