Friday, February 16, 2018

The Newfields Travesty:
Taking the IMA out of Indianapolis

“Newfields,” the new brand for the institution formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, is more notable for what it does not say than for what it does.
          It is not primarily concerned with art.
          It is not in the city of Indianapolis.
          And, most emphatically, it is no longer a museum.
          Before I get to the consequence of these pointed omissions, let me begin with two concessions.
          First, in some theoretical and hypothetical way, the name of the Indianapolis Museum of Art still exists. While the letterhead, website and sign on 38th Street all now proclaim the Newfields name, the IMA exists as part of the new brand.  As Charles Venable, director of the institution-formerly-known-as-IMA explained, in his announcement, “The Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Garden, Lilly House, and The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres will all continue to exist as key attractions at Newfields, a Place for Nature and the Arts.”
          In other words, this is a marketing stunt.  We can now think of the IMA as comparable to the Big-K signature at Kroger’s.  If you root around on the bottom shelf, you may be able to find the Indianapolis Museum of Art, next to the Big-K spaghetti.  But your destination is Newfields, or Kroger’s, not Big-K, or the IMA.
          Secondly, “Indianapolis Museum of Art” is not the original name of this 135-year-old institution. The original organization came into being in 1883 as the “Art Association of Indianapolis.”  In 1895, the fledgling institution received a bequest from John Herron, a wealthy local real estate developer.  As a result of this bequest, the organization purchased a plot of land at 16th and Pennsylvania and opened the John Herron Institute of Art, housing both an art gallery and an art school, in 1906.
          For more than 60 years, both the art museum and the school resided on the 16th Street campus under the Herron Institute name.  In 1967, it became necessary, for accrediting purposes, to separate the museum and the school.  In that year, the Herron School was transferred to Indiana University, and it persists, in name at least, on the IUPUI campus.
          In 1966, the J.K and Ruth Lilly donated Oldfields, the family estate bordered by Maple (38th St.) and Michigan Road to the Art Association.  In preparation for the move to this new campus, the Art Association changed its name, in 1969, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  Thus, the IMA was born in 1969, and it moved to its new campus in 1970.
          As the IMA makes clear in its own history, Every Way Possible: 125 Years of the Indianapolis Museum of Art¸ published in 2008, this new name represented a kind of promise to the City of Indianapolis.  Throughout the 1960s, as the museum looked for more space, there were concerns that moving to the edge of the city would sever the museum’s relationship to Indianapolis.  At a protest in 1962, “one person stated that the Herron Museum belonged to all citizens, not just to the wealthy or to families with automobiles. Others spoke of the need to keep the city’s core strong and the obligations of institutions like the Museum to stay in a central location.”  In renaming itself, the Museum was seeking to allay these concerns, and to say that, even as it moved from its central location, it remained committed to the City of Indianapolis and to its citizens.
          Thus, in renaming itself “Newfields,” the former museum is reversing not the 135-year history of the institution, but the 50-year history of the IMA.  Crucially, however, this new name reneges on the museum’s commitment to the city.  In important ways, the museum is no longer in or of the city of Indianapolis.
          To begin with, the “Newfields” name has no local resonance.  Yes, some people in the city know that the original name of the Lilly estate was “Oldfields.” And, yes, it is also apparently true that the Lillies made a joke of this when they referred to the children’s house on the estate as “Newfields.”  But the inevitable reaction of people who have lived in the city and actually gone to the museum is, “What? Where did that come from?”
          I can see how the name might appeal to a professional marketer from Brooklyn, or Bel Aire, or Bogota, making a pitch to the director of the IMA: “Newfields, it’s like Oldfields, but it’s new Get it? Get it?”
          The rebranding reminds me of another infamous and ill-fated branding effort in the city.  When the city’s venerable hospitals, Methodist and University, merged a few years ago, they hired a marketing company to come up with a new name for the organization.  They called it “Clarian,” and they made a similar pitch: “Clarian, it’s like clarion, as in ‘clarion call,” but it has an ‘a’ instead of an ‘o.’ Get it?  Get it?”
