From the Editor: “I’ll Tell It and Think It and Speak It and Breathe It”

By Aaron Barlow

I have no idea when I first heard “Lord Randall,” that old ballad from the Scottish lowlands: “Oh, where have you been, Lord Randall, my son? / Where have you been, my handsome young man?” It has always been part of my personal and cultural baggage. Not surprisingly, when I first heard Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” I was vaguely uneasy. It was fall 1963, and I wasn’t quite twelve; I didn’t really understand how a tune and even lyrics could be reimagined so blatantly: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? / Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?”

The decade that followed contained all of the turmoil imaged in Dylan’s song. It was a tough time, one of speaking out and being shot down, of cultural convulsions eventually calmed only by the soothing blanket of Ronald Reagan’s eighties. Through it all, the song took on new resonances as we cycled forward.

Today, American society may be drifting close to where we were fifty years ago, on the cusp of chaos and potential disaster. The gyre of which William Butler Yeats wrote may be bringing us to almost the same point, just slightly further out in the spiral. Soon, we may find ourselves involved in a cultural reimagining of a time long past, and I wonder if we are ready for it, any more than I was quite ready for it when I first heard that Dylan song.

Though we tend to imagine them linearly, education and time, like popular songs and other arts, are seen more usefully as spirals, coils returning to conjunction with pasts. Square and rectangular building blocks mostly lead to towers, and towers tend to fall; expanding circles, though they might lead us back to disaster, can also provide a much greater possibility of stability.

The problems today can seem like the problems of yesterday, and that can be scary. The antidote, the only path to anything resembling certainty, is learning and then teaching, taking advantage of the past: “I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it . . . / But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.” That’s our hope and, as educators, our mission.

This issue starts out with Clark G. Ross’s discussion of tenure. We think we all know what “tenure” means, but, in light of the Vergara v. California case, which deals with challenges to teacher tenure in K–12 education, we need to make sure we do. Robin Harper follows with a description of what it feels like to await a tenure decision. Sallie M. Cuffee then speaks to the problems of governance at predominantly black institutions. L. Lamar Nisly looks ahead, writing about his college’s attempt to make learning more central to the college experience. Jerry Harp follows with a consideration of “multivalence” in liberal arts education, a continuing concern. Jeffrey Beall cautions that we had better know more about “open access” before embracing it, and Kathleen Washburn advises us on staying safe on campus. In the online edition of this issue, John McNay describes how faculty activism can be successful in the broader community, and M. Stewart Lewis advises us on working with administrators, the good and the bad.

We on the faculty can no longer afford to speak only to one another on the issues of our institutions and our profession. We need to make our words and ideas clear to people far removed from the fabled groves of academe—as all of these writers try to do. As a profession, we know what needs saying, but we have never been good at speaking to the public. We are heading into a tough time again; we need to expand our audience and let everyone hear our songs.

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