The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence


Elmira College (Elmira, NY)—Free Speech in Peril

Consider the university professor.  What is his function?  Simply to pass on to fresh generations of numbskulls a body of so-called knowledge that is fragmentary, unimportant, and, in large part, untrue.  His whole professional activity is circumscribed by the prejudices, vanities, and avarices of his university trustees:  i. e., a committee of soap boilers, nail manufacturers, bank directors, and politicians.  The moment he offends these vermin he is undone.  He cannot so much as think aloud without running a risk of having them fan his pantaloons.
—H. L. Mencken, 1956

Evidently and quite unfortunately, US News & World Report, which ranks colleges, does not include a criterion for ethics and faculty courage to speak the truth.  If so, it certainly would not rank Elmira College highly. 

“Elmira College was ranked fifth in the ‘Best Baccalaureate Colleges—North’ classification, boasts the college's website.  "Elmira College has ranked in the top tier of its classification for the past twelve years.”  The EC website also boasts that “EC is one of the most successful colleges in the nation with the 12th highest average alumni giving rate in the nation among all colleges and universities in this important measure of quality.” 

But what an odd criterion, let alone to emphasize!  Money!  Is that what academe has come to today?  You bet!

The college's site also boasts it ranked first in the “Great Colleges for Great Prices” category.  “This listing determines which colleges offer the best value in relationship to the college’s academic quality,” it notes.  But what is “academic quality”?  Is it simply high number of PhDs, small class sizes, prizes and grants won... or is it rather courageous professors daring to actually stand up on their hind legs to speak the rude truth about Elmira College and inculcating that courage in the student populace?  Well, we all know the answer to that! 

In any case, let it be known that I am not resentful, angry, hateful, or revengeful towards Elmira College, its faculty or administrators.  On the contrary, I enjoyed my three years teaching there.  Besides, that experience helped lead me to eventually create The American Dissident, which I enjoy editing year after year (now, why doesn't Elmira College subscribe? After all, Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Brown and others subscribe.). 

Truth telling has nothing at all to do with resentment, anger, hate or revenge, while everything to do with fervent belief in democracy, free speech, and vigorous debate. If anything, I feel sadness for the college's administrators and tenured professors who overtly profess their principle concern to be for the welfare and education of their students while, in reality, that concern tends to be for their own pocketbooks and security—hardly at all for the principles of democracy.  They are to blame for Elmira's transformation from an institution of higher learning, where free speech and vigorous debate ought to be encouraged and students learn to become informed, active citizens, to an arena of educationist bureaucracy, where students learn that questioning and challenging will likely lead to professional failure and certainly not to three letters of recommendation from their professors. 
 
Obsession with image—the iris, color purple, and octagonal shape—not truth and vigorous debate characterizes Elmira College.  Suppression of evidence and uncomfortable facts, rejection of logical argumentation, and treating students as if children characterizes the faculty and administration. Sadly, those things tend to characterize so many other institutions of higher education.  The guest editorials below underscore the intellectually corrupt nature of Elmira College administrators and faculty, at least with regards those with whom I rubbed elbows while teaching at the college back in 1988-1991, though doubtfully the situation is any different at all today.  Why should it be?  The best thing at Elmira was not the ubiquitous purple color, nor the iris motifs, but rather the student newspaper, The Octagon, which proved as democratic in spirit as possible. Compare it with the student newspaper at Fitchburg State College, which willfully suppressed and likely still suppresses stories of internal corruption (see FSC).  The editors of The Octagon understood the significance of the free press and free speech.  Hopefully, new student editors have been as courageous as their predecessors.  Oddly, while t Elmira, Peter Schwartz, Gary Lapointe and other English professors did not seem to give a damn about the student newspaper.  I wonder if that has changed.  Let's hope it hasn't... for evident reasons.  Finally, the writing in the diverse articles below is certainly not my best.  I'd just come back from a seven-year sojourn in France and had only just begun as a polemicist.  However, the substance of the texts seems uncannily similar to that in my more recent American Dissident articles regarding academe and intellectual corruption and cowardice written almost 20 years later.  In fact, faculty-administrator intellectual cowardice and corruption at Elmira College were the first things that really incited me to become a poète maudit and polemical essayist, cartoonist, and novelist. 

Octagon Articles, Poems, etc.

 

Under construction.

