Sunday, April 10, 2011


The Budget in April (notes from the cemetery)

As spring break week winds down, it is such a warm and perfect Sunday that instead of going to church, I went on my bike to the church of the grass, the church of the sky.

There is much to think about: I have friends abroad and here, administrators and teachers, who are losing their jobs, and meanwhile, at AVC, we will have what I assume will be a contentious Board meeting on Monday, followed by what could be an equally-contentious all-campus staff meeting on Tuesday. We face class cuts, layoffs, salary reductions, and partial closures. Things will change, and most of it not for the better.

Yet in Yosemite (where I was earlier this week), the Western Redbud is in bloom.

Waterfalls flow in gushing white profusion and the same Steller’s Jays as always beg for crumbs outside of the Lodge cafeteria.

It made me think of a story I heard when I was in Poland this fast autumn. I met with somebody who had risked Siberian exile to defy the Communists, and for whom “solidarity” means not just a labor party or the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the very essence of humanity itself. He talked about the secret police, and his friends who disappeared, and he quoted a Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. She once said, “we are—each of us—the miracle of an alder tree. Many miracles in one, in fact: the miracle that the tree is reflected in the water, that the tree is backwards left to right, and the miracle that it grows there, year after year, crown down, and yet it never reaches bottom. The miracle of where the water comes from, where it goes, and the miracle of how vividly and permanently we can see it, even when we are far away.”

He said that for him, it was not the miracle that the Communists left (sooner or later, he said, even if it took hundreds of years, he knew they would), but that he and the people left behind had managed to make a new society so easily. Do they know who had collaborated, who had resisted? Of course. (He could also give me the full names of everybody in his family who disappeared in World War Two.) The important thing is that those who survived then turned and imagined what they wanted the new world to look like, and turned right around and began to build it.

True, AVC faces its worst budget reduction ever. What the next weeks will bring I am not sure anybody can predict.

Yet even so, I will stand with my students and friends, colleagues and deans, as we remind ourselves that the greatest thing we can do is to be sure the college remains open and that we teach well and truly as many students as we can fit into the rooms, the halls, the deep and sometimes wounded places in our hearts.

The only defeat will be to give up and fail to adapt. Indeed, under the most dire of the predictions, I have heard it asked, can the community colleges even survive at all?

The answer is yes. Yes we can survive.

Yes we will survive.

And, yes, in solidarity and hope, we must survive. The future generations of California expect and deserve nothing less.

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