          The Clarian name had no meaning for people who had a long attachment to Methodist and University hospitals.  The name did not last, and the organization now calls itself “Indiana University Health.”  I predict a similar future for the ill-conceived Newfields.  It's a nowhere name.
          In a physical sense, Newfields has also removed itself from the city of Indianapolis.  Like many long-term members of the Art Museum, I first learned about the changes to come two years ago, when the museum suddenly closed its pedestrian entrance on 42nd Street, and began building a series of internal barriers where none had existed before.  These moves effectively closed the museum to the surrounding neighborhood, and ended access to the upper grounds for pedestrians and cyclists.  I refer to this stage of development as the “fortification of the IMA.”  Others began calling it an “art prison.”
          At the same time that it closed access to pedestrians, the Museum also eliminated its charge for parking, and effectively made the grounds a landing pad for suburbanites from Zionsville, Carmel and Fishers seeking a bucolic experience.  When he explained these changes, Venable emphasized his desire to make the museum grounds comfortable for pedestrians, and to maintain a “level of tranquility and atmosphere” for patrons.  In taking measures for internal tranquility, however, Venerable forced pedestrians and cyclists coming to the museum to travel through the intersection of 38th St. and Michigan, one of the most dangerous in the city.  And there is still no sidewalk that leads from the old pedestrian to the entrances pedestrians are now forced to use.  Newfields is the fulfillment of the worry expressed by the protester in 1962 that the museum would become accessible only “to the wealthy or to families with automobiles.”
          This move to cut the museum off from local residents and from pedestrians and cyclists is all the more appalling because it flies in the face of recent developments in the city.  While there is still much to be done, Indianapolis has made impressive strides in becoming more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.  Since the construction of the Monon Trail in 1999, the city has developed a remarkable network of trails that run along that run along Fall Creek, White River, Pleasant Run, and Pogue’s Run.  During the Ballard years, we went from zero to 80 miles of bike lanes, with more now under development.  And the city is rightfully proud of its Cultural Trail, which connects downtown neighborhoods and cultural destinations with a Danish-style pedestrian and cycling trail. 
          In my view, the IMA should have been actively working to connect itself with this developing system of infrastructure.  Ray Irwin, the architecture of our Greenways system, always spoke of his passion for “connectivity” as the guiding force in his efforts.  He wanted to create ways for people to move from one area to another in the city without having to get in a car. In my view, the IMA should have been working to connect itself with its neighbors and other institutions.  It should have joined partners in Midtown to bring the bike share program to the area, and to extend the Cultural Trail to its gates. It should have become more, and not less accessible to pedestrians.  In this regard, the anti-urbanist agenda of Venable and the IMA board have been damaging both to the institution and to the City as a whole.
          The fortification of the IMA was part of its efforts to raise additional funds by instituting a charge of $18 for admission not only to the Museum, but also to the grounds, both of which had been free.  To justify what would inevitably be viewed as a very high price of admission to the Museum, patrons were offered access not just to the art within the buildings walls, but also to some of the most cherished outdoor spaces in the City. In addition, this strategy was designed to encourage more people to join the museum.  Rather than pay $18 for a single entrance, patrons could pay $50 to $80 per year.
          In an effort to draw more visitors and members to the IMA, the museum began de-emphasizing its art collections and developing outdoor attractions.  Venable pointed to studies that showed that potential patrons from the central Indiana were relatively uninterested in art, but would be interested in “curated outdoor experiences.”  In keeping with this line of thinking, the museum built a beer garden in one part of the greenhouse, brought back a popular miniature golf course designed by artists, planted thousands of bulbs for a spring flower show, and put on a large-scale display of Christmas lights, for which it charged a $25 admission fee ($20 to members).  In these various ways, then, the museum was to become less a museum and more of an amusement park. 
          In responding to these changes, both critics and defenders of Newfields have used the word “elite.”  Opponents suggest that the $18 admission charge makes the institution less accessible to citizens of the city, and therefore makes it more elite.  Those who criticize the museum for turning away from art and toward beer gardens and miniature golf have been called “elitists” by defenders of Newfields.
