A response, a personal realization, a haiku
The first time I had an Op-Ed piece published, I was a junior in High School. I criticized Ronald Reagan for saying that prayer should be allowed in public schools. I received at least one middle-of-the-night phone call--keep in mind that I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time (and my parents made me take the call, assuring me that it would make me tougher)--eviscerating me. The reaction to my recent Op-Ed in the Strib played out mostly on-line. I have to confess that I have not read in detail every comment I received. In my mind, the playing field isn't equal. I signed my Op-Ed, and in doing so, wrote something that was much more modulated and restrained than I might have written if I could be assured anonymity. People who provide on-line commentary do not have to provide their names, and are hence freer than I to say more outrageous things than they might say face-to-face. I'm not complaining. In fact, I would argue that this aspect of publishing an Op-Ed is very good. It makes a person think very carefully about their words, as they will be forever associated with their name. I believe in moderation.
(Sidebar: I am a little miffed that the Strib chose to identify me as "A Professor at the University of Minnesota." Those who submit Op-Eds are required to give a profession. I listed my profession simply as "professor," with no affiliation. Thanks to Sitemeter.com, I know that someone from the Strib visited my website the week before my Op-Ed was published, presumably to determine my affiliation. Their choice to list me as "Professor at the University of Minnesota" implies that I had signed my Op-Ed that way, and that I was somehow trying to use my affiliation as a credential. I had no such intention. I am by no means ashamed of my affiliation with the U of M, but my status as a faculty member in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences doesn't inform my views about corporate responsibilities and GLBT rights at all. I was a GLBT activist long before I was a scientist. The courses I teach--phonetics, speech science, phonological disorders, the physics and biology of spoken language--are about as far away from the topic of the Op-Ed as they can be.)
Thanks to some people who have written me personal E-Mails (and have signed their names), I understand that one of the comments to the Op-Ed was that a Target boycott takes the focus in this election season off of the economy and onto gay rights. I agree that the economy is a huge focus. It weighs on all of our minds. My partner, who works in manufacturing, was unemployed for over a year. I know what it means to take a hit. As director of graduate studies, I was responsible for the well-being of three cohorts of speech-language pathology and audiology students. I sweated every year until they all had jobs (or, in this case, until my term was up!). I have just as strong an interest in the economy improving as does the next guy or gal. As I said in my Op-Ed, I do think that issues related to human rights can trump all others in some cases.
Still, if we want to talk purely about economics and not about civil rights, I'm happy to do so. Consider the following: By entering the political arena as aggressively as they have, Target has made all consumers gun-shy. Target was the shining star of 'pro-gay' corporations, and they contributed to a group that supports a virulently anti-gay politician.
(Sidebar2: This isn't merely about gay marriage, this is about someone who is allied with a group that calls the execution of GLBT people justified. This is a person who wanted to withdraw funds from an HIV prevention program because its materials were sexually explicit.)
(Sidebar3: How can we prevent HIV--a sexually transmitted disease--unless we talk about the mechanics of its transmission? I personally am not nuts about seeing anti-meth posters that show people with no teeth and rotting skin, but that kind of explicit imagery is needed to keep people off of meth. We have to think of the greater good in these cases. Supporting sexually explicit HIV prevention materials is good if it, well, prevents HIV.)
If a supposedly pro-gay corporation like Target can make this kind of misstep, then who's to say that other places we shop--Mills Fleet Farm, Rainbow, Aldi, etc.--won't? Even if we take Target's explanation at face value and assume that their mistake was due to them improperly vetting MNForward, how can we know that other corporations won't make similar mistakes? Target's misstep has, in effect, dampened consumer confidence. We typically think of consumer confidence as it relates to the people's perception that they have enough money to spend. In the minds of real consumers, though, confidence is related to much more. It is related to confidence that the money is being spent properly. With corporations entering the political arena, consumer confidence is going to be very low until consumers can be sure that the money they spend is going to be used for activities that are consistent with their values and aspirations. If Target and others (and yes, there are MANY others--Best Buy, Red Wing Shoes, etc.--sorry, Target, but the bigger they are, the harder they fall) don't provide assurances that they won't make similar missteps in the future, then consumer confidence will continue to be low. This is not trivial. In our post-manufacturing society, consumer spending essentially drives our economy.
In short, activists' reactions to Target's ill-advised, poorly-vetted, and not-yet-atoned donation is all about the economy. It's about making consumers confident that the money they spend won't be spent on activities that contradict their values, and which have the potential to harm our common good.
A PERSONAL REALIZATION
This semester I have a leave of absence from teaching. This leave will not be a 'sit on the beach, eat bon-bon'-type leave (if such things even exist--come mid-September, I don't think there will be much beach-going in Minnesota). I have a textbook to finish, about 8 publications to write, three ongoing dissertations to advise, an NSF-funded grant to finish (including collecting data in three different languages and on two different continents), and a new grant project to get moving. My realization is that I really do work best when I have a very regimented schedule. I also enjoy the social interactions with students a whole lot. I don't think I'm unique in this respect. A whole lot of rhetoric gets thrown around about how professors just want to do their research and not work with students. I just don't see it.
As promised, a haiku:
A crisp, fall-like day
reminds me that fall is the
very best season