My stance vis-a-vis the UMass Amherst administration’s decision to grant an honorary degree to President Bush’s ex-chief-of-staff, Andrew Card, was pre-established before the event was known. I was hired to interpret the graduate commencement ceremony at least a month before the decision about Card was announced.
I witnessed the swell of protest activity from a distance, observing. I did sign the petition, but my active participation was constrained by my paid role, by my work. Of course, I could have done many things, and probably could have “gotten away” with many things – but to do so would have compromised the deep commitment of professional interpreters to provide linguistic accessibility in the most impartial way possible.
Still – the challenge of how consumed some quality planning time between my teammate and me. We were fortunate to be aware of the scope of the planned protest and thus were able to strategize effectively. It so transpired, therefore, that my partner interpreted what she could make out of speech concerning Card, and I interpreted the protesters chanting. A satisfactory, ethical, and impartial arrangement. In fact, the protest was so loud and persistent that audience members watching the American Sign Language interpretation were probably the only ones to glean even a tiny bit of the content of the speech! An overcompensation, therefore, on behalf of professional duty.
Meanwhile, I must say that the moment of outburst was extraordinary. The “automatic” mode of interpreting everything I hear was well upon me, so the sound catapulted me into motion. I had to pause to assess what my teammate was doing (no need to duplicate)…when she shifted from the protest to the actual speech (physically walking over to the podium to be able to hear and – presumedly – read along with the speaker), I rose again to interpret the chants.
The discipline and coordination of the protestors was impressive. The administration reversed the order (as listed in the program book) of honorary degrees and everyone simply held their ground, waiting patiently and giving due respect to Tisato Kajiyama, a UMass alum and President of Kyusho University, Japan. As Provost Charlena Seymore began the announcement of the next degree, the silence in the Mullins Center was palpable. When she uttered Andrew Card’s name the place erupted. Noise exploded throughout and people burst out of their chairs waving banners and signs.
The video by Traprock on YouTube captures the somber mood of the event and the displeasure of graduate students and faculty. News coverage includes a photo of the audience dotted with yellow protest signs. An online petition garnered 1721 signatures (as of today), in addition to hundreds of physical signatures from on campus. Much of the organizing for the protest was done by the Northampton Committee To Stop the War in Iraq, which reports that at least 125 newspapers carried the story, a local television story aired a news segment (search for “Andrew Card”) which captures the visual moment of disruption and includes an interview clip from UMass Communication Department alumni Dr. Garnet Butchart, and also plugs the Traprock video.
UMass has other troubles, including a vote of no confidence from the faculty and a seriously disrespectful attitude toward negotiating a contract with graduate teaching assistants.
Daily News Summary for UMass Amherst, May 25, 2007:
Daily News Summary for May 25, 2007
The UMass Amherst faculty declared no confidence in the Board of Trustees and President Jack Wilson on Thursday in a 214-1 vote triggered by a proposed administrative reorganization and the announced departure of Chancellor John Lombardi next year. The resolution also called upon Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an independent commission to review the actions and make recommendations to improve the UMass system and raise the stature of the flagship Amherst campus. Wilson spoke at the meeting and apologized for the way in which the proposed changes have been communicated. Following the vote, spokesperson Libby DeVecchi said Wilson “takes the Amherst faculty’s message very seriously and will do everything that he can to rebuild their trust.” Trustees Chairman Stephen Tocco did not attend the meeting, but in a statement he expressed confidence in Wilson’s leadership. He said, “It is our goal to make the University of Massachusetts one of the very best public universities in the United States. I understand this involves change and sometimes change can seem difficult.” Related coverage includes a letter to Wilson from upset faculty, and a columnist who observes the local legislative delegation is angry because they learned of the news through press reports. (Globe, AP, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Republican, Gazette, Gazette, Recorder, 5/24-25/07)
A story on Andrew H. Card Jr., who is to receive an honorary degree today at the Graduate School Commencement, lays out what critics and supporters have been saying about his role in the administration of President George W. Bush. University officials say they intend to award the degree. An editorial says Card doesn’t deserve the honor and says it degrades the value of honorary degrees conferred by UMass. (Gazette, Republican, Metrowestdailynews.com, 5/25/07)
A column by Martin Miller, general manager at WFCR, says the station works hard to reflect the tastes of the community and listens to what people want for programming, even though some listeners are angry about recent changes in what the station broadcasts. (Gazette, 5/25/07)
A panel, including Madeleine Blais, journalism, discussed how the Internet is changing journalism last night in a meeting sponsored by the News Forum. The ongoing series is run by the journalism department at UMass Amherst. (Republican, 5/25/07; News Office release)