Mitch Daniels Discernment Update

screen-shot-2013-01-20-at-1-05-13-pm.pngIt has been a while since my last blog, and a lot of things happened in my life.  I passed my preliminary examines, so I am now a candidate of my PhD program.  I went on a 5-day silent Buddhist retreat at Spirit Rock, a Quaker New Years Gathering, and another Quaker gathering that I helped organize, midwinter in the midwest.  Then – I turned 30.  Now I am back at Purdue, working on my dissertation.

I wanted to fill everyone in on my discernment on the conversation with President Daniels. Two Quakers suggested that I look into the policies of Gov. Daniels more before the meeting, to understand him and his policies. I started my Mitch Daniels investigation by listening to his audio book. I did this on the train to Washington DC, for the FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) public policy institute in November.

Daniels Audio Book 

Mitch Daniels’ audio book, Keeping the Republic, has made me more republican than I had ever been before.  I understood his side, though I don’t agree.  I see his core philosophies being embedded in the following paragraph:

“Americans who always thought that “public service” meant that the government works for them must now wonder if they had it wrong.  People who have salaries, benefits, and protections against layoffs that far exceed anything in the private sector are now issuing orders to them and making all kinds of choices for them: where and when they can build, what equipment they can add to their businesses, where their children can go to school, what kind of health insurance they must carry, what kind of credit card they may use, and so on. “ (p.47)

Two things I want to highlight on are: the entitlements of “public servants” and individual liberties.

Daniels sees a government employees should not be entitled to elite lifestyles at the taxpayer’s expense.  He sees the government worker’s role “rose from underpaid public servant to the position of a privileged elite” (p.39), stating that “the average public employee in the federal government earns on average $123,049 a year” (p.39); while “the typical worker” who pays the federal worker’s salary makes only $61,051.  (He sites Chris Edwards and a fact check that discredits this study can be found here). This ideology is behind his anti-union stance for governmental employees. I understand this thinking and I firmly disagree with it.  I see it lacking evidence, as the values are not correct, and it ignores the real value that governmental work provides.

When I was growing up, my father was an employee of the state.  He worked at a psych facility as a psych tech.  Although we did by no means live a lavish lifestyle, I grew up in a space of financial security, and we could go on vacations and had good health insurance. My dad said that the state gave him I-O-Us a few times when the state budget did not pass (it was California- they are not known for passing budgets on time), but the credit union still cashed the paycheck. Living in this type of household is a luxury in our modern economy. My family was not concerned about layoffs – I can say now- what a blessing. When we were older, he went back to school and got a better job. He now works as a lecturer at a private university, and is making probably three times as much as he did when I was growing up.

That is not the type of space Gov. Daniels’ plan would have created.  Though his thought is not about the lack of stability in the homes, he is fundamentally against governmental employees – like they are against all that is good in this nation.  He sees the world in a completely different way than I do.

The other thing is choice, and linking that to liberty and small government. In chapter 4 Daniels uses Elmer Kelton’s book The Time It Never Rained to describe his views on regulations.  The book is about a drought in West Texas in the 1950’s. The protagonist, Charlie Flagg, refused governmental assistance -“If you get to dependin’ on the government, the day’ll come when the damn federals will dictate everything you do.  Some desk clerk in Washington will decide where you live and where you work and what color toilet paper you wipe yourself with.  And you’ll be scared to say anything because they might cut you off of the tit.”  Daniels then goes on to put this fictional character in modern times, “Just imagine, for example, drought stricken Charlie’s reaction to the 2010 EPA rules that attempt to control the amount of dust farmers are permitted to create on their own lands.  Or his reaction to mandates that dictate how many gallons of water a toilet can flush or the type of light bulb one can buy.” (p.64) Daniels sees all benefits should come with personal choice, from health insurance plans that allows the individual to decide what type of medication to purchase and school vouchers, citing many stories and background for each.

There is even a picture of him in the book where he is riding a motorcycle in a parade without a helmet (legal) or glasses (illegal) – I assume to highlight his desire for small amount of government intervention.  However, he also mentions he is anti-choice when it comes to women’s rights. He has attempted to defund all Planned Parenthood because there are some that provide abortions.  This action seems to contradict his thoughts on personal liberty.

