Saturday, December 26, 2009

A cheapskate's Christmas gift to his wife

From the Parkville Luminary

I have no skills.

This stark realization is especially apparent this Christmas day. You see, this year, because we’re cheap and broke, my extended family decided to draw names, and to make inexpensive gifts for the drawee, rather than buy them. My crafty wife, for example, is crocheting a scarf for her father, while my talented son is painting a bird house for his lucky gift recipient. As for me, I can’t crochet, draw, paint, knit, sew, sing, dance, or rhyme; I can’t use a hammer, screwdriver, nails, a glue gun, stapler, or any kind of saw (unless I want to risk losing some useful body parts).

I pity the person whose name I drew, knowing that they would be doomed to gift-recipient purgatory, since the only thing I can remotely do (with remote being the operative word) is this: write a Christmas column as a gift.

As I drew the name, I was hoping to select my mother in law, Joan. Pronounced Joanne, her misspelled name is only the first thing that I can give her trouble about. Suffice it to say that she’s an easy target, and would’ve been the subject of an entertaining column. I have been teasing her for years. My favorite gag was the time that I sent in a business reply card with her name and address on it to a funeral home. The guy from the funeral home—the undertaker!!—actually showed up at her home, unannounced, to discuss her “arrangements”. I’m thinking he had a tape measure in hand, even though he wouldn’t need to use much of it, since Joan is comically short. Unfortunately, I didn’t draw Joan’s name, so I guess I can’t write about her.

I could have also drawn the name of one of the 274 Park University international students for whom we serve as official or unofficial host family. Had I drawn Nadia, for example, I could have made blonde jokes. Now, she’s no longer a blonde, but that doesn’t preclude jokes about how the blonde dye soaked into her brain. (She’s actually very smart, but I don’t think I would have mentioned that). I could have written about Ana, or, as we call her, the “Cleaning Nazi”. You see, Ana has a dictatorial passion for house cleaning that borders on fanaticism. When she starts cleaning, my son and I wisely evacuate the premises, afraid that she will make us scrub toilets with a toothbrush. Had I drawn Aziz, I could have analyzed at length why he doesn’t lead when he dances. Sadly, I did not draw any of these students, either.

My father in law would also have made an interesting column. Actually, all I would have to do is have him repeat one of his entertaining tall tales, and it would have filled an entire column, perhaps two. But alas, my wife drew her father’s name, and, fortunately for him, he got a cool red scarf, rather than a lame column.

So, as fate would have it, I was surprised when I unfolded the slip of paper to reveal the name I drew—Barbara, my wife. Now, if you are regular readers of this column, you’ve already read a great deal about Barbara, and probably remember that she sent me to the Republic of Georgia a few years back with only three pairs of holey underwear. You may also remember that she and I like to play “Scrabble” frequently, although, at our age, we don’t get as many double word scores as we used to. And you probably recall that she cries at anything and everything. For example, she cries every year during the “every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings” conclusion of her favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. My son and I roll our eyes at all this corniness and her balling, which, in the past, has included tears shed over a movie of the week wherein the hero dies and is reincarnated as a dolphin. Canned tuna, anyone?

Though she is irredeemably corny, we love her anyway, largely because she’s really, really sweet. Barbara works with kids who have autism, and we think this makes her somewhat of a saint. She also works with the boy and I, and this definitely makes her a saint. She would pack up and leave tomorrow to join the Peace Corps or work at Mother Teresa’s orphanage if she could. (Actually, this is what we’re going to do when we retire).

So, Barbara, wipe away those tears, and accept my heart-felt wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy Birthday (Dec. 31). Let’s draw names again next year. Maybe I can get Joan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A holiday wish: Keep church, state separate

From the Parkville Luminary

Of the thousands of things I love about America, the separation of church and state, and our freedom of and from religion, is near the top of the list.