          To my mind, the word “elite” doesn’t really work very well in either direction.  I don’t think it unreasonable to impose an admission charge to the museum, although I shall have more to say below about how this charge was imposed and justified.  On the other hand, there has always been a populist strain at the IMA; it is the home of both Van Gogh’s “Enclosed Field with Peasant” and Robert Indiana’s “LOVE.”  Personally, I have no objection to the beer garden, the winter lights exhibit or the miniature golf.  But I still want a serious art museum.
          And here I think there is real reason to worry.  The energy and resources of the institution seem to be flowing toward these “curated outdoor experiences,” and away from art.  One way to see this is in the special exhibitions of the museum.  The IMA had a very good record of bringing in exhibits that connected its patrons with developments in the rest of the world.  In recent years, I enjoyed exhibits on Matisse, Georgia O’Keefe, the Craftsman art movement, and art from Fontainebleau.  I especially appreciated the 2013 exhibit of the works of the Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei.  I had read a lot about this artist, and I was grateful for and moved by the opportunity to see his works up close and in Indianapolis.
          When the changes in the Museum got underway, I asked Charles Venable, in a private exchange, whether we would have exhibitions like the one focusing on Ai Wei Wei in the future.  He responded that we would, but that the Museum would have to take greater care to make sure that these exhibitions paid for themselves.  But the record of the past few years has been unimpressive, the exhibitions for the foreseeable future look to be low-key affairs, drawing mostly on the IMA’s own collections.  We seem to have gotten miniature golf instead of, and not in addition to, Ai Wei Wei.  And that seems to me a real loss.
          For me, the changes that have accompanied the Newfields branding campaign have been discouraging in and of themselves.  But the pain has been compounded by the ways in which Charles Venable, the director, and Thomas Hiatt, the chair of the board, have explained and justified them.  In particular, I object to their suggestion that these changes were necessary, in light of the financial needs of the institution, and that they have already been successful.
          In coming to grips with what has happened to our cherished institution, one must understand that the IMA was in some financial difficulty.  These difficulties came from a variety of factors, including a decline in the value of the museum’s endowment (now over $350 million) during and after the Great Recession, and the accumulation of about $100 million in debt from recent expansions of the museum.  These two factors meant that, even after a round of staff reductions, the Museum was drawing more than the 5 percent from its endowment that is customary and prudent to support its operations.  It is my understanding that the board charged Dr. Venable with bringing this draw back to 5 percent over a number of years.
          Without entering too deeply into the finances of the IMA, and without claiming financial expertise I do not possess, it seems to me that this situation called for adjustments but not for panic.  One could have imagined any number of other ways of responding, without locking down the grounds, renaming the 135-year-old institution, and shifting the focus from art to “curated outdoor experiences.”  One obvious course of action would have been to raise admission to the Museum to a more palatable $10 to 12, and to allow citizens of the city to continue to enjoy the grounds, as they had for more than 50 years.  Going from no admission to $10 or $12 would surely have created a substantial new revenue stream, with little disruption or added expense.
          In justifying this course of action, Venable and Hiatt have pointed to a record number of members of the museum-formerly-known-as-IMA.  Newfields now has more than 17,000 members, but this is not a terribly impressive number. One can point to comparable or lesser museums with higher membership rates.  In the 1970s, when the museum did not charge an entrance fee, it claimed more than 12,000 members.  The mere imposition of an entrance fee, where none existed before, is bound to drive membership up.  And it seems to me that this would have happened whether the IMA charged $12 for admission, and allowed the public free admission to the grounds, or charged $18 and closed the grounds.
          Perhaps more than anything, though, I am disturbed by the lack of accountability of Venable and the Board to members and to the general public.  I have a relationship with the IMA that goes back to the early 70s, when I bought a membership from earnings from my newspaper route.  I understand that, as an individual member, I cannot expect to have a voice in the direction of the Museum.  Nevertheless, I have been astonished by how little interest the leadership and board of the IMA have in what members think about these changes.  There is quite a bit of discontent with the direction of the Museum among long-time members and even some donors, but Venable and Hiatt seem to have insulated themselves from this criticism.
