Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The tearful joy of victory

It did not take me long to break my pledge to post every week. But I've been busy doing something I'm proud of -- and learning a lesson along the way.

I'm a member of the University of Missouri Faculty Council.  We have two types of full-time faculty here. Traditionally, university faculty are either tenured or striving to become tenured.  A growing number, however, work under annual or three -ear contracts.

The rules that govern the university say only tenured/tenure track faculty can serve on Faculty Council and vote on university-wide issues. Since the staff have their own council, this left the 700 or so "NTT" (non-tenure track) professors out in the cold.

Six years ago, I was elected to council because the School of Journalism doesn't pay much attention to that divide.  More than half of our professors are professionals who turned professor without the benefit of a Ph.D.  They are all just colleagues to us, so we thought nothing when we elected a senior professional to the council.

The council balked and forced us back to our smaller pool of "T/TT" professors -- which eventually led to me.

From the beginning, I thought the professorial split was unfair.  I brought up the inequity whenever I could.  When I became a council officer a few years ago, I began to seriously work to change the rules.

For two years, we agonized over how to word the proposal.  Then we spent the past two months hearing traditionalists fret that the NTT would take away their tenure and that the proposal would damage the faculty's ability to oversee curriculum. I, in turn, argued passionately that this was an issue of fairness among those who should have the intelligence to fully understand the civil rights.

A week ago, the votes were finally in: 65% for enfranchisement, 35% against.

The morning the vote totals were to be released, I did everything I could to avoid opening my email.  When I finally did and saw the victory, I learned that lesson I mentioned.

I wept.

I've covered dozens of elections over the year and, like most journalist, smirked when the victors broke down in tears.  It made good photos, but seemed a bit silly for grown men and women to get that emotional over a ballot.

Then there were tears in my own eyes. The emotion I could never understand, let alone explain, was crystal clear.

I worked hard for this issue. I believed in it. And I went to bed with the sinking feeling that my efforts were for naught.

Late in life I learned the traumatic truth of democracy.  While the majority decides, the prospect of being among the losing minority is very real. The process of civic persuasion is so trying that you can see it on the faces of the victors.

And so I wept.

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