We are particularly blessed this holiday season to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989). The case involved two different displays in downtown Pittsburgh. One was a nativity placed at the county courthouse, and the other a broader seasonal display on the grounds of a city-county office building with a menorah, a Christmas tree, and a sign trumpeting the city’s salute to liberty. The court ruled that the nativity was unconstitutional, while the broader display was permissible. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that the nativity was an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

We should also commemorate the 10th anniversary of an appeals court ruling in ACLU vs. Schindler. The case involved a Nativity scene, a menorah and a holiday tree owned by Jersey City, N.J. “The court ruled a holiday display entirely consisting of religious symbols violates the establishment clause. But the court said if religious symbols were placed in a secular context -- the city added Santa Claus, a 4-foot-tall plastic Frosty the Snowman and a red wooden sled after losing the case at the trial level -- then the display was permissible.” (UPI, 11/15/09).

This December, we also need to commend the North Kansas City Council, which just this month decided to stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer before every council business session. This decision respects everyone who lives in North Kansas City, yet does nothing to prohibit the Lord’s Prayer before, or after, official business.
These cases hinge on the establishment clause of the first amendment, which “not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.” ( ).

The establishment clause is wise indeed, for it protects the rights of the non-Christian minority in this country, as well as preventing the country from sliding down a slippery slope away from the rule of law and towards the abyss of intolerant religious rule.

In fact, that’s what the father of the constitution, James Madison, worried about. In his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”, Madison wrote, “…Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

The establishment clause, and protection from and for religion, should be appealing to Christians, adherents of minority religions, and non-believers. Do Christians really want an official stamp of bureaucratic approval for their religion? What would be the price of that stamp of approval—federal regulations? Political endorsements? Wouldn’t this inevitably lead to corruption? As Madison said, which denomination gets the official designation anyway? It’s unimaginable that any religion would want to slink into the swampy morass of politics, even if it meant some governmental blessing or sanction. Organized religion doesn’t need, and shouldn’t want, a courthouse for their nativity displays, and shouldn’t have to water down their message with Frosty or Santa. (See Schindler case, above). Those sacred displays have a hallowed place—on church property, or at a synagogue or temple, and not at a place where they can be regulated by a court or bureaucrat.
For those who practice non-Christian religions, our system offers them the freedom to worship as they choose without discrimination. For non-believers, the benefits of our secular society are even more palpable—the freedom from having a religion imposed from above (as it were!), and the freedom to raise your children without religion, if that is your choice.

So, as you’re celebrating this holiday season, or not, say a little prayer, or alternatively a kind thought, for the wisdom of America’s founders, and particularly for those who defend the establishment clause.

--As always, check out my Peace Journalism website at:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Missouri: Support familes of children with Autism (and, ban texting!)

From the Parkville Luminary

You’d love to take your child to a restaurant, or maybe to a Royal’s game, but you know you’d better not try, given what could happen.

This sad reality is faced today by hundreds, if not thousands, of Missouri parents of children who have autism. A proposed bill being considered in the Missouri General Assembly aims to help make life a little better for the dedicated, tireless caregivers of children with autism.

The bill, filed in both the House and Senate last week, requires state regulated health insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism. These state regulated health insurers make up about one third of the overall market. The bill requires insurers to cover up to $72,000 annually for behavioral therapy for children. This kind of therapy helps kids with autism interact more positively with the world around them.

The bill deserves quick, unanimous passage.

As a parent of a child with autism, State Sen. Eric Schmidt of St. Louis knows how important insurance-covered therapy will be for Missouri’s families. “What the therapies really mean for families…is the difference between whether or not a mother can take her daughter to a movie, or a dad can take her son to a ball game,” Schmidt told the KC Star (12-04-09). What Schmidt means is that without intensive therapy, children with autism often don’t react well to unfamiliar environments like movie theaters or stadiums or restaurants. This can result in panic attacks, screaming, or other difficult-to-manage behaviors.

Of course, the heartless insurance companies are lined up against the legislation. Missouri Insurance Coalition Executive Director Calvin Call groused that the bill "sounds very expensive, sounds like a full blown mandate, sounds like special interests may get served at a very high price tag while others who are struggling to pay premiums may get priced out of the market." ( ) If by special interest he means differentially-abled children and their heroic parents, then I guess he has a point.

