Saldana: ‘Keep Ken’ efforts admirable, provide tentative results

Unless you’ve been under a Shasta-sized rock (which plenty of you probably have been) or have been so caught up in the sporting world and Oregon’s recent success on the baseball diamond (this weekend notwithstanding), you’re aware of the major hoopla surrounding the University’s inaction over the contract renewal for political science instructor Ken DeBevoise. @@http://uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Ken*DeBevoise*@@

There was no shortage of coverage by the Emerald, covering all aspects of the situation: students were angry, the University was keeping quiet and all were wondering if Ken would stay or go.

A hunger strike was planned and it appeared that lines were drawn. The group of dissatisfied students issued their ultimatum: renewal by Tuesday the 29th or a handful of angry students would forgo eating until the University caved and renewed.

Last week’s editorial summed up why Ken DeBevoise was worth keeping. Students, both past and present, came out of the woodwork to voice their support of Ken and his classes. Reading what they had to say about Ken provided not only an insight into the importance they felt Ken brought to political science and teaching but also the impact he’s had on their lives.

I personally cannot speak to his ability as a teacher one way or the other. Despite taking quite more than my fair share of political science courses (even if only to procrastinate taking classes I actually needed) I have not taken a class with Ken.

Reading the outpouring of support, though, makes me wish I had.

The capabilities of Ken and his teaching though aren’t what I want to emphasize today. Instead, it is really special that a group of students banded together and were willing to starve to compel an institution into coming to the negotiation table.

In my short time here at the University, I’ve had teachers ranging from awful to excellent. And I’ve let each and every one of them know how I felt about their performance. As students, it also isn’t uncommon to talk to one another about the quality of our teachers. In fact, it’s par for the course.

Entire websites are devoted to subject of letting present and future students know when a professor stinks to high heaven or hits it out of the park. Whether they are strict with grading or curve anything that can be curved.

For most of us — myself included — it ends there. I’d like to think I’ve had more good than bad teachers during my college experience, but even for the best of them I cannot say with any certainty if I would be willing to starve myself for an hour, much less days, for them.

And yet, a tiny amount of people (I’ve seen more people fit into a coupe) were able to not only bring the University to the negotiations table but in fact get Ken a one-year renewal. As I’ve grown older so has my cynicism. Normally, I would’ve brushed off this hunger strike as nothing more than a group of naive students who don’t understand the way the world really works.

It’s not often I’m happy to be wrong, but here I’ll gladly accept it.

This victory may be tentative — after all, it is only just one more year. The fact they even got the one is impressive enough. Sure, I don’t believe for one second the College of Arts and Sciences are going to have any meaningful conversation on opening a Middle Eastern Studies program but that shouldn’t diminish what was accomplished.

Next spring, Ken may very well find himself in this same position. But I have a strong feeling he’ll have plenty of folks willing to go to bat for him, again.

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