Sunday, April 28, 2019

Who Are the Terrorists?

My heart goes out to the victims of the synagogue shooting in San Diego and all those traumatized by this horrific event. As in Pittsburgh six months ago, the shooter was a white supremacist.
In the light of this, it is very hard for me to keep calm in the face of those who say undocumented immigrants and refugees are bringing crime and terrorism to the United States
Just ask yourself the question. How many shootings in synagogues, churches and mosques in the US, and how many Black churches burned, can be placed at the feet of undocumented immigrants? If the answer is zero, the focus inevitably turns to the very group that is arguing that immigrants are destroying the country.
If you look at our history, the vast majority of the anti-Semitic violence in this country, along with most of its racial and xenophobic violence, has been the product of white supremacists and those obsessed with preserving "the purity of the white race."
The very people trying to close our borders are the ones who pose the greatest danger.
Terrorism is not primarily a threat from abroad, it is a domestic phenomenon with roots deep in our history

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Big Issues in An Increasingly Unequal Society

In the last two years, here are the issues which people have come me to discuss in hope of finding solutions and sparking action
***Adjunct faculty at universities being exploited and forced to live below the poverty line.
***Immigrants being harassed and attacked, not only by ICE, but by police and random people in streets and stores
***Friends dying of heroin overdoses, in places ranging from upstate New York to Ohio to Staten Island
***Public housing being privatized and gentrification raising rents beyond people's capacity to pay
***Testing and computerized learning making schools a hell for students and teachers alike
***Racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia creating fear among people of color and vulnerable groups.
***Rising co pays and deductibles forcing people to impoverish themselves to get medical care
*** Total inaction on Climate Change even as storms do unprecedented damage in coastal and inland regions
The consensus of those who have come to me is that large number of people are being pushed to the wall while a small number of people get rich
Some people think it is time for an Uprising-- strikes, boycotts, occupations, to spark the implementation of policies which raise wages, lower rents, protect vulnerable groups from harassment, take dramatic action to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and make schools places where creativity and relationship building are welcome.
NOTE: Of the seven issues identified, only three can be placed primarily at the feet of the Trump Administration

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

When Grace Enters A Classroom: Thoughts on Daryl McDaniel's Visit to My Rock and Roll to Hip Hop Class

When Daryl Mc Daniels of RUN DMC came to Rock and Roll to Hip Hop on Friday, he spoke for a full hour to a combination of my class and 20 middle school students, interspersing his reflections on music and life with lyrics from his songs. He spoke about his childhood, his upbringing ( he was a catholic school kid who loved rock and superheroes) his elevation to fame, his struggles with alcoholism and suicide, his problems with hip hop artists who don’t see themselves as part of a long tradition. It may have been the single most moving talk I have heard in my years at Fordham. There were nearly 70 people in the room and it seemed as though DMC was speaking individually to everyone there, telling them that they each had unique abilities, but that they would have to be responsible for bringing those abilities to the surface.
He shared his pain as well as his accomplishments, telling his audience that every time they overcome tragedy, it gives them the opportunity to save someone’s life. My students were mesmerized. Many are still trying to understand how and why this happened. Why we were privileged to have ‘this take place at Fordham on a Friday afternoon?
What religious people call “Grace” emanated from Daryl McDaniel and enveloped all who heard them
His fame made us pay attention; his message made us better appreciate our own power to do good in the world
No one will soon forget this day

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Few Surprises in the Current College Admissions Scandal

No one who has studied College Admissions over the last 30 years should be surprised that wealthy, well connected people are willing to spend huge amounts of money to get their children into schools where their grades and SAT scores place them far below the school average. In most instances, this is done relatively openly by negotiating a large donation into the school, a process, pioneered by Duke University, that journalist Daniel Golden calls “Developmental Admissions.” Reserving a few Admissions slots for children of donors and prospective donors has become normal university behavior There are few top universities that would refuse the opportunity to admit a student with a mediocre record like Jared Kushner, whose father was willing to gave a 2.5 million donation. Harvard was the school that admitted him, but most other Ivy League schools would have done the same.
It is an also an open secret that even larger numbers of slots at top universities are reserved for students who are expected to donate to the school themselves because they are likely to go into careers in finance. This is why every Ivy League school reserves at least 20 percent of their freshmen classes for recruited athletes. It is not because any one will pay to attend the games they play, but because Ivy League athletes are prime recruits for hedge funds and Wall Street banks. One year, according to one of my student researchers, 9 graduating Princeton lacrosse players went straight to Merrill Lynch. Those athletes are much more likely to be big donors than the math or physics students with perfect SAT scores who go on to be research scientists
It would be tempting to see the parents and coaches who participated in the current Admissions scandal as outliers in an otherwise meritocratic system. But there is nothing meritocratic about college admissions in the USA. Being wealthy gives you a huge advantage.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Bronx: A Prose Poem

The Bronx. Where, for more than a hundred years, the world's immigrants and migrants come to make their mark

The Bronx. Different yet the same after a hundred years of ethnic succession. Whether  Irish, Jewish, Italian, African American, Puerto Rican, West Indian, Mexican, Dominican, West African, Albanian, or Bengladeshi- it's still the place where people bearing memories of suffering in a score of different places live crowded together and create music that inspires the world.