Insurance lobbyists claim that requiring autism coverage could raise premiums by more than 3 percent and force people to drop health coverage. But don’t believe everything you hear from the Scrooges in the insurance industry. An analysis by the advocacy group Autism Speaks ( estimates that an autism insurance requirement would result in a less than 1 percent increase in the cost of premiums. (

How many children are diagnosed with autism (1 in 150, or 1 in 91) depends on which source you ask. What is crystal clear is that autism, or at least the diagnosis of autism, is a rapidly growing phenomena. That’s why immediate passage of this legislation is crucial if we are to give Missouri families caring for children with autism the support that they so desperately need.

Another proposal currently being considered by the general assembly also deserves passage. Several bills have been filed for the 2010 session that would ban all texting while driving in Missouri. Currently, only those under 21 are prohibited from texting while driving.

It’s absurd, of course, that texting while driving is dangerous only for those under 21. This must mean that the rest of us can capably drive and text at the same time, right? Wrong. There is a mountain of data to support a texting ban, including one study that showed that texting truckers were 23 times more likely to have a collision, and a second that showed that about 6,000 people were killed and 500,000 injured last year by distracted motorists, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Once the texting ban is in place, the next step should be banning cell phone use in vehicles, including hands-free cell phones. Even with hands-free phones, drivers who are yakking on cell phones are still distracted drivers.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that as a college professor, I am especially sensitive to the ubiquity of cell phones and other odious IDP-type devices, particularly when they become an annoyance in my classroom. In fact, I may be writing my state representative, and ask for an amendment to the texting ban that would extend it to the university classroom.

--As always, check out my Peace Journalism website at:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hotel Rwanda hero inspires students, teacher

From the Parkville Luminary

CHICAGO--Today, my students and I met a real superstar, and I don’t mean some plastic “American Idol” or steroid-pumped athlete. Paul Rusesabagina doesn’t sing or dance or shoot hoops, but he is the biggest hero I’ve ever met, or likely will ever meet.

Don’t recognize the name? Rusesabagina’s story is the inspiration for the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. His character was played (in Oscar-nominated fashion) by Kansas City actor Don Cheadle. In the movie, and real life, Rusesabagina shielded 1,268 people from certain death during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He bravely risked his own life to do this, but insists that anyone else put in his position would have done the same thing. In fact, his gripping autobiography is titled “An Ordinary Man”. However, after hearing Rusesabagina speak, it’s impossible to conclude that he is anything but extraordinary.

Rusesabagina recently addressed delegates at the American Model United Nations conference in Chicago, including 16 Park University Model United Nations students.

Rusesabagina said it is ironic that he was speaking to a United Nations conference, since it was the UN that failed him and his countrymen in 1994 during the “madness” that took 1-million lives in a country of just 7 million people. That’s the equivalent, in terms of population percentage, of an American genocide taking 45 million lives. He said that the UN “abandoned the country to gangsters and thugs.” Rusesabagina said that a “lack of political will” from the UN and the rest of the world doomed his small country in 1994. “Silence is agreement,” he noted, implying the complicity of the world in the slaughter in Rwanda.

Sadly, Rusesabagina believes that little has changed since 1994. “So far, we have not learned the lessons from the Rwandan genocide,” he noted, citing ongoing strife in Congo and Darfur examples of the continuing struggles in Africa’s great lakes region. The UN has certainly not learned much, he said, observing that it has been as ineffective in protecting innocents in Darfur as it was in Rwanda.

The media also continue to operate much as they did before 1994. “The media can help us save lives, but their silence is a complicity,” Rusesabagina said. While the western media are silent, the African media continue to inflame conflicts rather than advocate for peace. This fact that became abundantly clear as I taught peace journalism in Uganda last summer. The media, particularly radio, helped to fuel the Rwandan genocide. Yet, 14 years later, the same type of radio-fueled violence left 800 dead in Kenya in 2008, and threatens to do the same in Uganda as presidential elections approach.