This is an interesting point of self-reflection.  What do I think about this self-liberty?  Well, I actually agree with some of his health care ideas.  I think a health care insurance plan should encourage you to spend less if you don’t need it.  So many people are over diagnosing in this country. If people were in charge of the way their money was being spent, I think they might think wisely. However, I am on a medication at the moment that needs the name brand, and so I would be concerned with someone not getting a generic brand just to try to save money – however, I don’t think that is my responsibility to make that level of choice for someone.

I must say though, I don’t know how I feel on personal liberties on everything.  I am very much for low flush toilets, and energy efficient light bulbs.  I was an energy consultant for two and a half years where I calculated the savings from such things.  I see the benefit to the earth. I consider it government’s role to set such guidelines to reduce energy waste. I love California’s policies on energy efficiency, and I wish more states would follow suit. An energy efficient light bulb can produce the same amount of light with lower wattage. If there are reasons like ambiance for a restaurant, I understand that, and the codes have such things built in.

Also, I am a “you better not tell me what to do with my body” kind of gal, very pro-choice.  Does someone feel the same way when they say “don’t tell me what kind of light bulbs to use”? In my worldview legislating a person’s vagina is much more inappropriate than legislating a person’s light bulbs.

As I see it, those two things – over entitled government workers and personal liberty have dictated a lot of Gov. Daniels philosophies on government.

My Time in DC

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As I mentioned above, I listened to his audio book on the way to FCNL policy institute in November. I realized Mitchell Daniels is very much loved by republicans, especially in Indiana. So when I got to D.C. I though the best argument for a Hoosier on the rational to reduce government pentagon spending would be to say it was in the name of “fiscal responsibility”, that we do not have a balanced budget, and the military is wasteful spending.  There has never even been an audit of pentagon spending, and the tax cuts should have ended.  I was actually all for completely falling off the “fiscal cliff,” allowing tax cuts to expire for everyone and the drastic spending cuts to take over.  This was FCNL’s plan, and I thought it made sense and would actually get us out of the budget deficit.  And that is the argument I made to the staffer of Congress representative Todd Rokita, and in the note I left a note for Senator Dan Coats. The staffer seemed to brush me off as transient to the state, since I was at Purdue and not a true Hoosier.

I can’t say I disagree with him.  I do not see myself living in Indiana much longer after I receive my diploma, and as I was going through the list on which participants were talking to which congress person, I saw people signed up to speak to the senators of my home state of California – Boxer and Feinstein who I first voted for.  I longed to talk to them.  I do not know if it is actually true, but I felt that they would listen to what I really wanted to say.

Upon reflection on the time in D.C., I realized I had spoke too much with my head and not enough with my heart.  My heart thinks military spending is wrong, because killing is wrong.  Killing in the name of freedom is wrong.  Humans are humans no mater what country they belong to.  If you think that it is the “terrorist” that must die, try putting yourself in the terrorist shoes. Military contracts that bring money to cities, that embed local economies is wrong. We do not need an economy that is rooted in violence.  Lets take those jobs and make a better world with them. Information here.

We need diplomacy to prevent war at all cost.  We need to be a nation that cares about our vets, and gives them, and all people, the help we all deserve.  I am interested in talking about the role of peace troops to prevent war- “What should the role of peace troops be?” “Should the UN prevented Rawanda when they had the chance?” … I think that these are the debates we should engage in as a country, and not “Should we stop financing war because of fiscal reasons.”  I am not an “ends justify the means” kind of gal.

My Discernment Now

Going to DC let me see that my heart was the important topic. I contacted Parker Palmer and sent him my blog. He has agreed to talk to me on the phone next Thursday. Yay!

I care about the ethical issues, but am now thinking that the most ethical issues were with the board of trustees and not Daniels. I am thinking of writing an op-ed at some point regarding the shift that has been happening with trustees through out the country, and also investigate the history. However, with Daniels I have realized that my main issue is his skepticism to global warming.  I am not the only one who is concerned. Daniels has vocalized his skepticism on TV  and said that the “ debate, so far, has been dominated by “experts” from the University of Hollywood and the P.C. Institute of Technology,” while giving a speech at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. This concerns me. As Bruggor, the author of the blog above, points out it might just be have been a political statement – but as a leader of a top university, I believe Daniels should be educated on the true debate.

