I’m one of Dr. John Herron’s bright-eyed environmental history students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. While I finish dissertation, I am teaching at a nearby community college during the school year. I’m also a working member of Ironworkers Local Union #10 and build bridges in the summer.
I’m sorry to read about how the forces of reaction in your state have affected your work and the once-safe haven you had at the university. I’m also very proud to see that you raised your head the way you have, and particularly in the balanced and measured, yet extraordinarily effective way you have.
As a Ironworker and union member, I have seen how sometimes we academics forget we are a part of a larger world. Much of the work we do really does affect that world, sometimes for years and decades after we have made a mark within our own circles. At the same time, we are so afraid of how even the mildest foray into the broader world will affect what we do in the institution. We fear one another, and are often more scared of the haircut we’ll get from across the hall than from other, more powerful critics. Just as you have gotten criticism from without and received the support from your colleagues at Madison, I also imagine that you have not been immune from a darker kind of criticism inside your own institution.
You have probably motivated more than one colleague of lesser status than yours at the University of Wisconsin to think more boldly about what they do, and, more importantly, what they can do. I think that as word of your fine essays on your blog spreads—as well as the important idea of the scholar as citizen—you will touch even more people willing to consider your points (and their outright rationality and reasonableness in a time of political, cultural, economic, and social viscera). Perhaps, some will even begin to develop their own.
In any case, as I approach Dissertation Judgment Day, I look forward to working with people motivated and inspired by your love for our discipline and for the institutions in which we are housed.
Your work has moved and inspired me in my studies, and scholarly and nonfiction work. I’m sure you hear this plenty. In the past, this has prevented me from stating my thoughts directly to you, as I have often thought to drop a note like this to you.
Now, I think, is a most important time to show you the support and encouragement you may need to continue with your scholarly work and with this new, very inspirational, and very humane direction.
My best wishes and thoughts during what must be a difficult and exciting time.
1717 Jarboe St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
“Like the sharp edge of a razor, the sages say, is the path to salvation. Narrow it is and difficult to tread.” –Katha-Upanishad, 3:14