One solution, one way of helping to institutionalize a memory of those tragic lessons, is to convene truth, justice, and reconciliation commissions in the great lakes region (including Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda) to facilitate the healing process. Rusesabagina said the goal of such commissions would be to put people around a table who would say, “I hate you and you hate me. But, what can we do so that one day our children can live together?” To help spur the establishment of these commissions, Rusesabagina launched the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation in 2005. ( The foundation is committed to securing lasting peace and international human rights, facilitating justice, and serving the victims of genocide. The HRRF always welcomes donations and volunteers.

Rusesabagina discussed several ways that the student could address peace and justice issues and “stand up and make a difference”. First, he recommended that students raise awareness of African issues since the western media won’t. (He said there’s not enough money to be made covering human rights issues). Secondly, he urged the students to write their congressmen, and let them know that the status quo in Congo and elsewhere in Africa is unacceptable. He also encouraged them to volunteer or donate to his foundation. Rusesabagina concluded his remarks with a powerful quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

That’s certainly not a fate that Paul Rusesabagina need concern himself about.

--As always, check out my Peace Journalism website at:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Park University: International Heaven

From the Parkville Luminary, 11-20-09

Where can you taste Bulgarian and Uzbeki food, watch Spanish and Korean movies, and hear a presentation about understanding Islam? If you were at Park University last week, you know the answer.

All of the hubbub was in celebration of International Education Week (IEW), which is held annually to “celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide” and to recognize “programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.” IEW is a joint State Department-Education Department program.
( )

Among the many highlights last week was an art display featuring the work of soon to be world-renown Azerbaijani artist, and Park graduate student, Orkhan Miralayev. His pieces are unique and museum quality, and run the range from delicate still lifes to engaging miniatures. Of course, I’m probably a bit biased here, since one of Orkhan’s miniatures, a captivating ancient battle scene, hangs proudly in our living room. His work was proudly displayed beginning last Monday, and will be on display this coming week as well in the Millsap Foyer, the entrance to the underground.

International Education Week festivities continue this weekend at Park. Tonight is the spotlight event—a world festival, featuring displays, music, dancing, and best of all, food from around the globe. I’ve been to this captivating event many times, and it is literally one of my favorite meals of the year because the cooks use actual native recipes provided by Park’s international students. The after-dinner entertainment of music, dancing, and culture is also spectacular. The table displays and dinner are 4:30-7:00 in the Thompson CafĂ©. The cultural performance follows dinner, and is being held in the Chapel. Tomorrow’s IEW finale will be a blast—a soccer match featuring South African players competing against African players at 11:00 a.m. at Park University’s Hemingway Field.

Of course, if you know Park University, you know that every week is international education week, since international education may be what Park does best. We have students from over 100 countries, which gives our campus cosmopolitan feel that few other universities, big or small, possess. We have a number of great international programs, including wonderful study abroad opportunities (a group just got back from a great trip to Germany!), a world-class international music program, and an internationally-minded faculty that imbeds international elements into their coursework.

In fact, a great idea is being launched to further capitalize on Park’s international cache. Called the Global Museum: A Walking Experience of International Culture, the attraction will feature display cases of artifacts and artwork from various countries. The cases would be scattered about campus, and visitors will have a printed guide and be able to take a walking tour. Some of the cases have been purchased and some materials have been donated, but they’re looking for more donations. Contact me at the email address below if you’re interested in helping out.

One more thing I love about international education week is an opportunity to remind my students how lucky they are to attend Park, where they can experience the world without ever leaving Platte County. This last week, we had fun with the State Department’s International Education Week Global IQ quiz ( The 15 question cultural geography IQ quiz included the following questions:

Bengali is the official language of a densely populated Asian country in which over 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Name this country.
A. Bangladesh; B. India; C. Sri Lanka.

Monte Alban, once a center of Zapotec culture, is located in Oaxaca, one of the southernmost states in what country? A. Venezuela; B. Mexico; C. Peru.

These were among the easiest questions. I got 13 out of 15, and an electronic pat on the back indicating that “Secretary of State Clinton might have a job for you.”