As mentioned above, Mitch Daniels’ described the environmental policy as limiting personal liberty. A professor I know said that a colleague in agriculture asked him a direct question on his support of climate change support, and he avoided the question – changing the conversation to the benefits of natural gas.  That is a political move, but not one that the president of a top University should make. My next blog will look at his stances on issues on the environment, and understand his thoughts more.

Also, when I meet with him I would like to take the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that he is not an academic by mentioning some of the issues that some graduate students face like being required to work more hours then they are paid, and the manipulations of some faculty towards international students. This too will be thought out in more detail in a later blog.

Okay, now back to work on analyzing data for my dissertation.

Dear Vice President Gore

I have been thinking about climate change. Too many people think it is a debate; they don’t see the pictures of the ice caps and don’t understand the science.  This bothers me.

Public discourse does not even mention climate change. “Climate Silence” is current term being mentioned on the internet.  Policy makers are afraid it sounds too dooms day. And granted, it is. We need legislation reducing carbon emissions. But in order for this to happen, we need an educated population that demands legislation.  I think media is the best way to accomplish this goal.

I suggest you, with possibly Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Ney, do a TV show on climate change. Each week you can talk about a piece of science, interviewing researchers and showing pictures of places of the world. The program could encourage individuals to reduce their impact and contact their representatives to get climate legislation on the table.

I was in DC last week and met with a staffer of my House representative for a Quaker Lobby weekend.  The topic in discussion was to reduce of pentagon spending.  I feel kind of ashamed because I didn’t mention climate, and this topic is the weightiest thing on my heart.  I didn’t do it because it is not part of the discourse, thought he would not take me seriously and wanted to focus on one topic highlighted by the Quaker lobbing group that I came there for.  I regret that I did not mentioned this and realized that I should have.

After the An Inconvenient Truth, people saw the data and change started to happen.  Your movie made shifts in the discourse, but currently many people are questioning the science again. And from my experience, many people that do know the science are giving up.  They see it as inevitable, and are less motivated to do something than they were 5 years ago. Even if we go over 3 degrees, as we are projected to do, we need to stop this with serious legislation.  And more importantly we need to live in a society that can talk about our most pressing issues.

I believe with your leadership on the issue, you can educate the general populous and alter the conversation of Climate change.  End the climate silence. I suggest a television show as a means to this end.

I’d watch it.

~Julia

How should I engage with people who think differently than I do?

In the last two weeks, I have contemplated what it means to be fully engaged, and noticed my complete avoidance of engagement.  I find it difficult to allow myself to be fully immersed in discussion with people who take a different stance than I do, mostly from a political label.  I find it just as difficult to fully immerse myself in discussion with people I hold the same “label” as I do, if not more difficult. The line between these complicated levels of engagement is blurry, and my reaction is to take the easier option, and to focus on the things we do agree about, and to ignore the rest. This closes my heart to understanding why there is disagreement and difference.

About a month ago, on a plane to California, I was sitting next to a man who obviously shared the same political spectrum as me. There was another person in our row, a 15-year-old woman, who was going to visit a friend.  The man was talking about how he was planning on smoking pot when he arrived at home. He turned to me and said, “A little bit of pot never hurt anyone.” I do not have a problem with people who smoke marijuana. I think marijuana should be legalized. However, I do not use it, because I see it how it can be used as a way to escape responsibility in life, and I think it should not be used in excess.  At the time, I just agreed with him. Upon reflection, I see that I should have engaged in conversation with him. I should have expressed my full beliefs. By not speaking, I allowed myself to take the more comfortable option of not engaging in the discussion because I agreed, and thought his opinion was kind of true.  Also, had I actually spoken, it might have made the young woman sitting in the row more comfortable.

