Pandemic Pondering

COVID-19 poster child.

It’s here. It’s in the country’s least populated state. That also means it’s everywhere else, and there’s nowhere to hide! The official word went out to the campus community via email during Spring Break that all face-to-face classes will be replaced with remote/on-line instruction “wherever possible for as long as needed.” So, like it or not, Northwest College is officially an on-line institution of higher education. I suspect every school across the country will be the same by week’s end.

With schools closing or moving to “on-line” delivery systems, we educators have another opportunity presented to us—becoming “YouTube talent” and adding to the glut of “self-titled experts.”

I know it all feels a bit over-reactionary, but the mortality rates attributed to COVID-19 are piling up and that’s difficult to dismiss. I’m certainly going to heed the words of the medical profession over anything that spills out of Trump’s lying face or the lineup of stooges on Fox News.

Lately I’ve been wondering which flu/virus would win in a smack-down—say between today’s COVID-19 and 1968’s Hong Kong Flu. The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 left its mark of mortality on the globe (one million perished) yet, I don’t recall the country coming to the stand-still that it is today. Is the Corona Virus that much worse, or is all of this just the result of better and more specific science supported by better and more immediate communications—thus resulting in our heightened sensitivity to all things pandemic?  

As long as I’m here, is there such a thing as a generic flu anymore? They all seem to have names, especially the new ones that take the stage every year. They rise up like featured Pantone Colors of the Year.

At this point in time, one has to wonder what will it be like next year or the year after when another version of the flu or another virus strain rolls around. Might our cycles of life become permanently altered given the annual flu season that arrives every late winter? Might schools in the near future only have one semester of face-to-face classes while the spring semester moves to a flu-free, on-line format?

“You are at your very best when things are at their worst.”

—Jeff Bridges in “Starman”

A person from Billings (reportedly) walked into Powell’s local market, Blairs, and purchased all the toilet paper in the store. The owner/manager in the store was apparently happy to sell it to her despite leaving the local and regular customers wanting while perched on their porcelain thrones. Thanks Blairs, you capitalist fucks. Where is your commitment to community in that deal? I’ll be second-guessing myself in the future when planning a trip to Blair’s. 

What would the America of World War II—uncertain of a war’s outcome and forced to live with rationed goods and supplies—think of the self-serving-hoarders of 2020 threatened by a seasonal virus? I thought America was a little better when it came to looking after our fellow citizens.

For now, I look forward to that breaking story—because you know it will be reported—of a toilet-paper-hoarder found dead in their home from Corona Virus surrounded by 400-plus rolls of toilet paper.

Here’s a sharp and well-written related piece.

NWC’s Trapper Village West as a Recruitment Tool

Northwest College’s Trapper Village West is one mile from the main campus.

I attended the Northwest College Board of Trustees meeting on March 9 and listened to some well-reasoned and passionate presentations on the future of the college. The College’s plan to sell Trapper Village West (TVW) housing was indeed compelling, both from the standpoint of the presenters’ comments and the Board’s lack of response—probably not the most productive forum for a good two-way back-and-forth. That said, in defense of the facility, I have a few observations to add to the fray in this local hot topic.

I think a re-orientation approach to TVW would be well worth entertaining. Rather than looking at it from the view point of what advantages a sale would bring, I think perhaps the advantages of keeping the housing would be a reasonable focus. Once upon a time, Northwest College experimented with themed-housing. The results were inconclusive. But, back in that day my son lived in a learning community called the Art House and remembers that experience as his best-spent time in college. He cited common interests and a stimulating environment as worthy supplements to his formal learning experiences in the classrooms. I don’t know why these themed houses went away, but I assume cost to the student was a factor, along with some vague and/or unnecessary qualifying criteria.

I did some looking around on the internet to see how this concept exists at other institutions and found some thought-provoking information. I know that Northwest is different from other colleges in many ways but the two commonalities our school has with the others are substantial residential housing and contemporary student interests and concerns. Perhaps we could expand our view of what types of existing subgroups on our campus might find theme houses attractive.