While that’s nice of you, Secretary Clinton, I think I’ll stay put here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The UN: Not perfect, but effective

From the Parkville Luminary

Can you name the organization that keeps the peace in 35 countries, has aided more than 30 million refugees fleeing war or famine, and has made safe drinking water available to 1.3 billion people during the last decade, yet is considered a failure by some Americans?

If you guessed the United Nations, you correctly pinpointed that most maligned and misunderstood of institutions.

A ballroom full of Kansas Citians, including a contingent from Park University, gathered last week to honor UN Day, and to celebrate the often-ignored contributions of the United Nations.

A list of the UN’s accomplishments is a mile long, but includes negotiating 172 peaceful settlements that have ended regional conflicts; facilitating free and fair elections in 45 countries; spending $800 million a year through UNICEF, primarily on immunization, health care, nutrition and basic education in 138 countries; alleviating chronic hunger and rural poverty in developing countries, providing credit that has benefited over 230 million people in nearly 100 developing countries; helping entrepreneurs in 25 countries find financing for new enterprises; pressing for universal immunization for polio, tetanus, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria and tuberculosis ­and achieving an 80% immunization rate, saving the lives of more than 3 million children each year; reducing child mortality rates (halved since 1960; promoting women's rights by supporting programs and projects to improve the quality of life for women in over 100 countries; and eradicating smallpox through vaccinations and monitoring. ( )

I have seen with my own eyes the tremendous contributions of the UN, and the brave sacrifices of its workers, in the Republic of Georgia, Moldova, and Uganda, among other places. In areas where there is hunger, like Uganda, the World Food Program is there to provide sustenance. In Moldova, I volunteered for UNICEF, which outfitted a youth media centre that gives kids a chance to hone their media skills while working for positive change in their society.

Of course, we seldom hear about these successes, but instead, only the UN’s failures. Yes, the UN has had its share of debacles, and they are often noteworthy, like inaction in the face of genocides in Rwanda and Sudan. The UN’s critics are quick to jump on these failures, or to highlight the corruption and inefficiency that undoubtedly exist within the organization’s ranks, and use them as a reason to marginalize the United Nations. Fix what’s wrong with the UN, certainly, but don’t undermine support for the million things the UN does well.

The UN’s American critics have been particularly vocal. Much of their criticism is founded on the spurious notion that the U.S. somehow loses sovereignty if it chooses to act as part of an international coalition, especially when those actions occur through the UN. This is nonsense, of course, and one need look no further than the Iraq debacle as evidence of the folly of unilateralism. Indeed, just the promise of an America that embraces multilateralism and respects international organizations like the UN was enough to fuel President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite the negative press, and the drumbeat of criticism directed at the UN from the right, “79% of Americans view strengthening the United Nations as a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important foreign policy goal, according to a 2007 poll. Indeed, 72% support ‘having a standing U.N. peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the United Nations.’ There is currently no standing UN peacekeeping force, only ad hoc forces organized from scratch and donated by countries each time there is a need. (

If you agree that the United Nations is an asset that should be strengthened, there is a local organization, the United Nations Association of Kansas City, that is always looking for internationally-minded members. Go to for details. It’s time to spread the word about the good works, and unlimited peacemaking potential, of this most august of world bodies.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kudos to the Parkville Rotarians

Hats off to the Parkville Rotary Club, which just sent $1000 to an elementary school in Arua, Uganda to alleviate hunger. There is a famine in the area, and this money will be used to buy school lunches for the kids, many of whom are lucky to get one meal a day. Thank you!
Preaching Patience

From the Parkville Luminary 11-6-09

At our house, our favorite character in “Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is Veruca Salt, the spoiled girl who constantly whines “I want it nooowww”. As you recall, this bad attitude leads to trouble, specifically, Veruca impudently snatching some experimental gum and turning into a giant, juicy blueberry.

My wife and I use Veruca’s story regularly on our impatient son, much to his chagrin.