          I understand the fiduciary responsibility of the board, and the imperative they must honor to ensure the solvency of the museum.  I think they have other obligations as well.  The IMA has grown through the generosity of generations of donors, and through the tax-protection enjoyed by both the institution and its endowment.  While it is a private institution, it has commitments to the public and to the ages.  I am not sure the Museum is fully honoring those commitments.  It looks more and more like the vanity project of Hiatt and Venable.
          In many ways, it is fitting that Newfields has been unveiled under the Trump administration.  My attitude toward Newfields parallels my attitudes to this country under Trump: I object strenuously to the policies, overall direction and communication practices of this administration, but I do not wish for the enterprise to fail.  After the fortification of the IMA, I refused to renew my membership, and I boycotted the museum.  After a year, though, I came back.  After the Newfields transformation, I have let my membership lapse again, and have not dared set foot on the campus.
          I expect that I will be back again.  I can only hope, though, that this ill-considered effort to Make the IMA Great Again will pass, and that new and wiser leadership will one day work with the community, rather than agasinst it,  to create a better and stronger Art Museum.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Remembering Micky

Remembering Micky

One of the things I love about randonneuring is that it compresses and intensifies physical sensations and emotional responses.  One can experience the lowest of lows and the highest of highs on the same ride.  Sometimes, only a few kilometers or a control stop separate these swings in feeling and mood.
          I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect of randonneuring in relation to the death of Mitsuaki “Micky” Inagaki this spring.
          Micky was killed by a truck driver while he was riding on Twizel Road in the Tiki Tour in New Zealand on March 15, 2017.  At the time of his death, Micky was 61 years old, and was the president of Audax Japan.  He had previously been in charge of inviting and recruiting foreign riders to participate in the Hokkaido 1200 and other events in Japan.
          Micky began his international randonneuring career by completing PBP in 2011.  Over the next five years, he completed 16 grandes randonnées, in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, and he finished PBP again in 2015.  In 2016 alone, he completed the Okayama 1200 and Hokkaido 1200 in Japan, the 1001 Miglia in Italy, and the Cracker Swamp 1200 in the U.S.
          But neither Micky’s biography nor his record of accomplishments adequately conveys who he was.  As sad as his death was, it was wonderful to learn how many people had been touched by Micky.  In the days and weeks after his death, Facebook was full of tributes to Micky, together with tales of memorable experiences and kind gestures and words Micky had bestowed on others.
          And there were lots of pictures.  Micky loved to take pictures of himself and others, and he was the frequent target of other people’s cameras.
          Micky’s earliest randonneuring experiences were also among my earliest.  I didn’t see him at PBP in 2011, although we finished a mere 26 minutes apart.  I was aware of Micky at the Cascades 1200 in 2012, and at London Edinburgh London in 2013, but I did not talk to him at either event.
          I really got to know Micky on the Super Brevet Scandinavia in August of 2013.  We were both riding at the back, I at my natural, plodding pace, and Micky leapfrogging me, as he dealt with knee pain.  We generally didn’t ride side-by-side, but very often Micky would surge past me, laughing, waving and taking pictures, only to stop a bit up the road to rest his knee.
          Micky was a presence.  If you were around him, you knew it.  The photographic record shows that he was sometimes close-cropped and clean shaven, but the Micky I knew was long-haired, exuberant and a bit wild in his appearance.  He was invariably cheerful, even when he was suffering from knee pain.  And everyone knew Micky by his smile.
          One of the beautiful things about SBS is that it involves six ferry rides, with five in Denmark and one in Norway, ranging from about 20 minutes to nearly two hours in length.  It was on those ferry rides that I got to know Micky.
          My Japanese is non-existent, and Micky’s English is limited.  But Micky had a Ph.D. in nonverbal communication, and our conversations involved lots of gesticulation and repetition.
          I learned a lot about Micky on those ferry rides.  I knew that he had training in medicine, but had retired.  I knew that he had a house in the mountains in Japan, and that he was devoted skiing as well as cycling.  And I also learned that he wanted me to do to the Hokkaido 1200.