Lately I have been exploring areas of tension.  I have sensed something that is leading me to engage in the conversations about Christ among Friends.  The subject of Christ seems like such a taboo topic in many ways.  The Quaker branches have differing views that are often glossed over when the groups get together, because it is more comfortable not to discuss their opinions about Christ.  I am new to the religious Society of Friends, but find that any time I try talking about theology and Christ, the energy shuts down. I have been working with two Friends on planning a Young Adult Friends retreat in January. This involves inviting other branches to talk about our views of Christ.  To start this conversation, I have decided to discuss my own views about why I don’t think I could ever believe that Christ is the Son of God and the “only” way to God. I am not saying this to close discussion, but to show where I am in the discourse, and why I believe what I believe.  I truly appreciate others that think differently than me. I also envy my more conservative Friend’s connection with Spirit, and see something there that I am interested in exploring.  However, I feel limited due to this barrier of avoiding engaging in conversation, I want to open my heart so I can completely engage in this conversation, and learn all that I can about differing opinions, so I can accept and understand others, and grow as a person.

Dear Gov. Daniels

Dear Gov. Daniels,

It was a pleasure seeing and meeting you on Tuesday.  The workshop really touched me. Like Parker Palmer, I am a Quaker.  Quakers seek Spirit will in every action they take.  This is kind of nice, because if I am seeking god’s will I am not as attached to the outcome. I know we see thing different from each other, but hope that we can have a conversation with an open heart.  Thank you for agreeing to talk to in more depth in January or February. I will be in Massachusetts at some point during that time to conduct interviews for my dissertation, but should be free as some point to speak.

There is one thing I wanted to bring up regarding your response to the role of higher education in a democracy.  I resonated with the need for the liberal arts, and I also take issue with the fact that many students today are not aware of basic political facts.  This concerns me and is relevant to engineering. The main reason I am pursuing my PhD in engineering education is to bridge the gap between technical education and societal issues.  Since WWII, engineering education has focused primarily on technical aspects and students are not aware of many contemporary problems. Engineers often discredit and look down upon problems that are non-technical. As a result, engineers are under represented in politics and often neglect to see who benefits from their design. I see engineers having the responsibility to understand how an oil refinery they are designing will impact commerce as well as affect the disenfranchised people down wind of the plant. This type of education is needed to create leaders and active citizens, but is often neglected. Purdue’s engineering education department has made some strides to address these issues, but it is far from ideal. It difficult to create change in the more traditional engineering classes, the courses today are often taught in the same way with the same material used in the 1950’s, yet our needs and technology has shifted dramatically.

I would like to take this issue and layer it with a method you have encouraged to approach education, outcome-based rewards.  You have requested that your salary be based on some type of outcome-based system.  My problem with this is that the goals will inevitably be subjective.  Coming from different backgrounds, the things that I will consider important to achieve will be different than what you will see it. This type of system often neglects social issues and weighs heavily on metric that are easily quantifiable, like is financial. Racism is a large concern on Purdue’s campus after two recent hateful acts.  Should this be apart of funding?  It is the role and responsibility of the President to address.  Also, if you want to take in consideration student civic knowledge (and I would also include engagement), something you said was important for higher education role in democracy than this should be considered determining financial rewards as a president. This difficult thing to measure and would require extensive studies, and the process of measuring will likely take away from the process of educating.

Well, this is some of my reflections from the talk on Tuesday.  I do want to thank you for agreeing to talk with me.  I greatly appreciate the experience to see you and Dr. Palmer, as it was a truly rich and life transforming experience for me.  I am looking forward to meeting and continuing the conversation.

Sincerely,

Julia Thompson

Doctoral Student

Engineering Education

Purdue University

P.S. I am sure you will read this after the show, but good luck with Colbert.  If you do see this, ask him for the “Colbert Bump.”

___________

his response:

Tks, Julia for following up on y-day’s conversation.  The whole idea of compensating people in higher ed on performance is basically new territory, so no one has a good model to copy.  I am sure we won’t get it just right the first time or maybe ever, but I do hope we can move in the right direction, and much of it should be centered on making a Purdue education even more valuable….high quality for the students, affordable for them and their families.

We will save this message for after my arrival and if you want to talk further we will look for a chance then.  Tks again.