Veruca’s story is equally applicable to groups attempting to sway public policy, like, for example, the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Gay rights activists: You would not look good in purple.

“I want it nooowww” sentiments seem to run rampant in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community. This disenchantment exists despite more progress in this area last few months than during eight years of the previous administration, including extending federal hate crime laws to cover homosexuals. Also, “Obama has expanded some federal benefits to same-sex partners, but not health benefits or pension guarantees. He has allowed State Department employees to include their same-sex partners in certain embassy programs available to opposite-sex spouses,” according to the Associated Press (10-29-09).
Still, a few weeks ago, negative sentiments were on display at an equal rights rally in Washington, D.C. attended by thousands. One newspaper account of the rally characterized the attendees as “impatient and discouraged” by the lack of progress on key issues like don’t-ask, don’t tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Washington Post reported, “Attendees expressed complicated feelings about Obama….Many people said they were disappointed by what they see as a lack of action on key gay-rights issues…”

Rather than emulate Veruca, the wisest policy for supporters of LGBT rights would be to exercise a little patience and understanding.

The president is swamped with health care reform and Afghanistan. Half of politics is 90% timing, as Yogi Berra might say, and the timing isn’t right yet to tackle the key LGBT issues. For a lesson on timing, examine the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark legislation, which outlawed public segregation, would not have been possible a year earlier, while JFK was alive, nor a year later, when the goodwill towards JFK’s agenda after his assassination had largely evaporated.

President Obama will be a more effective, empowered advocate for LGBT causes if he has a few months to pass health care and articulate a vision for Afghanistan. Once he does these things, Obama has pledged to tackle don’t-ask, don’t tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act.

These are vital issues not only for the LGBT community, but for all Americans who value freedom and equality. As long as any of us is subject to discrimination or bigotry, our society can never be considered free. Years from now, those who currently oppose gay rights will be scorned the same way, decades later, that we deride the bigots who opposed civil rights in the 50’s and 60’s.

However righteous the cause, political realities and expediencies can not be ignored. The supporters of LGBT rights must allow the president to get his feet underneath him, and allow him to get a few noteworthy successes under his belt, before he deals with these admittedly contentious issues.

Don’t forget, in “Willy Wonka”, the patient Charlie came out the winner, while Veruca was rolled off to oblivion.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Antiquated notions about drinking

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-30-09

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
--Albert Einstein

With apologies to Einstein, I believe we can apply his famous quote to all sorts of areas of public policy. For example, if our policies regarding young people and drinking are ineffective, but we do nothing to change them, are we collectively insane?

There is a federal 21-year old age minimum for legal drinking, signed in 1984, that is enforced in the states by the threat of withholding of federal highway funding. Here in Parkville, Park University is a dry campus. The university’s alcohol and drug policy prohibits “Display and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages/drugs on campus, in campus facilities or at Park-sponsored activities planned for or by students (and) disruption of other persons on the campus and/or to the residence halls by excessive noise, boisterous behavior or violence while under the influence or impaired by alcohol and/or other illegal or illicit substances, etc.”

It’s time to revisit both policies.

At the federal level, the 21-year age restriction has long been assailed by critics, yet the collective stubbornness of our leadership, combined with political pressure, make even discussing a change in this ineffectual policy dicey.

The 21 year old minimum has done nothing to curb binge drinking. Just this summer a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed that, among college-age males, “binge drinking is unchanged from its levels of 1979; that among non-college women it has increased by 20 percent; and that among college women it has increased by 40 percent.” (John McCardell, 9-16-09). Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “despite efforts at prevention, the prevalence of binge drinking among college students is continuing to rise, and so are the harms associated with it." (

Drunk driving accidents and fatalities are way down, thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and tougher legislation and law enforcement. Indeed, of the 5,000 lives lost to alcohol annually for young people under 21, more than 60% of these deaths occur somewhere other than roads and highways. In other words, these lives were lost as a result of clandestine, unsupervised binge drinking. (National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse). Sadly, several students died “off road” recently due to alcohol abuse at the University of Kansas.