The Bronx. Like the Mississippi Delta, it provides continuous  proof of the proposition that those with the least often have the most to say, and that the arrogance of the rulers will be mocked by the lasting contributions  of those over whom they ruled

The Bronx. Proving that democracy, even when mocked in politics and economics, is validated in culture. And that the cultural capital of those who share is greater than the wealth of those who hoard

Monday, March 4, 2019

Donald Trump's Three R's: Ruthlessness, Racism and Riches

    When I learned from Michael Cohen’s testimony that Donald Trump threatened to sue Fordham to prevent them from releasing his grades and SAT scores, it not only reaffirmed my perception of Donald Trump’s character, it also gave me telling evidence of his chosen  path to success.

    Here is a person who constantly boasts of his intelligence and athletic ability who goes crazy at the thought of anyone researching whether his college record matches his rhetoric 

      As someone who is the same age as Donald Trump, attended similar colleges, and likes to think of himself as a scholar athlete, I find Mr Trump’s indignation both amusing and revealing. Anyone who knows how to use Google can find evidence of my athletic career at Columbia, the fellowships I received or the academic awards I earned. You don’t have to ask Columbia for that information, it’s all there on the internet.  By contrast, a Google  search of Mr Trump’s  college years will find no evidence of academic or athletic success. What’s going on? 

         That someone  whose record displays a modest level of athletic and academic success  ends up as a professor and the one whose record is shrouded in myth, if not outright fabrication, ends up being President is a telling commentary on where our country is at at this historical moment. 

       Although I have an extremely happy life and have  no  desire to trade places with Mr Trump, the comparison does lead me to examine what traits he possesses that helped elevate him to his current exalted position- traits that I seem to lack

        And I’ve come up with three—Ruthlessness, Racism and Riches.  First ruthlessness. In ways that I could never imagine, Mr. Trump was able to betray friends, stiff creditors, and destroy rivals without a moments grief. No conscience, no consequences, no limits. Then there was racism, institutionalized in the way his family companies did business during his formative years,  in his private discourse, and his ability to mobilize xenophobia and white supremacy to advance his ambitions. And finally there were riches, the hundreds of millions of dollars his father used to bail him out when his businesses failed

     Because of the three R’s, Donald Trump could have a mediocre college record, hide it behind lies, deception and threats, and still rise to the highest office in the land, 

      There is a lesson here for the nation’s young people, but not one many of us would want them to learn

Saturday, February 23, 2019

When Bobby Sanabria Turned Fordham Into An Extension of the Bronx

Dear Sara,. Eric and Nathan

(Representing the Music Department and Latin American and Latino Studies)

 I want to thank you for helping transform Fordham into an extension of the Bronx yesterday. I have rarely been so moved a series of events as I was by Bobby Sanabria's master class and performance yesterday. For many years, I have struggled to think up ways to get our students and faculty to learn about, appreciate, and immerse themselves in the cultural traditions of the communities surrounding our Rose Hill Campus. Bobby Sanabria brought that dream to life yesterday with brilliance, historical wisdom and academic rigor. And he got Fordham students, many of whom came from relatively sheltered backgrounds, dancing, singing, chanting and clapping in clave! Just incredible. But even more important was the experience of affirmation his performance gave to the many veteran LatinX faculty and staff at Fordham, who have done so much for a University that  has rarely embraced their culture and history. They were out in force last night and to see the joy they felt in seeing so many people respond to a brilliant performance of musical traditions they hold dear to their heart was a beautiful thing.  And the dancing! When did you ever see 200 people in the McGinley Center Ballroom, of every age, race and cultural tradition, dance merengue for 20 straight minutes?

For one day at least, with your help, Bobby Sanabria turned Fordham into an extension of the Bronx! Fear was replaced with joy, indifference was replaced with enlightenment, a new community was built, and memories were created which may last a lifetime. I have been at Fordham for 48 years. Never have I been part of a day of musical and cultural creativity at Fordham more inspiring than this

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We need to do this more often. We need to make it an integral part of the culture of this great institution.