          With Micky’s encouragement, I made plans to do the Hokkaido 1200 in 2014.  Because of some complications in my schedule, though, I bailed out of that ride, and instead did a newly established 1200K around Bordeaux, France.  I used to think it lucky that I had changed my plans because that the Hokkaido 1200 that year was stopped mid-ride by a dangerous thphoon.  Now I regret the decision, because I lost forever the chance to ride again with Micky.
          My most memorable experience with Micky came as we were riding in Sweden.  Late at night, in the darkest and most remote corner of Sweden, my headlight quit working.  At that point, I had been on the road for over three weeks, having begun my journey with LEL.  I had a new light, the Luxos U, which turned out not to be as watertight as one might wish.  My Luxos U quit working suddenly and irredeemably.
          I had also lost my backup light during a protracted roadside repair session on LEL.  I had acquired a handle-mounted flashlight in Germany, but it was too feeble to navigate by.
          I survived that night through the kindness of Wolfgang Nitsche, a German rider who stuck with me so that I could see my way forward.  But when I woke up the next morning, I did not know how I would get through the last night of the ride.  I didn’t think that I could ask anyone to ride with me at my slow pace.
          When Micky heard of my plight, at the last control in Sweden before we entered Norway, he unstrapped his own back-up light from the fork of his bike, handed to me, and gestured to me that I should strap it on my helmet.  I gestured back to him in a way that said, “What about you?”
          Then Micky said, “It is important for me to finish, but it is also important to you to finish.”
          I often had trouble understanding Micky, but this time I understood both the literal meaning and the significance of what he had said.  He did not have to repeat himself.  And I will never forget those words.
          With the help of Micky’s light, I navigated the steep hills of Norway.  We finished together in Kristiansand, Norway in the last hour of SBS, badly beat up but gleeful.  For me, the finish was all the sweeter because I finished with Micky and with his help.
          I loved Micky.  I only knew him for a few days, but our experiences were intense, and they are still vivid to me. We rode together the roller coaster of emotions that define a 1200K, and we survived.  I would have loved him even if he had not helped me.  But the fact that helped me was of a piece with everything I know about him.  He was a generous soul.
          Sometimes I think that the purpose of randonneuring is to create opportunities for generosity.  We put ourselves in difficult, challenging situations, and, while we are not reckless, we know that we take risks and make ourselves vulnerable.  Very often, we need the help of others to succeed.
          I am, by nature, a forgetful person, and so I often need the generosity of others.  More than once, someone has handed me a fistful of cash on a ride when I have forgotten or lost my wallet.  One time, I arrived at a 200K in Ohio, only to discover that I had forgotten my trunk bag, containing most of my tools and my spare inner tubes.  When the riders around me learned of my plight, they started giving me what they could spare—one offered a tire lever, another an inner tube, and another an inflator.  When I started the ride, the back pockets of my jersey were full.  And so was my heart.
          For me, any one act of generosity has value and meaning beyond that event.  Generous acts help us to believe that this is a benevolent world, populated by good people who wish us well.  That hill might be brutal, or riding that stretch against a headwind and without enough water might be daunting, but there are people at the next control or along the road who will help us, and who will make it better.  A bit of kindness makes hardship manageable.
          Randonneuring is a sport that is unusually preoccupied with awards, medals and accomplishments.  I don’t object to that; I have a drawer full of medals myself, and I am proud of what I have accomplished.  At the end of the day, though, we will be remembered for the good that we do for others, and not for the number of Super Randonneur series we have completed.
          Sometimes, the thought of Micky’s death is nearly unbearable.  That tragic crash on Twizel Road in New Zealand forces us to ponder all of the imponderable questions of death.  How can this person who was so vibrant and vital suddenly be gone?  He was doing what I do; what does his death mean for my future?  And, for those on the ride, perhaps the most difficult of all: Why him and not me?
          While we do not have satisfactory for any of these questions, we can find comfort and solace in Micky’s goodness.  I will remember the light he lent me, and the words he spoke to me.  Others have similar stories to tell of Micky’s generosity. Mark Thomas, who was also on that fateful ride in New Zealand, says it well: “Micky was generous with his joy.”
We remember Micky through the good he has done and through the joy that he has given us.  At the end of the day, isn’t this the best that any of us can hope for?    