This is why, about a year ago, 135 college and university presidents (but not from Park University) signed the Amethyst Initiative, which advanced a proposition for public debate: “Resolved: That the 21-year-old drinking age is not working.” Certainly, no harm can come from at least debating the issue.

By the same token, no harm can come from revisiting Park University’s dry campus regulation. A proposal related to discussing and possibly recommending rescinding the dry campus (for those over 21) was on the agenda at the Park Faculty Senate meeting today. The proposed resolution cited several justifications, including “a culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking” that has developed…(Also), alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students, and adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.”

The faculty senate can only make recommendations. Even if they recommend the repeal of the dry campus policy for those over 21, a final decision on the matter would still have to be made by administration and ultimately the board of trustees.

Failure to discuss these issues, just like employing the same policy over and over again and expecting a different result, is, if not insane, then certainly ill-advised.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Random Thoughts from A to U

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-16-09

Some random thoughts (for me, the phrase “random thoughts” is a redundancy) from A to U (V-Z, I’ll deal with you later):

Afghanistan: Will this be Barak Obama’s Vietnam? Every time I see the president conferring with generals, I think of hapless Lyndon Johnson pouring more and more troops into Vietnam, each time with an official assurance from the Pentagon that victory was just around the corner. President Obama, take your time, but whatever you decide, have a clear mission, and a clear exit strategy. If keeping Al Qaeda on the run is the mission, I’m in. However, nation building seems hopeless. Let’s not be taken in by our successes in Iraq, which is about as different from Afghanistan as Zimbabwe is from Switzerland.

Crescent Peace Eid dinner: I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate brotherhood last Sunday night with the Crescent Peace Society, a group of Muslim-Americans dedicated to spreading goodwill and building fellowship between Muslims and the larger community. Masoom Khawaja, Park University professor of Graphic Design, was honored by the organization as educator of the year. Congratulations, professor. Masoom shatters the tired stereotype of the oppressed, downtrodden Muslim women. Vibrant, educated, and professionally active, she is a role model for all women, and an important symbol for those who would marginalize Muslim women. Islam, like other religions, is diverse. Don’t judge all Muslim women by the burka-wearing women that you see on TV.

Nobel Prize: As Americans, I would hope that we could all be proud of any American who wins a Nobel Prize, particularly a Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon anyone. Of course, given the nasty political climate, that hope is no more than a pipe dream. Of all the negative conservative reaction to Obama’s peace prize, perhaps none stands out as much for its lack of magnanimity as the statement from Rep. Sam Graves, a Tarkio Republican. Graves told the Kansas City Star, “I am surprised because I have no idea why he won. But I congratulate him and I hope he will donate the cash prize toward the $1.6 trillion deficit he ran up this year.”

Mr. Graves, were you also among those cheering when Chicago lost the Olympics to Rio?

To paraphrase the world’s best political pundit, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, it seems that the president’s opponents hate Obama more than they love America.

Park University: I don’t usually put much stock in university rankings, since they seem to put the emphasis on all the wrong things, like the number of celebrity professors or how many millions (or billions) the university has in its endowment. However, I’m willing to make an exception for any ranking that puts Park University at #1. Ingram’s magazine says Park is the top private school in Missouri or Kansas, based on graduate enrollment, tuition costs, housing costs, and student to teacher ratio. I think the last criterion is the most important, since it has such a direct, demonstrable impact on student learning. In 13 years at Park, I have never had a class larger than 25 students, and most of my classes are about 15 students. This allows for the kind of interaction, and the kind of connection, that wasn’t possible in the 150-student classes that I took when I went to college. Not only are the classes small, but they are high quality as well, since Park has many outstanding professors in every discipline. I’m proud to call them colleagues, and I can’t wait until my son enrolls at Park.

