Partying Like It’s 999

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dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

I spent one day at Inismore in the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, Ireland in December 2009. The Aran Islands were occupied by the Romans when they attacked Ireland thousands of years ago. There is an area at Inismore called the Seven Churches where the Romans built Catholic churches on top of a sacred Celtic site. Stonework from both cultures is still apparent in the ruins.

Apparently most everyone who died in Inismore until about 1940 was buried in the surrounding graveyard.

Ireland was enduring one its coldest winters in recent history. We could not go the normal tourist destination of the fort so the tour guide took us to the site of the Seven Churches. The tour guide explained that the churches had functioned as a training facility for nuns and monks who then went in to Europe to establish universities. As a university professor it felt strange to stand where other professors had learned and worked 2000 years before.

I thought that the society in which I work as a university professor was vastly different than the society in which the nuns and monks worked. Those professors who trained as Inismore were after all dealing with educating a populace enduring feudalism supported by the church.

According to the less than venerable Wikipedia (and I apologize for this academic sin): Feudal systems in antique societies usually had the common feature of being ruled by an extremely wealthy and powerful upper class (nobles and aristocrats) with nearly complete legal power over the lives and well-being of the impoverished lower classes of laborers, craftsmen, service professionals, farmer workers, and bond-servants (individuals with debts so excessive that their only legal options were debtor’s prison, life as homeless “outlaws,” or service to the upper class as serfs or house servants).

The feudal upper classes were not subject to the same set of laws as the lower classes. Thus one of the basic criteria for categorizing a society feudalistic or neofeudalistic might be simply that its laws and customs are designed to best serve the landed and wealthy while offering substantially lesser legal protections to the landless and working classes and those in debt.

Such a system need not evolve out of any deliberate desire to oppress the working classes but rather may arise simply through a process of gradually changing the legal systems of a country to best serve the common interests of the upper classes (i.e. less taxation on unearned incomes and interest, more privileges for the wealthy than for the working class or landless, lighter penalties for committing “white collar” crimes, right to purchase expensive exemptions from wartime drafts, etc.).

Recognition of similarities between such ancient social systems and a given current society is the condition most likely to lead to accusations of neofeudalism, regardless of the ongoing controversy over what actually constitutes neofeudalism.

I strongly believe that I am working as a teacher in a state of neofeudalism and am beginning to wonder what role I play in educating the current populace.

Dr. Patricia Angley of the University of Central Florida recently notified faculty members that members of the Florida House of Representatives filed HB 1023, a variant of the anti-union legislation that was introduced a in Wisconsin. HB 1023 would eliminate collective bargaining at all public institutions where fewer than 50 percent of the members of the bargaining unit are union members.

• If the bill passes, unions (including UFF-UCF) would have until July 1 to achieve 50 percent membership.
• If they don’t achieve 50 percent membership by then, the union will be decertified.
• If a union’s decertified then the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was negotiated between the university and the union becomes null and void.

Why does this matter to you?

• The CBA protects and governs conditions of your employment at UCF. Without a CBA, you might lose tenure, promotion, paid parental leave, sabbaticals, evaluation procedures, TIP, RIA, And SOTL, copyright and patent rights, and protections from arbitrary or discriminatory discipline and dismissal, to name just a few. These are all contained in our current CBA.
• The CBA also grants you the right to file a grievance if any of these policies have been violated.
• If UFF is decertified, the CBA will be null and void. The continuation of its employment protections will be solely at the whim of the administration. While we are currently benefiting from collegial conversations with our enlightened Provost and several of his staff, we also prefer to have our rights protected in writing.

Losing a CBA would nullify the differences among full-time and adjunct faculty since adjunct faculty have none of the rights described by Dr. Angley in her bullet list. I do not think this would be beneficial to the university even if the bill might bring full time faculty’s attention to adjunct concerns. Such union busting bills make it less likely faculty members will be able to educate students when teaching in a threatening atmosphere.

Proponents of the bill question why faculty members should have more rights than someone working in the private sector. I argue that those working in the private sector should have the same rights as faculty members. Reducing employment benefits to the lowest common denominator sets up a state of neofeudalism that serves mainly to benefit a minority of members of the upper class. This is an ugly state of affairs and attitude best demonstrated by the poet Zyskandar A. Jaimot from Orlando, Florida who died on the evening of March 30, 2010. The banana republic he describes is similar to the neofeudalism the Florida House of Representatives House Bill 1023 would help to create.

The Nutritive and Therapeutic Uses of the Banana
(A treatise in horticulture funded by the United Fruit Company)

And I was serving tropical drinks
In that posh cafe
quenching arrogant souls
perfumed against the heat
all of us dying by degrees.
And in you walked
your school years past
full of private boarding snobberies
where hired help tended
only the best cloistered gardens
camouflaging whispers
uttered by selfish tongues
cultured with proper generations of money.
And I was serving tropical drinks
quenching arrogant souls
when you told me in that fashionable cafe
during the passing of a happy-hour
your boyhood recollections
of Central America’s bountiful harvests
all those “Great White Ships”
of your dear father’s fleet
and the power
of true Yanqui dollar diplomacy.
Gathering fruit from a continent’s loins
your elegant arm outstretched
beckoning me to refill your glass
you said watching dark-skinned natives
carrying circumcised limbs
of banana trees up those rotting planks
deposited in the bleeding maw
of America’s dark hold —was difficult.
And all the while
I was serving tropical drinks
perfumed against the truth
wondering about natives losing their colour
bleached away by a benevolent company
planting wreaths of pure pain
as you solemnly explained how one poor fellow
stung by a tiny green snake
dropped his precious cargo.
Sliding in death — down that walkway You plopped another oyster
of grey remorse into your mouth devouring it like all the others
harvested without thought to feed only appetite
as you told me you would never forget that sight
full of imported rum
and the fresh snapped spines of bitter lime
in that fashionable cafe
all of us dying by degrees
patronized by your family’s yellowing wealth
passing a life of supposed happy hours
as you confessed to me it was such a pity
such a dreadful pity
about those poor fellows dying by degrees
and to charge this brief afternoon’s penance
to your chilling account of privilege. http://www.thehypertexts.com/zyskandar_jaimot_poet_poetry_picture_bio.htm

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1 Comments

  1. Thank you for using my late husbands’ work in your essay. We were friends of a member of the Forbes family, who directly benifited from the banana trade,and to whom the poem was dedicated.

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