Jeff Melnick – Q&A
1) Why do you want to serve on the Executive Committee?
This is my 8th year at UMB. I am in my second term as graduate program director for American Studies, have served once as interim department chair, and twice as a member of the CPC for the College of Liberal Arts. These relatively “local” service commitments have made it clear to me that senior faculty need to commit themselves to fighting energetically and in a collective way against the attacks on campus live traveling under the banner of “budget crisis.” The economic challenges are real but the solutions are not predetermined or readymade. As an American Studies scholar whose work has always been engaged with the relationship that obtains between the “real” and the “representational” I know that rhetorical formations matter. Part of our work in the FSU is to make sure we’re doing the best job we can at communicating to the widest possible public how our work on campus matters to the health of the Commonwealth.
2) Given the local and national threats to unions, like the Janus decision, what would you do to strengthen the FSU?
While I certainly have ideas about how to strengthen the FSU, it strikes me that as a new member of the Executive Board my greatest contribution would be to serve as a good listener (and accurate reporter). As GPD in American Studies, I have some access to the concerns of graduate students and to the “strategic plans” of administrators (such as replacing an amazingly skilled and dedicated long-time member of the Grad Studies staff with a “customer relations management” platform called “Salesforce” And no, I am not creative enough to have invented that dystopian detail.) I have former students and dear friends who are K-12 classroom teachers in the Commonwealth. So my goal, in taking on this work is to try to understand what concerns we share across our various locals in order to best brainstorm strategies for scaling up our collective power.
3) What is your favorite campus memory?
Given that I am running for the Executive Board of FSU, it probably goes without saying that I am dedicated to planned, organized collective action. But I’m also a big supporter of spontaneous, meaningful collective action as well. So I’d have to say my favorite UMB moment has to do with the response that greeted two men who tried to spread a message of homophobic hate on campus last year under the cover of preaching scripture. I saw them trying to gather a crowd when I arrived on campus that day and had my usual complex feelings about whether to just ignore them or try to figure out a more direct response. I went off to my office hours and returned to the plaza a couple hours later to find them more or less surrounded by a large number of students, faculty, and staff. A table had been set-up by members of some campus office—I still don’t know which—to hand out rainbow stickers and pins. Students “followed their arrows” (as country singer Kacey Musgraves has put it)—some engaged thoughtfully, some chanted, some drummed. Faculty milled about, talking to students, joining chants, and so on. Just a great moment of UMB togetherness.