Access denied

By: Dr. Thomas Wolber

soapboxOhio Wesleyan University is justifiably proud of ‚Äúthe quality and accessibility of its faculty‚Ä̬†(‚ÄúCatalog‚ÄĚ Introduction). Yet at the Nov. 16 faculty meeting, half a dozen duly elected members¬†of the Wesleyan Council on Student Affairs and bona fide reporters from the student newspaper,¬†The Transcript, were denied access to the deliberations of the faculty, which included several¬†topics of direct relevance to students.

Why was this unprecedented step taken? The conflict seems to have been triggered by Transcript stories appearing in the local newspaper, the Delaware Gazette. This has been happening for a while now and is rooted in a mutually beneficial arrangement between the two papers.

Transcript reporters see a wider distribution of their articles whereas Gazette readers receive information about OWU from student insiders. However, the arrangement meant that the monthly faculty meetings had become a public ­media venue, which was not to the liking of some faculty members. Concerns over journalistic standards and misrepresentations were voiced and privacy issues were raised. Primarily, however, it seems that many faculty members were worried that the presence of the press may lead to a situation where free and open discussion about contentious and sensitive issues might be stifled.

And this is, in my mind, the crux of the matter. We live in uncertain times. Many colleges and universities in Ohio and elsewhere, both public and private, are experiencing tremendous difficulties.

Institutions have been shuttered or merged, departments and programs eliminated, and faculty positions frozen or cut. This is an era of retrenchment, austerity, and exigency, and there is widespread fear and anxiety about what the future will hold. Across the nation, the faculty’s social status and standard of living are eroding; their very survival is at stake. The status quo is no more, and there are worried conversations about what the new norm might be. What was radical and unthinkable only a few years ago, is now being openly discussed. Maybe the unnerved faculty, especially from more vulnerable disciplines and departments, are instinctively sensing that control is slipping through their fingers and that ugly battles and wars might be ahead of them.

Change is never easy, especially if you are not the one driving it. We know from history and politics what effects the experience of displacement, disempowerment, and dispossession can have. It can lead to heated arguments, imprudent statements, disregard for established norms and values, and raw hostility. In their bewilderment, people start looking for scapegoats for either they do not understand the real reasons for what is happening, or if they do they feel helpless against the inexorable forces of destiny.

I, for one, view the exclusion of WCSA and The Transcript from the last faculty meeting as just one such event. Neither the students nor the press are not the faculty’s adversary; they are their natural allies and partners. It would be a strategic error to alienate them. The current fissure between the faculty and the students is an unfortunate distraction and a false dichotomy. In addition, the measure has done considerable harm to the faculty’s and the institution’s reputation and may negatively impact student recruitment and donor giving in the future. Therefore, the faculty’s student ­exclusion act of 2015 must be rescinded. Elected WCSA students should be readmitted immediately. Then reasonable students, faculty, and administrators should sit together, start a constructive dialog, and negotiate a balanced accord that ensures The Transcript access to faculty meetings on the one hand while protecting and preserving legitimate faculty interests on the other. Perhaps the student newspaper is willing to voluntarily suspend the arrangement with the Delaware Gazette for faculty meetings only while leaving it intact in other areas? In any case, for people of good will there is always plenty of common ground to be found.

 

Soapbox articles are unique platforms in which any member of the OWU community can “get up on their soapbox” and discuss any issue in 400 to 1000 words. Soapbox articles can be submitted on owutranscript.com¬†using the Submit Your Story link on the upper left.

 

Dr. Thomas Wolber is an associate professor of German at Ohio Wesleyan.  He teaches all levels of German language, literature and civilization. In addition to those subjects, he specializes in comparative literature and environmental studies.

On Agent Orange and war veterans

Dr. Thomas Wolber

From 1961 to 1971, vast areas of Vietnam were sprayed with Agent Orange herbicides. The purpose of the defoliants was to destroy the food sources of the Vietcong and to deprive them of canopy cover. Up to 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to the toxin. The effects are still virulent today, resulting on tens of thousands of annual premature deaths and severe birth defects, even in second and third generations.

The Vietnamese are not the only ones suffering from the consequences of this toxic legacy. Some 2.6 million Americans served in the war, and many of them also became disabled after being exposed to Agent Orange. The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes some fifty chronic diseases linked to Agent Orange, including Hodgkin’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and several cancers.

It took an epic battle with the VA, but today most Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange (except sailors) qualify for help and treatment, at least in theory. But the waiting lists can be long, and many have died without ever being seen, examined, and treated. However, there is still no help for their descendants although Agent Orange is expected to cause continued health problems for veterans and their children for at least five to seven generations.

The list of possible birth defects is long and includes things like congenital heart disease, clubfoot, cleft lip or palate, his dysplasia, and numerous diseases that most of us have never even heard of. The VA provides compensation for many severe birth defects among children of female veterans who served in Vietnam, but there are no equivalent benefits for the descendants of male veterans, who constitute the vast majority.

Anyone who believes that the Agent Orange issue is not something that affects the Delaware or Columbus community is mistaken. We have hundreds of veterans of foreign wars in our midst. One of them is Joe DiGenova, a Vietnam War veteran and the longest-serving City Council member in Delaware’s history. He is very concerned about the transgenerational effects of Agent Orange and has urged Ohio politicians such as Andrew Brenner and Pat Tiberi to support legislation that would extent help for victims of Agent Orange to children and grandchildren of male war veterans.

An article in the Columbus Dispatch last year (5/12/14) profiled John E. Pistick, 71, who lost his left arm due to soft-tissue sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that has been found in Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Two of his three children developed brain tumors during childhood. They are adults now, but because of their inability to live independently they still reside with their parents.

The brave men and women of the armed forces deserve our admiration and gratitude. Society owes them the best care available. They and their children should not have to worry about whether or not to receive medical help. The Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2013 merits bipartisan support. It is a broad piece of legislation ‚Äď perhaps too broad because it also includes assistance to Vietnamese nationals and environmental remediation. If it does not pass, then perhaps a more narrowly defined law that specifically addresses the needs of the American descendants of Vietnam War veterans needs to be introduced.

 

Dr. Thomas Wolber is an associate professor of German at Ohio Wesleyan.  He teaches all levels of German language, literature and civilization. In addition to those subjects, he specializes in comparative literature and environmental studies.