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

We Have to Talk about This: Academic Freedom at Butler Unviersity

We Have to Talk About This

            A few years ago, Butler went through a very destructive period when it sued a student for libel as the result of a blog he kept in which he expressed certain opinions, anonymously, about administrators in the University.  In my view, the very fact of this lawsuit was a threat to academic freedom, and I wrote about it in my essay, “Butler University v. John Doe: A New Challenge to Academic Freedom,” which was published in the Journal of Academic Freedom (
            Now, I fear, we may be going through a similarly destructive period.
            This time, the threat to academic freedom comes not from an alleged libel against an  administrator, but from the University’s interpretation of Title IX.  I’ll come back to Title IX toward the end of this piece, but let me say at the outset that I support the aim of Title IX, which is to guarantee the civil rights of everyone, regardless of gender, in educational institutions supported by federal funding.  Title IX has, in my view, been used appropriately to expand women’s access to sports programs in colleges and universities, and it is now being used appropriately to address the scourge of sexual violence against women on University campuses.
            I am worried, however, that the law is being mis-applied in order to deny the academic freedom of members of our community.  Ironically, some of those losing their academic freedom are women who have worked to support and promote the aims of Title IX.
            The case that concerns me at Butler University is shrouded in secrecy, and that is part of what concerns me here.   Secrecy is a veil under which injustice flourishes.  Because this case concerns public discourse and public issues, it deserves public discussion.  Unfortunately, however, the people who have been accused through this process were apparently forbidden to speak about it to anyone on campus.  A lot of people seem to know something about the case, but very few people seem to know the whole story.
            Here is what I have been able to glean so far.  I would be grateful to anyone who can correct what I have gotten wrong, or fill in the gaps that are missing from my story:

  •  In mid-April of 2015, the Information Commons, a joint enterprise of the University’s library and its Information Technology areas, sponsored an exhibition entitled “Diversity in Every Color.”  Those participating in the exhibit could win a $20 gift card for their exhibit.
  •  A faculty member put on her personal Facebook page a posting that was critical of the idea of diversity that informed the exhibit or a poster that was made public as part of this exhibit.
  •  Many other faculty members and some former students added to this Facebook posting, and questioned in some way the idea of diversity behind the exhibit.
  • A complaint was made through the Human Resources Office of the University, and handled under its Title IX authority.
  • Five faculty members were put through a lengthy examination, and many others were tangentially involved in the investigation.
  • The investigation now seems to have reached its conclusion, but one of the five faculty members is appealing a judgment made against her.
  •  The five main targets of the investigations—and perhaps others as well—were told that they could not talk to anyone other than their spouse about this investigation for fear of creating the impression that they were retaliating against their accuser(s).
In several important ways, this case reminds me of a case that received national attention earlier this year.  Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, published an essay entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  As the title suggests, the essay was provocative, but well within the range of academic discourse.  (And, in the spirit of academic discourse, let me state that I disagree with some of the claims Kipnis made in her essay.)  As the result of her publication of this essay, she was subjected to a strange and ill-defined investigation in which she was accused of violating the provisions of Title IX.  She subsequently wrote an essay about this experience, also published in the Chronicle, entitled “My Title IX Inquisition.”
While Kipnis was cleared of the nebulous charges brought against her, her story also makes it clear that the investigation itself was a kind of punishment, and a deterrent to the principles of academic freedom that animate a university.  I fear that we have a similar situation at Butler.  As nearly as I can tell, those accused of Title IX violations at Butler have been subjected to a similarly Kafkaesque experience.
     Title IX itself is rather simple and straightforward; the main text of the law, passed in 1972, states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  The problem, though, is that, over the years, a body of interpretations of this law has developed that go well beyond this simple text.  And, in some cases, these interpretations threaten the very enterprise of the University.
    I hope that there will be more discussion of Title IX and its ramifications at my University and elsewhere.  For now, though, let me articulate some principles that I think need to be honored alongside our efforts to realize the aims of Title IX:

  • To paraphrase an important Supreme Court opinion, and the underlying principle of the American Civil Liberties Union, the proper response to obnoxious speech is more speech—not prohibitions, punishment, libel lawsuits, or other means of suppressing speech.