 

 

The Purple Marasmus Newsletters
Purple Marasmus was an underground newsletter, though not anonymous and sent above ground mostly to the faculty members of the Humanities Department.  Only three were written and distributed.  It was probably my first effort to create a publication of sorts.  More recently, I was quite happy to receive an email (see below) from an Elmira student noting he and others had posted one or several of these on their dorm room doors.  What an honor, I thought! 
The Professorial Sex Scandal
When I was teaching at EC, I recall Professor Amnon Kabatchnik as being my exact opposite, that is, best friend of the Administration and Faculty, as well as indifferent to free speech, vigorous debate, and certainly my plight.  How surprised, if not delighted, I was when Professor Jan Kather sent me the following two articles with his regard.   
Letters from Elmira
Over the years, I have received a few emails from Elmira College entities, former and current.
Subj:  Elmira College
Date:  12/1/04
From:  mmehan82@hotmail.com
To: Enmarge
Hello there,
My name is Michael Mehan.  I am a member of the Elmira College Class of 2004.  I recently came across your website after putting "Elmira College" into a search engine.  I found the information you had to say to be very interesting.  For the 2003-2004 acamdemic year, I served as Editor-in-Chief of The Octagon.  I was curious about the years or timeframe of the incidents you mentioned.  Is it current?  If not, how long ago.  I could probably be of some assistance with some of the situations.  I would not mind discussing these issues with you for my own general interest.  I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Michael Mehan '04, Danforth Middle, Syracuse City Schools


Subj:  Elmira College
Date: 12/1/2004 8:06:30 PM Pacific Standard Time
From:  Enmarge
To: mmehan82@hotmail.com
Hi Michael.  What a surprise.  Of course, I'd love to chat about old Elmira.  The incident or whatever took place quite a while ago:  1988-1991.  I suppose I need to put more material on that site... I've got so much of it.  In fact, I do have a 300 page novel written about my three years as professor at Elmira... never did get it published.  I still have all the letters from the dean, dept chair, etc.  So, hit me with a simple question or two, and I'd love to answer it.  But first I'm off to bed.  So a domani. 
Best, G. Tod Slone, Ed., The American Dissident

 

Subj:  Elmira College
Date:  12/2/2004 1:41:56 PM Pacific Standard Time
From:  mmehan82@hotmail.com
To: Enmarge

Hello there,
I am wondering what things were like for a professor in that timeframe.  I know, most recently, Dr. Meier and his adminstration are slowly becoming open-minded.  A lot of the faculty and staff are "learning" as well about the newer generation.  However, some of the problems faced by Elmirans in the late 1980's and early 1990's are still being faced as we face Elmira's Sesqicentennial in October 2005.  My question is in regards to the Octagon.  What type of articles did they lack coverage on?  In my time as Editor-in-Chief, I made sure to expose the issues that needed such.  I published a website that contains all articles from the 2003-2004 academic year.  The address is http://www.ecclubs.net/octagon/.  This site may be of interest to you.  It would be nice to someday have the chance to read your novel.  I have a heightened interest on the history of Elmira College from all perspectives, students and faculty.
Sincerely, Michael Mehan, Danforth Middle, Syracuse City Schools

 

Subj:  Elmira College
Date: 12/2/2004 2:30:05 PM Pacific Standard Time
From:  Enmarge
To: mmehan82@hotmail.com

First, I am astonished that Meier is still president.  He might hold the record for longevity.  What was his first name? 
When I was there in the late 80s he was "slowly becoming open minded," as you say. 
I don't like this generational talk… I think it is divisive.  I think it exists because there is money to be made off of the phenomenon, which is at least 50% artificial.  I believe rather in truth, not in generations. 
Regarding the Octagon, it was by far the very best thing about Elmira, certainly much, much better than the faculty advisors to the Octagon, for whom I have no respect whatsoever.  I find faculty across the nation much the same as at Elmira, that is, groupthinking, groupbehaving, and groupgrovelling for more money. 
The Elmira faculty was entirely indifferent to the intellectual corruption I'd uncovered, including being accused by a student or students of doing things w/o being given the name of the accuser or even what the accusation consisted of.  Yes, that happened to me and was condoned by Meier and Reddick and Schwartz and McLaughlin and Lapointe and all the others whose names I've forgotten.  The only one who stood by me was Kather… but, well, we were lovers back then. 
I'm sure this is more than you wish to hear.  Truth should be the main point in every college, not PR and image propagation.  Truth, not job security and student feelings.  Truth, not survival of the institution and student enrollments.  Truth, not faculty salaries. 
My novel is highly and entirely critical of the college, so I'm not sure you would like to read it. 
In fact, I'd be curious if you can comprehend anything in this letter. 
Best, G. Tod Slone, Ed.

PS:  BTW, the Elmira faculty would not have been able to understand anything in the letter.  Since they were your professors, it would be surprising to me that you would be able to comprehend.  As for Elmira, I'm sure that those professors, some of whom no doubt remember me, have eliminated my very existence.  As you can see, I am not into the professorial game of treating students as if they were children.  Thus, I do not treat you that way. 

PPS:  I don't believe there is a college president or dean in the country who would stand for truth, if it meant sacrificing PR, image, and personal career.  This has been my experience.  I have had contact with many such personages over the years.  All tend to be careerists readily willing to steamroll over ideals and principles, whenever necessary.  Meier was like that, so was Reddick, Schwartz, Lapointe, etc.   This is the problem with higher education.  It should not be a careerist institution.  It should be an institution focused on truth, both at home and elsewhere.  Elmira was anything but that. 

[No further response was received]