THE General Body at Syracuse University Needs to Take a Trust Break

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Photo of George Orwell, speaking into a BBC microphone.




If you make enough mistakes you’ll have a substantial life but only if you spot the mistakes. As THE General Body’s protest at Syracuse University seems to show no sign it will come to an end anytime soon I want to offer some ideas about living a life of good mistakes. I’m an expert in this area. My favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, once told me he was the world’s foremost authority on tooth fairies. I’m the genius of blunders. 




Make no mistake about it: I’m not saying THE General Body has blundered in its righteousness.  Far from it. Students occupying Crouse-Hinds Hall have done a profound service for the SU community by demanding better mental health services, ADA compliance on campus, more financial aid for our best minority students, an expansion of services for rape crisis, restoration of the women’s advocacy center, and a commitment to transparency and engagement by the university’s trustees and administration. THE General Body has also demanded other crucial things—clean energy investment, greater student input about the future direction of the university—in essence calling for a commitment to democracy. No blunders anywhere. 




But as the king of blunders its time for me to stick my neck out. To echo Kurt Vonnegut: I think there are plenty of hopeless ideas going around. One is that Kent Syverud, Chancellor of Syracuse University is unmindful of diversity. In truth he has committed his life to championing inclusion. He has defended affirmative action. Kent Syverud is not the enemy of inclusiveness he’s being made out to be. This is a careless mistake. 




The problem with careless mistakes is they become canonical. If THE General Body paints Chancellor Syverud as being opposed to campus diversity it can then create an alternative reality, one where no one in authority can be counted on. I remember the Sixties and the specious phrase: “don’t trust anyone over thirty”. 




Now the administration also has made mistakes. Placing a construction fence outside the protest? A blunder. Treating the occupation as merely a “negotiation” rather than an opportunity for education—a genuine campus wide “teach in” with faculty and administration and students— that was a blunder. Students have been made to feel like the enemy while presenting their demands. I for one would never have sent the university’s chief counsel out to meet the students “first thing”. Blunder blunder. 




But now what? THE General Body is invested in the idea that Chancellor Syverud is not trustworthy. I think this is a terrible mistake. “Ah,” you say, “but Grasshopper, haven’t you already said you’re the king of blunders? Why should you be heard at all?” 




You’ve got me. I make mistakes. Often I make them because of my passionate intensity. But I also know a good mistake depends upon thorough recognition. 




THE General Body needs to recognize three things straightaway: 1. Media notoriety is addictive but not always productive. 2. The Chancellor is likely more reliable and trustworthy than you think. 3. Since I said “likely” the advantage is yours. The Chancellor must now demonstrate he can be trusted. I believe you can count on him. Yes, I’m just a blundering writer. But I don’t think I’m making a mistake by saying THE General Body can count on Kent Syverud to faithfully communicate with students while pressing for reforms. If these developments do not transpire the blunder will be the administration’s and clearly observable. But for now I think THE General Body should decamp and give the Chancellor the chance to demonstrate his integrity. I think he has a lot more of it than he’s being given credit for. 











Jim Ferris, Laurie Clements Lambeth and Stephen Kuusisto Reading at Syracuse University

Disabilities as Ways of Knowing: A Series of Creative Writing Conversations: Part II

The Disability Experience and Poetic Verse

Reading by Poets Jim Ferris, Laurie Clements Lambeth, and Stephen Kuusisto

March 28, 2013
Reading 7:00 to 8:00 pm at Watson Theater
Reception and book signing from 8:00 to 9:00 pm at Light Work
SU Campus

Jim Ferris, Laurie Clements Lambeth and Stephen Kuusisto will be reading from a selection of their poetry, followed by a reception and book signing, for all members of the S.U. community. While this event is geared specifically to raise and support awareness among undergraduates, everyone is welcomed to participate in this exciting set of opportunities. This event will feature works from Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press) and launch Letters to Borges (Copper Canyon Press), where “best-selling memoirist Stephen Kuusisto uses the themes of travel, place, religion, music, art, and loneliness to explore the relationship between seeing, blindness, and being. In poems addressed to Jorge Luis Borges—another poet who lived with blindness—Kuusisto leverages seeing as negative capability, creating intimacy with deep imagination and uncommon perceptions” (from

American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation will be provided during both the reading and the reception/book signing. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be provided during the reading.

If you require accommodations or need information on parking for this event, please contact Radell Roberts at 443-4424 or

This event is made possible through the Co-Curricular Departmental Initiatives program within the Division of Student Affairs, and cosponsorship by the Disability Cultural Center, the Renée Crown University Honors Program, the Center on Human Policy, Disability Studies, the Burton Blatt Institute, the Dept. of Women’s and Gender Studies, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Slutzker Center for International Services, the Creative Writing Program, the Disability Law and Policy Program, the Disability Student Union, the Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee, and the Disability Law Society.

As aspects of variance and diversity, disability cultures and identities enrich the tapestry of life on and off the SU campus.


Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.,

Poetry is to me…

“Poetry is an artful plagiarism sometimes, where odd combinations of words influence our language and heightens our experience.”    – Stephen Kuusisto


Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges, is scheduled for release in October 2012.  As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.,


Some Poor Writing About Syracuse in the Chronicle of Higher Education

There's an article by Robin Wilson in the latest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Syracuse's Slide" that seems, at first glance, to be a substantive news article. In a nutshell Wilson's piece asserts that under the leadership of Chancellor Nancy Cantor, SU has declined academically, dropping some five points in a recent ranking by US News & World Report–a rating mechanism that is relatively non-transparent and which is highly contested within higher education. What's troubling about the article is it's reliance on the rhetorical device known by the Greeks as "pathos"–it asserts a decline is underway at one of the nation's premier universities, thereby raising the emotional temperature of the Agora. Pathos is an excellent tool and it's the one you want if you seek histrionics and readerly credulity. Wilson seems to have been duped by a minority group of faculty who are increasingly unhappy because they do not share the Chancellor's vision of "scholarship in action"–a plan to make the pursuit of higher education and engagement with local educational and civic organizations into a model for 21st century American colleges. That such a plan would have it's critics is hardly surprising. Certainly the histories of contention in higher education would make a generous, if unreadable book. But it's the pathos of the Chronicle piece I find most surprising and disappointing. Pathos is distinct from facts (logos) but it pretends to facts. Enter Wilson's reliance on a disgruntled minority–they assert that funding dollars drawn from tuition have gone up for the administration at the expense of teaching. That this is untrue and that the claims come from an unreliable source seems to have evaded Ms. Wilson who also seems to have failed to question the assertion that Syracuse University's bold embrace of community based scholarship and civic engagement is responsible for a five point drop in the US News index. There is no evidence for this, only pathos, and the latter belongs both to bad writing and to the evident angst of the oddly selective group of faculty who Wilson seems to have consulted. It's interesting that she didn't talk to Deans or faculty with endowed chairs or University Professorships. In fact the article is so unbalanced that one simply returns to pathos in the absence of careful reporting. One wonders who is really responsible for the claim that Nancy Cantor's administration engages in "divisive" leadership? I can attest that having taught at two Big Ten universities and at a first tier liberal arts college I've never and I mean never been a part of such a diverse and energized intellectual community before. All of which makes me wonder about the term "divisiveness"–that can't be code for saying we're concentrating too much on the poor, can it?