I know that the student athletes at Northwest would jump at the chance to live together, and that is surely a common theme. But consider some others: science majors, gender neutral, women’s studies, international students, or students from the same town or region, etc. A common interest might be enough to recruit students for this opportunity, especially if there are financial incentives included. I don’t know what price point would work but I think an empty housing unit by comparison is good enough to consider discounting the cost.

So, at a bare minimum this effort might serve to buffer the maintenance costs of Trapper Village, and on the upside, it just might lead to a new and powerful recruiting tool, especially if it were presented as another cost-saving option to potential students offered by a school that’s already known for its low attending price.

Taking a pass on a school packing heat

You know he carried a gun to school too.

I knew the day would come. I’d been dreading it ever since I read about it in the newspaper.

Back in 2018, the Cody, Wyoming School District passed a resolution allowing teachers and staff to possess firearms on school property—as a method of deterring potential mass shootings within the school district. I remember saying to myself back then, I’ll never set foot in their buildings if that’s the case.

I’ve never worked or wanted to work in an environment where employees are permitted to carry weapons. If my employer, Northwest College, were to adopt a similar policy as the Cody School District, my resignation would follow close behind the passing of such law, and without doubt many would rejoice. 

Some might say that I’ve already been in situations where someone was carrying a weapon and I didn’t know it. That’s an ugly truth I try not to think about, but if I see someone with a weapon or know they have a weapon—whether concealed or open carry—I clear out. If I’m in a supermarket with a trolly full of groceries and see someone carrying a weapon in the same location, I’m gone—leaving the cart and vacating the premises.

And, yes, I’m aware that I could be shot dead on the gun-free campus of Northwest College by a bad guy (or good guy) carrying a gun. Despite that, sooner or later we all find ourselves in a situations where we’ve reached a boundary that we’re not willing to cross over.

One could say that carrying a gun is a freedom, but isn’t it also a freedom in a person choosing to avoid—what they consider to be—a potentially dangerous situation?

Recently, an email went out to various faculty on campus asking for participation in the Cody Job Fair at the high school. I ignored it, hoping a  sufficient number of faculty would volunteer. However, my supervisor received a call asking if there were any from our area that would be interested in going. As a result, I was approached and ask if I could attend.

Perhaps I could have fabricated some innocuous excuse for not going, but I felt it was important to be honest in declining the offer to go. I’m unsure if my supervisor shared my explanation with anyone higher in the chain of command. It doesn’t really matter. I’m just thankful to have a job that allows me to decline off-campus events where fellow educators are packing heat. 

Thinking back on it now, I suppose I would have attended if one of my superiors ordered me to do so, but if that were the case, drafting a resignation letter probably would have followed—assuming I didn’t get hit by a stray bullet accidentally discharged from the gun of a poorly-trained staffer at the job fair.

There’s not much significance in my stand here. It’s certainly nowhere in the league of a Rosa Parks or Tiananmen Square moment, but it certainly was an opportunity to abide by my principles. And, in knowing that I spoke my conscience gives me a bit more confidence that I will do the same in the future—regardless of the stakes.

More reading on this…

Northwest College… Meh

Looking down on Northwest College’s library and decaying carillon near the center of campus.

Starting out the new, spring semester, Northwest College students were notified upon their return that Einstein Brothers Bagel Shop—located in the Dewitt Student Center—would no longer be open on Saturdays and Sundays. Yet, one more blow of “nothing-to-do-here” for the students who reside on campus. And nowhere to really complain about it either.

In short, the campus is slowly transforming into a Monday-thru-Friday commuter campus that just happens to have dorms.

If you’re a campus resident who wants to hang around for the weekend, there’s little you can count on unless you go off campus—and Powell, Wyoming is hardly a town with a lot to offer. On campus, everything is pretty much locked down tight. And what little is available, you almost have to know the secret codes to access those spots. For example, if you want to get into Cabre Gym (even if you’re an athlete), you have to hope that someone is already in the building and is expecting you, or a door is already propped open by someone with a key (who has likely come and gone).

Check out those Friday hours. Yep, might as well get off campus before the sun goes down.

Art students who want to access the Art Department facilities should know that the only way to get in is through the back doors which are unlocked by a work-study student around 10:00 a.m. on the weekend mornings. Athletes should know this too since the gym and art facilities are in the same building.

