TPFKARLH: The Professor Formerly Known as R.L. Hughes

I am protesting. I am not wearing a T-shirt. I am not adding an X to my name. I am not writing my name in all small letters or wearing a black arm band (but I wish that I had thought of all those brilliant forms of protest!). Instead, while recently listening to “Purple Rain,” I decided to follow Prince Rogers’ lead. My new name is the symbol ….. Folks can now refer to me as TPFKARLH.

You may recall that, in 1993, Prince charged that Warner Bros. exercised too much control over his music, so he changed his name to a symbol. I have contemplated for quite some while how to protest a whole lotta stuff. In a sense I am seeking atonement for all of the stuff that I said about myself in my tenure dossier. Yes, I must come clean. I talked about myself for 50 pages, and I am secretly hoping that no one from my old neighborhood ever finds out. I will be on everyone’s list. We dissed folks who bragged about themselves. In my neighborhood, we lived by the mantra from a sports figure, “If you have to tell people who you is, then you probably ain’t.” Right now, the symbol is appropriate, because, for 50 pages, I talked about “ME.”

I am also protesting inaction. In particular I am disappointed by whatever it is that turns perfectly fine, smart, and interesting professors into nervous, babbling, scared, wide-eyed forest animals, who would do anything in order to “get there.” Please don’t contemplate where “getting there” might be, because I am not sure that I know. However, we sometimes sell ourselves like streetwalkers or non-motorized garden utensils in order to make it to that land called “there.” Fifty pages about ME demonstrates that I was vulnerable to the trafficking. I am more upset about how this sort of “academic trafficking” translates into how we mentor students, and what it could possibly turn them into: even wider eyed forest animals.

We talk voraciously about academic freedom; however, when they speak up, oftentimes their true and deliberate voices and ideas are silenced by the seasoned voice of “reason,” rationality, and empiricism. “Support your evidence through the extent literature” is what they hear. That’s cool to some extent, but what if they actually have an opinion or theory, based on practice or experience, an opinion that we can actually interrogate in the classroom. In fact, I know two colleagues who actually assign coursework where students create their own theories. The results are nothing less than brilliant. While I know that sometimes new students … and old faculty can be opinionated, I still think there is a need for open and honest discussion and of course “troubling” and “interrogating” discourse. After all, that is where theory comes from—questioning and interrogating the data. And, you don’t ALWAYS need an IRB to collect experiential or empirical data. Wonder whether Sir Isaac Newton or George Washington Carver were cleared by The Board?

Lastly, I am protesting because of a conversation with former students. They explained that they were “counseled” not to become trouble makers. The trouble? Asking too many questions and not getting along. They were counseled that to “just get along” meant be quiet. Don’t interrogate too much! I shudder the thought, even now, especially since we preach and proselytize that there IS diversity in thought. The “counselor” must have forgotten that most of our institutions “embrace” all forms of diversity. In fact, we claim that we embrace, celebrate, have commitments to, and support diversity—as long as its food and the conversation doesn’t make anyone too uneasy (see the sweet smell of diversity by Mark Giles, Miami, Ohio). And, oh yeah, please don’t forget, minority folks are encouraged to apply. Institutions of higher education are working hard to create a diverse work place. Just look at the last upper administrative hires on any institution of higher education’s website. Also look at the number of recent “facility” hires. What a clear message we continue to send to our publics.

I keep thinking that perhaps things will change if we encourage the creative spirit and uplift our students. They often see the same things that we see from a different frame of reference, and that is all right. In fact, that should be welcomed (discourse, you know). For instance, I couldn’t figure out how to design my new name. I just knew that love, peace and soul had to be involved (thank you Don Cornelius). I sent the graphics to one of my former students. He reinterpreted what I sent. He added meaning.