  •  It is the business of faculty members and students to express opinions.  No one at a University should ever be punished—or threatened with punishment—for expressing an opinion.
  • Extended processes that interrogate faculty members about their expression of opinions create a climate of fear and suppress the exchange of ideas at University.
  • This climate of fear is compounded when the accused are told that they cannot talk to others about the accusations made against them.
  • The University as an institution should not take an interest in what faculty members and others post on Facebook and other public areas unless these postings 1) threaten someone, or 2) engage in some illegal activity.  And in those cases, the investigation and prosecution of offenses on Facebook should probably be carried out by law enforcement agencies, not universities.   
  • There needs to be a strong academic presence at the beginning of Title IX investigations.  Investigations in response to a faculty member or student’s expression of an opinion should be stopped before they start.
     It may be that I have gotten some things wrong in this posting, or have blundered in some other way.  If so, I hope someone will alert me to my mistakes, and I will correct them.  My hope is that this posting will mark the beginning of a public discussion, and not the end of it.  I insist, however, on my right and the right of others to express their opinions about the terms under which we work and exchange ideas. That’s what a university is all about.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Familiar but Forever New Journey

            I am a long-distance cyclist.  I ride about 8,000 miles a year, and I have had the good fortune to ride my bicycle in China, in Australia, and in much of Europe.  This past summer, my bicycle and I climbed the Col D’Aubisque, a mountain pass that is often featured in the Tour de France.  The climb was thrilling.
            But the most significant and important journey for me is the one I make almost every day, from my home on the near northwest side of Indianapolis to my workplace at Butler University.  Much of my route follows the towpath along the Central Canal.
            I am in my twenty-fourth year of riding along the canal, but I still find it fresh and invigorating.  For me, this journey tells several intersecting stories.
            One story is cultural and institutional.  I pass in front of Naval Armory as I make my way to the towpath, and I am always amused to think of this massive structure guarding the White River from any foreign navies that might dare to invade central Indiana.  Soon thereafter, I pass by the stately homes of Golden Hill, safely situated on the other side of the canal.  Then it is the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with its lovely grounds, and its grand building presiding over the White River Valley.
            When I take the wooden underpass under Michigan Road, I always remember Ray Irvin, the former director of the Greenways, first for the city and then for the state, who did so much to develop our system of trails and to make my commuting route pleasant.  Soon after that, I pass by the Christian Theological Seminary, and I admire its architecture and am grateful to the Irwin and Miller families for their contributions to public buildings in both Indianapolis and Columbus.  And, finally, I arrive at Butler, where I am proud member of the English Department.
            In this way, then, I think of the Canal as a kind of cultural corridor that connects some of the most important and interesting institutions in the city.
            But the canal also gives us entry into the natural life of the city.  When I was a boy, I remember traveling deep into a forest to see a Wood Duck.  Now, I see wood ducks almost every day, and I am still enthralled by their bright colors and exotic markings.  In the late Fall, I often come upon a Great Blue Heron, who is startled into flight when he sees me, and lands a bit up the canal.  When I come up to him again, he again commences his gawky-but-graceful flight, and I think of him as a kind of guardian angel, guiding me on my daily commute.  I sometimes see kingfishers, beaver, foxes and deer, and I always see turtles.  I love them all.
            My journey down the canal is also a personal one.  I remember running into my friend, Scott Swanson, jogging over there, and Jim Poyser, riding his bike, over here, and just a bit further down the path, I fell one slick winter evening and broke my elbow.  It is a path full of memories for me.
            I believe that we have a duty to see the world, and, in coming years, I will make a point of seeing as much of it as I can from the seat of my bicycle.  One of the benefits of travel, though, is that it allows us to see the familiar world to which we return in a new light.  My daily journey along the canal is familiar and comforting, but it is also endlessly surprising and enlightening.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Grief on Wheels

Remembering Randonneurs We Have Lost

            Two of the most difficult moments of my life have come on randonneuring events.  Both involved the death of a fellow randonneur.