The only thing you can count on as a campus resident is there will be a dining hall open as long as you get there during their hours of operation. That said, maybe in the not too distant future, the dining hall will close on the weekends and the students will be required to vacant the dorms on Fridays at 5:00 p.m. and return no earlier than 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

And, a student newspaper is another campus asset that has been long-gone in the name of fiscal accountability.

If you should somehow and miraculously get inside a building/classroom on the weekend, you’ll want to keep your coat on because the physical plant drops the room temperatures down to at least 65 degrees on the weekends (and lower depending on the building’s HVAC functionality). However, in using another “secret code,” you can press the “Manual On” button on a given room’s thermostat and it will display “occupied.” Keep on pressing that button and it will allow the room to stay occupied for up to 90 minutes.

On this Super Bowl Sunday, I came into one of the Macintosh labs that was sitting at 65 degrees and after 90 minutes it was up to 70 degrees. I have since “reoccupied” to ensure that it stays at the 70-degree mark.   

Saddest of all is that students don’t have much say any more in how things are around here. They can complain to some administrator’s office if they know who that is, but there’s nothing that truly empowers their complaint like a student newspaper reporting on such issues and holding the decision-makers to some degree of accountability. And, a student newspaper is another campus asset that has been long-gone in the name of fiscal accountability.

In summary, Northwest College has become a “meh” campus. It’s basically just another commuter, community college disguised as a “resident” campus because it has dorms. Yet, the nothing-to-do-on-the-weekend school is ironically 72 miles from Yellowstone’s East Gate, but that’s a topic for another day.

A Rogue Campaign for NWC

Here’s a couple drone videos I produced with Northwest College in mind. In particular, the ideal audience would be for those beyond Wyoming and Montana (where the majority of our students come from)—and especially for those to the farther outreaches that are east and south of our little campus.

My funky music via Garage Band.
Winter finally arrives at Northwest College in 2020.
A gorilla billboard for Interstate 80 just beyond Laramie.

Littering misdemeanors and/or felonies

A “prairie mattress” north of Powell, Wyoming.

Littering is littering, but when it shows up in those sublime places, I believe the crime is more severe.

Not far from the Powell Municipal Airport, I can across this gem… this “Wyoming Reststop.” When I come across such overt littering/dumping like this, I always try to picture the person, and of course the first image that comes to mind is some toothless White Trash dude and his cousin. But then, I start considering a couple of college-age students who just need to get out of their apartment ASAP. Regardless, I suspect whoever is guilty of this probably is rationalizing that someone will come along and pick it up and dispose of it properly. Nevertheless, if caught in this crime, I’d like to see these people serve some jail time and booked as a felony rather than a slap-on-the-hands misdemeanor.

I might have to go up there and be the one who removes it knowing that whoever did this is likely from my home town—and God forbid I know them. So, shame on you, Powell, shame on you Wyoming for such ugliness to curse your sublime landscapes.

Everyday Dissidence: Reboot

“You are in a continuous cycle of renewal, where all you comprehend doesn’t stay unchanged for long.” 

Steven Redhead, Life Is a Dance
Drone image of Sheep Mountain Anticline near Greybull, Wyoming

This is the first post on my revamped blog. Perhaps you’ve visited the original site at everydaydissidence.blogspot.com. If so, you’ll find that all my older posts from blogger will eventually be migrated over to this site (so no content is lost), and I’ll be adding new content as well—hopefully on a more regular basis.

My Air Disaster Nightmares

Final Approach at San Diego.

The recent controversy and mystery involving the safety of the Boeing 737 Max jetliners had me thinking the other day. I’m unsure how many years it’s been happening, but if there has been one reoccurring dream in my life, it has to do with plane crashes—big plane crashes.

These nightmares of aircraft disasters are never the same. Sometimes I’m in the plane, other times I watch one go down just over the horizon and then see the bright light of the explosion just above the tree line with a big plume of smoke rising after. When I’m in the plane, there’s never any question about what is going to happen. A wing or engine becomes detached and the plane will slowly roll over into an inverted nosedive. I don’t recall ever hitting the ground in this scenario as I always seem to wake myself up.