___________

Reflection:

My first reaction to Governor Daniels’ response is frustration.  I wish outcome based pay would be backed by research, but such bonuses dont work.  I don’t know what he means by value of education… Does he mean monetary value or does he mean value for the public good? Does he think it’s more important for students to go out and make lots of money, or does he think students should go out and make the world a better place?
I am glad he is interested in reducing the cost.  Student debt is too high and is an issue that needs to be addressed. Though outcome based pay bothers me, the fact that Governor Mitch Daniels has been appointed to the position of Purdue University President through cronyism bothers me, and there are many other issues of concern surrounding this situation.  However, I now have engaged in conversation with him, and he has agreed to meet with me.  I will definitely need to call a clearness committee meeting (a quaker meeting intended to seek spiritual clearness) to unpack my feelings to clarify which topics to discuss with him.
This is surely an interesting adventure, and I am thankful for this opportunity.

Faith-in-Action

I am starting this blog to explore and to bring my whole heart into my role as an activist.  It was inspired on October 22, 2012, when I went to see Parker Palmer and Mitch Daniels, at the conference called Petticrew Faith-in-Action Program: Healing the Heart of Democracy 

Parker Palmer, a Quaker (and the man with me on the right in the picture), started the day talking about his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.  He recommends not entering into conversations with the intention to be right or to win an argument. Instead, he recommends keeping dialog open, and allowing tensions to be present.  In his book, he told the story of John Woolman (1720-1772), who was a Quaker perturbed by the inconsistency of Quaker belief in equality, and that many Quakers owned slaves.  Spirit led him to ministry, and guided him to meet and discuss his concerns with slave owning Quakers.  During meetings, Woolman fasted during any meal that he knew was made through slave labor. If he discovered a meal was made with slave labor after he consumed it, he later paid the individuals for their work. After twenty years of Woolman’s effort, Quakers became the first religious society to free their slaves.

What strikes me about this story is how John Woolman was able to let the conversation continue, while the people he conversed with committed the act he renounced. The whole time he was true to his own convictions, spoke his concerns, and was confident enough to feel the discomfort of being in discourse with others that did not believe the same way he did regarding the issue of slavery.

By being open to this paradox, Woolman was being open and fully engaged in democracy. He opened himself to life. This approach is counter-cultural in many ways.  It’s easy to post a quick comment onto Facebook or Twitter that shuts down any real communication. I know because I am guilty of this myself.

Luckily for me, I got a chance to practice the wholehearted approach immediately since my political nemesis, My political nemesis, Mitch Daniels, was the key speakers for the Parker Palmer luncheon.  I have been on TV, quoted in a newspaper, interviewed for the radio, and I have written an op-ed about the public’s concerns regarding Mitch Daniels’ appointment as Purdue University’  next president.

At the seminar, Governor Daniels spoke about his religious convictions, and some concerns about issues that he has about the current political climate. Then, Parker Palmer responded.

I listened, and found I agree with Dr. Palmer’s opinions. I was in awe of the way he presented his ideas. I liked Dr. Palmer’s response when Governor Daniels stated that in a socialism takes up so much time from people since they have to be involved with everything.  Dr. Palmer pointed that many capitalists work late, and are not able to spend time with their families.  Alluding to the fact that no matter what political system, a person can over due it. He addressed Governor Daniels with an open heart and respect. I admire Dr. Palmer’s approach of open dialogue regardless of differing ideas.

At the end of the conference the moderator asked audience member’s questions.  Two questions caught my attention.  The first was, “What is the role of higher education in a democracy?” and the second was “How often do you engage with people that think differently from you?”  (I might not have the words exactly right, but you get the picture).  To answer the first question, Governor Daniels said he was upset that many students are not aware of basic political facts, which is a barrier that prevents students from being engaged citizens.  This is an idea with which I agree.  To answer the second question, Governor Daniels said he spent a small amount of time engaged in conversation with people of different outlooks.  There were few people in his life who engaged him with differing outlooks, but not as many as he would like to have.  He hoped that situation would change after the end of the year.

When the conference ended, I decided to introduce myself to Governor Daniels.  I told him I was a graduate student at Purdue, and one of the main organizers for SOAP (Society for an Open and Accountable Purdue), which is the organization that questions his appointment as President.  I told him I have different beliefs than him, and would like to talk.  He agreed, gave me his email address, and said we could arrange something in late January or February.

So a meeting with Governor Mitch Daniels: the future President of Purdue University, will happen. My next blog post will be my letter to him, and some personal reflections.

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