Uganda: The Parkville Rotary Club is putting the final touches on its generous donation to the Ociba Primary School in Arua, Uganda, which is being hit hard by a devastating famine. I’ll keep you posted when the final figures come in. Meanwhile, if you are a regular reader, you might recall how I was honored during my recent trip to Uganda to have a baby named after me. Little Stephan (pronounced Stephanie) is four months old, and devastatingly cute. I recently received an email from Stephan’s mom, Gloria, asking me if I would consider being Stephan’s godfather. Of course, I was thrilled, and jumped at the chance. Now I just have to figure out what my official duties are as a Ugandan godfather. I probably should have asked this before I agreed to sign on for this duty.
Big heart makes teacher proud

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-23-09

One of the great things about being a teacher is the way you feel when your students make you proud. For example, my recent graduate who is producing videos for NFL Films makes me proud, as does my former Model UN student who was recently hired as a diplomat at the United Nations.

I also have a number of current students of whom I’m proud, but none more so than Laura Cornett. When my son grows up, I want him to be like Laura (well, not exactly like Laura, but you catch my drift).

Laura is a terrific “A” student, but that’s not why I’m proud of her. She is a hard, dedicated worker, and a real leader among the communications students, but that’s not why I’m proud of her, either, though that’s a good thing.

No, I’m proud of Laura because of the kind of person she is. I haven’t met many people at Park or anywhere else who have a heart as big as Laura’s.

Most of my public relations students seek internships at big, prestigious PR firms, or big corporations with big, well paid PR staffs. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Laura, as you can guess, chose a different path. She chose to do an internship with Synergy Services, which provides “safe places for victims of violence, and empowers survivors to rise above their circumstances and to educate the entire community.” They aided 40,000 people last year. ( Laura created the fundraiser Bake and Share for Synergy to provide funds and positive adult interaction to abused and homeless teens. Her focus with Synergy is on the teens and providing them with an opportunity for them to experience good adult relationships since most of them have had extremely negative experiences. She began her internship, which was supposed to be a semester long, about a year ago. Yet, to her credit, she remains on the (unpaid) job, volunteering her expertise to help improve the lives of battered women.

When she isn’t swamped at Synergy, or keeping up with her classes, Laura volunteers feeding the homeless at least once a month at Cherith Brook. Located at 12th and Benton in Kansas City, Cherith Brook is a residential Christian community that provides resources like showers, clothes, and food to those in need.

I went to Cherith Brook with Laura and Park adjunct professor Eric Garbison a few weeks ago, and got to see Laura in action. It was truly inspiring to see her dive into her task not only with good cheer, but with effervescent enthusiasm. She took charge of the sandwich making, seizing the bread and deli meat like a general seizes a battlefield. Then, she took charge of the egg salad, mixing an enormous batch. When she was done making the egg salad, she asked the other volunteers to taste it. There was silence, save for the occasional cricket chirp. The longer the pregnant pause, I figured, the more “questionable” was her egg salad. After begging a second time, a brave soul finally stepped up and tried it, saying it was “not bad.”

So, after it was determined that the egg salad was probably non-toxic, 60 sandwiches were packed up along with fruit into meal bags, ready for delivery. We hopped in the car, and drove to several locations near Independence Avenue and St. John Street known as homeless “camp sites”. Laura was an expert on where to find the homeless, and when we did, she seemed to know most everyone’s name, greeting them with handshakes, hugs, and the biggest, most genuine grin you’ve ever seen. Laura even managed a smile when she handed a meal to a poor Mexican man, an illegal immigrant, whose foot was grotesquely swollen to three times its normal size. I was told that when he was making the crossing to the states, that he was bitten on the foot by a rattlesnake.

Laura never said anything judgmental about these people, which is hard since so many of the homeless are drug addicts, and so much of their pain is self-inflicted. I didn’t ask her, but I don’t think Laura, or the other volunteers, care how these downtrodden got this way. I think what matters is that they need help.

I never thought to ask Laura why she helps the homeless, or volunteers at Syngery, or why when she graduates she’ll be looking for low-paying job at a non-profit doing some high-importance work. I think some others help because they figure it’s a ticket to heaven, or maybe conversely a way to avoid hell, but I’m pretty sure that’s not why Laura does what she does. I think, for her, it’s all about listening to her heart.

I am proud of Laura Cornett and her really big heart.