I often wonder if these dreams are premonitions to something about my future, or are they simply a reference to my childhood—where I was always watching the planes fly over our house on their way to the Akron Municipal Airport—a little over a mile away. Often it appeared that the various overhead aircraft would barely clear the trees on Wirth Avenue (the last high point) before the airport. The Goodyear Blimp was a frequent overhead visitor in those days too.

I’m writing this now just in case I should perish in this way. Maybe someone will come across this writing and say, “See, he knew he would go this way!” Maybe I should have written this years ago. That said, it’s never felt as if my demise is certain in this particular manner either. 

For the record, I first flew on a plane in 1978—traveling from Columbus to Phoenix via TWA on their 727s and 707s back in the day, with a stopover in St. Louis—and have flown numerous times since. I always get a bit nervous a few days before getting on board, but once I’m in the plane and we are taxiing hard down the runway for takeoff, there’s no sense of fear. It’s just exciting and fascinating, especially if I have a window seat.

A Case Study in Higher Education Ambivalency

A small modification to NWC’s current logo.

While Northwest College wrestles with all things related to the problem of diminishing state funds and enrollment, several ideas are being tossed about the campus designed to offset these critical times of financial crisis. Almost every proposed solution has to do with cutting or merging positions by means of reorganizing or diluting in such a way that cutting and merging are facilitated.

Sadly, as we consider how to keep on doing what we’ve been doing with less, one idea that hasn’t received serious consideration (to my knowledge) is the idea of renaming/rebranding the college—a college with a name so ambiguous, so easily forgettable that it would never be missed.

The idea of “Northwest” in its name for the college came from a time when the school (or any of the other junior colleges) never looked beyond its own state’s borders—a time when the target population was mostly Wyoming based. But, as we know the times have changed, and relying on a student population that is Wyoming based is extremely short-sighted and fiscally irresponsible.

Think about it, “Northwest College.”

Is that in Washington somewhere?

No, it’s in Northwest Wyoming.

Anything else in the area that would be more unique, more recognizable in terms of association?

Well, there’s this place called Yellowstone National Park.

Is there any other institution of higher education using that moniker?

Nope.

This has innocently turned out to be a ripe textbook marketing-identity case study (or nightmare). The current school name is so timid regarding its location that when the college updated its logotype back in 2004, they added “Wyoming” underneath the school’s name. Might as well have attached the zip code too.

Even people in our own state often refer to us as “the college in Powell.” And, when they do use a name, they still get it wrong in saying “Northwest Community College.” Hell, one of my students used that old name in a short essay he wrote the other day.

Yellowstone College. It’s a slam dunk, a no-brainer, but you know, that would cost money in rebranding and whatever else associated with such a deliberate and obvious change. Nevermind that when the college moved it’s website and email address from www.northwestcollege.edu to www.nwc.edu, there was plenty of reprinting of various forms, letterheads and business cards to keep our printshop busy in the year that followed. Basically, we’ve gone through dress rehearsals like this before and barely blinked.

Saddest of all, the college used to be called Northwest Community College up until 1989. As near as I can tell, sometime before that a movement evolved (clearly “movers and shakers”) and managed to get the school renamed to Northwest College (sans “Community”). Supposedly that made things a lot better. Talk about failed rebranding testimonies.

As gutting of the institution’s public relations office continues—from nine staffers in 2010, down to six in 2018, nothing would boost enrollment numbers more than a name associated with one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. What other institution of higher learning is more entitled given the East Entrance is just over 70 miles from our campus. Instead of explaining to the whole world where and what Northwest College is, Yellowstone College would wipe away all of that unnecessary, utilitarian, and no-one-is-listening-anyway language.

Nevertheless, like all of my ideas, this one is also a bit too bold for our milquetoast institution of higher learning. So, as long as we’re keeping “Northwest College,” perhaps we can at least poke a little fun at ourselves by printing up some of those bumper stickers that ask, “Where the Hell is Northwest College?”

Postscript: Along with the gutting of the public relations office, just over a year ago the financial crisis was also the rationale stated for the sinking of the student newspaper which did as much—if not more—to promote the college.