Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Coffee on a Student-Centered Campus

Why are there faculty members
littering the hallway
in Boyden?
In many ways -- most ways, even -- my academic life is charmed. I define my own agenda for teaching and scholarship, with a lot of latitude (and longitude!) to teach what interests me and to teach creatively. This does not just mean teaching with and about coffee, but that is really a big part of it.

In some ways, though, my colleagues and I work in an environment that needlessly saps our strength. Since the English landed at a nearby rock in 1620, we have had about 105 governors, none of whom have been much interested in public higher education. The current generation of state legislators does include a few dozen who have attended public colleges, but they have not been able to steer the Commonwealth in the direction of responsible funding. So per-capita funding lags behind 48 or 49 of the other states in a typical year, causing students to pay more than they should while faculty and librarians receive less. But we love our learning and our teaching, so we do what we must, and we become New Englander enough to tighten our proverbial belts.

A younger Coffee Maven confronting the
BHE years before I was even
teaching about coffee. And my
 colleagues were at it years before that.
Still, every time our contracts are ready for renewal, we have dozens of bargaining sessions with political appointees who care not one whit about academic performance before coming to a belated and paltry settlement and some semblance of academic freedom.

And then ... then the real fun begins, because the bargaining teams operating on behalf of Miles Standish or whoever currently serves as governor do not let him (it's usually a him, though the her we had before Prince Romney was no better) know what they have agreed to, and we have to start all over again. Not in hammering out the details -- the governors do not care enough even to harass us on specifics -- but in simply making the case that we should have contracts.

It is embarrassing for all concerned and a testament to the disdain with which our students are viewed by public officials, but we do it. And sometimes it means we have to show up to work in matching t-shirts, and stage pickets or sit-ins -- just to keep the university going.

Today is such a time -- the 481st day we have worked without a settled contract, just two weeks before the next gubernatorial election, in which the incumbent is confident that voters simply do not care about this issue. Because we have work to do, we picket as we work -- writing lessons, grading papers, even holding office hours -- in the hallway of our well-appointed administrative building. 

And finally I get to the point of this post -- even the best buildings on our campus lack a decent coffee shop, so I brought coffee to this work-in. Our campus is publicly committed to sustainability and social justice and is currently exploring ways to be more student-focused (getting more out of our 168-hour/week faculty will not be easy), but the coffee situation reflects none of this. Even though hundreds of BSU students have studied coffee -- and more than 100 have even picked coffee, it is hard to find a decent cup on our campus. Unless I'm in the room, of course. 

As the Coffee Maven, I like to share the bounty that is fair-trade, organic coffee. Until we are able to do so systematically and routinely through campus cafes, I will be seen showing up to meetings -- or protests -- with a carafe (or 2 or 3) of coffee to share.
Students have worked with me to suggest better approaches, but so far we have not succeeded. I invite BSU community members to read more about the Ben Linder Café proposal (denied but not forgotten), to "like" it on Facebook, or to watch my TEDxBSU talk on a 2040 vision for ethical, sustainable coffee across the entire BSU campus.