Tag Archives: university of arkansas

Save the Critical Thinkers!

UAFMy new office is in the heart of Seaver College on the Pepperdine University campus, and after close to a decade in a law school setting it is interesting to be around undergraduate students on a daily basis.  This has led me down memory lane.

I earned my undergraduate degree a full quarter century ago at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  My specific bachelor’s degree was in secondary education, but I took more history classes than any other subject, and my favorite was an upper-division course titled “History of the American Indian” with Dr. Elliott West.  I never carried on a personal conversation with Dr. West but have often declared him as my favorite professor of all time.  As proof, I recall showing up to class one day to discover a sign on the door informing us that class had been canceled — and feeling disappointment.  Even then I realized that any professor who was good enough to cause a college student to be disappointed when class was canceled was something special.

Dr. West was a brilliant scholar who knew his stuff, but he was also an engaging and entertaining lecturer who kept us on the edge of our seats eager to hear what he had to say.  One of his unique approaches was to flat out lie.  That’s right, lie.  Dr. West would intersperse his lectures with outlandish statements that sometimes took us a second to realize were outlandish statements, which had the beautiful effect of keeping our slippery attention.

He told us that he had formerly used that technique with freshmen but abandoned it after one occasion when he was explaining how President Lincoln used to wander around Washington wearing a negligee when a freshman finally raised his hand at the back of the room.  Relieved, Dr. West called on the student who then asked, “How do you spell negligee?”

Given today’s never-ending avalanche of information via social media and news outlets more interested in viewers than objectivity, it makes my brain hurt to wonder how many lies we believe each day without batting an eye.

Critical thinking is an endangered species.  I may not have time to verify everything I hear in this Information Age, but I can sure commit to not believing everything.  I learned that in college.  

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See. Respect. Listen. Love.

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When Hurricane Katrina flooded our one-story house in 2005, it claimed treasured and irreplaceable items such as our wedding album and family videos while graciously sparing the crap in the attic that was there because we didn’t want it in the first place.  Gee, thanks.  My revenge came from unwittingly sparing a few boxes of personal mementos in my apparently waterproof office simply because we didn’t have room in the house.  I do my best work by accident.

Included in those mementos, believe it or not, was a college research paper that is now a quarter-century old, presented to Dr. Willard Gatewood at the University of Arkansas in 1991 and titled, “Arkansas Democrats in the Presidential Election of 1928.”  That paper was painstakingly typed on an actual typewriter (yes, boys and girls, a typewriter) and placed in a transparent plastic sleeve with a white binder with my social security number (ID number at the time!) emblazoned under my name on the cover page.  I kept the paper because I was proud of it and have a tiny problem throwing things away.

I remembered that paper last week and had to go for a trip down memory lane.

I don’t think I’m to blame for watching CNN last Thursday when I saw Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump laugh at each other’s jokes the day after trading verbal sucker punches and refusing to shake hands in their final debate.  Curiosity got the best of me.  It turned out that our nation’s top presidential candidates were at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual event hosted by the Archbishop of New York to raise money for needy children, and traditionally the last time presidential candidates share a stage prior to the election every four years.

It was the reference to Al Smith that led me to turn a closet upside down to find that old research paper.

Governor Al Smith of New York was the first Catholic to lead a major party ticket in a presidential election when nominated by the Democratic Party in 1928.  Smith chose Senator Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas as his running mate, the first southerner for a major party in that role since the Civil War, and Arkansas faced a dilemma: The heavily Democratic state had one of its own on the ticket, but Smith’s Catholicism was wildly unpopular across the state.  As a result, Protestant ministers in particular led anti-Smith campaigns that allowed the small contingent of Arkansas Republicans to pull up an easy chair while the Democrats worked both sides of the campaign.

In the end, the Smith-Robinson ticket still carried Arkansas and a handful of other states in the Solid South, but Herbert Hoover won the election in a landslide.  And then the stock market crashed, followed by a great depression and second world war and so on and so forth until I wrote a research paper that I can’t seem to throw away.

Today, it is hard to imagine passionate opposition to a presidential candidate simply because s/he is Catholic.  But it happened.  I wonder what research papers will be written by twenty-year-old students about the Election of 2016 decades down the road?

As Hillary Clinton closed her speech at the Al Smith Dinner, she reflected:

And when I think about what Al Smith went through it’s important to just reflect how groundbreaking it was for him, a Catholic, to be my party’s nominee for president.  Don’t forget – school boards sent home letters with children saying that if Al Smith is elected president you will not be allowed to have or read a Bible.  Voters were told that he would annul Protestant marriages.  And I saw a story recently that said people even claimed the Holland Tunnel was a secret passageway to connect Rome and America, to help the Pope rule our country. Those appeals, appeals to fear and division, can cause us to treat each other as the Other.  Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other. And certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as ourselves.

 

Be Patient

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When my family watched reruns of Adventures of Superman in my childhood years, I never dreamed that I would one day be walking the halls of The Daily Planet (Los Angeles City Hall) looking all Lex Luthory, but thanks to the gracious invitation of a Pepperdine alum on the staff of the Los Angeles City Attorney, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel discussing “servant leadership” at City Hall last Thursday.

Given the topic, representing Pepperdine on the panel made sense, but when the two other panelists were introduced it was apparent that on a personal level I was in line for the bronze medal. I went first and did not say or do anything particularly embarrassing. Then, Faye Washington, L.A. legend and President and CEO of YWCA Greater Los Angeles was spectacular. Finally, and last by request, Managing Assistant City Attorney, Anne Haley, spoke and took my breath away.

Anne spoke only of her father, George Haley, who passed away only a month ago at the age of 89. It was the first time since his passing that Anne spoke publicly of her father’s remarkable life.

George Haley was born in Tennessee but raised in my home state of Arkansas. He served in World War II and then attended Morehouse College alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. Although he could have attended Harvard Law School after college, he chose to be one of the first African-American students to attend the University of Arkansas when he enrolled at the law school in 1949. His experience was terrible.

Haley was required to study alone in a basement office that became popularly known as the “noose room” after classmates left a noose hanging for Haley one memorable afternoon. In spite of the cruel treatment, Haley went on to excel academically and in so doing changed the attitudes of many in the law school.

Haley moved to Kansas following law school where he worked on the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case with Thurgood Marshall. He worked in politics at the state and national level, including roles under five U.S. presidents that culminated in his service as the U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia in West Africa.

You must understand the significance, for you see George’s older brother was Alex Haley, who famously won a Pulitzer Prize for Roots, the story of a slave brought to Colonial America from the very nation to which George Haley traveled to serve as the official representative of the United States.

After the panel, Ms. Haley gave me her card, and I pledged to move heaven and earth to provide an opportunity to tell her father’s story to our law students. She also gave me a copy of an article that her Uncle Alex published in Reader’s Digest in March 1963 titled, “The Man Who Wouldn’t Quit,” about her father’s experience as a law student in Arkansas, published just months before Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington, D.C. (I am thankful to say that the article is available online HERE.) When I arrived home that evening, I read the article in full to my wife and youngest daughter and her best friend, Katie. I was moved beyond words.

This experience and story struck close to home both literally and figuratively and stirred many thoughts and emotions inside me. I still see so many hateful divisions in the world and yet am inspired by a young man’s decision sixty-six years ago to willingly put his life and future on the line to heal such deep hatred—and who didn’t let the hatred win.

At a key point in the story, Haley’s father advised him, “Be patient with them.” That is what motivated George Haley to be The Man Who Wouldn’t Quit. That is a lesson I need to hear over and over again.