            The first was during a particularly groggy and sleep-deprived stretch of Paris Brest Paris in 2011, when I came upon a number of emergency vehicles in the outskirts of a village.  I saw an abandoned bicycle under a truck, but I did not stop to figure out what had happened, partly because I did not want to get in the way, and partly because I did not then want to know the details.  I knew in my bones that something bad had happened.
            As I continued the ride, the information that came to me about the incident was fragmentary and confusing.  Eventually, I did get word that a rider had died.  For a while, I thought that two riders had been killed. 
            In my confused and exhausted state, I thought that the death of a rider would surely mean the end of PBP for that year.  “How could we continue after the tragic death of a rider?” I asked myself over and over again, in the obsessive way one does on a long ride.  I was surprised, then, when I arrived at the next control, and found that it was functioning as usual, with no talk about closing down the ride.  Eventually, I, too, returned to normal, and stopped obsessing about the disturbing scene I had witnessed.
            Only after I finished did I learn that Thai Pham of the DC Randonneurs had tragically died on the ride at the age of 58.
            These painful memories of three years ago came flooding back to me during a 200K in Ohio in March of this year.  As I approached the turn-around point in Troy, Ohio, I came upon a stretch of road that was closed off, with police cruisers, a fire truck and ambulances blocking the way. 
            This time, there was no doubt about what had happened.  Joe Giampapa, a 56-year-old cyclist from Columbus had been struck by a minivan and killed.  His body lay along the side of the road, covered by a blanket, and his mangled bicycle was some distance away.  The windshield of the van was shattered, and its driver sat in a police vehicle writing his report.
            To be at this site was to feel deep loss.  Beyond the mere fact of Joe’s untimely death was the fact that there was no way of explaining it.  He was killed in the late morning, when there was plenty of light and no glaring sun on the horizon.  The road was straight, with no chuckholes or other barriers to dodge. The driver was not impaired in any obvious way.  The bitter cruelty of Joe’s death was evident to everyone who was there.  A very kind sheriff explained to the six of us who had come to the site what had happened, and he could not hold back the tears as he did so.
            Eventually, the sheriff told us that we could continue on our ride.  As on PBP, I was unsure about what to do after the death of a fellow randonneur.  Should we stop the ride to honor Joe?  David Roderick, the Ohio Randonneurs RBA, had arrived at the site, and, after some deliberation, he said that we should decide for ourselves what to do.  The ride would continue, but everyone would understand if we decided to withdraw.
            Some riders did withdraw.  But because I had driven three hours to get to the event, I did not have an easy way to return to my car.  And it seemed that the safest way to return to the starting point was to follow the brevet route.  I and the riders with me decided to continue.
            We walked our bikes past Joe’s body.  It was unbelievably sad.  I could not think of any way to pay tribute to Joe except to remove my helmet.  It seemed a woefully inadequate gesture.
            Unfortunately, this scene was played out again on August 9th of this year, when Matthew O’Neill, a 33-year-old cyclist from Chula Vista, was killed on the California Central Coast 1200K. As was the case with Joe Giampapa, there is no good explanation for what happened to Matthew O’Neill.  He was killed at 7:30 p.m. on a summer evening by a 16-year-old who was driving a truck hauling a horse trailer on a straight road.  There was nothing about the weather, the state of the road, or the behavior of O’Neill that would explain this inexplicable accident.
            This was obviously a tragedy for Matthew O’Neill’s family and many friends.  But it must also have been a terrible thing for those on the ride with him and for the organizers of the event.  I feel deep sympathy for them.
            With the help of Mark Thomas, I have been able to identify four other riders, in addition to Joe Giampapa and Matthew O’Neill, who have been killed on RUSA events during the 15-year history of the organization. 
            Gustavo A. Antonini, aged 66, and his stepson William W. Cupples, aged 44, were killed while riding in a bike lane on February 8, 2004 on a 300K brevet outside of Gainesville.  The driver left the scene of the accident, but flipped his truck over about three miles down the road.  The driver was sentenced to 15 years for DUI manslaughter, and was spared a longer sentence after the family of the victims wrote a letter expressing forgiveness and asking for leniency in his sentencing.
            Stan Oldak, a 60-year-old randonneur from New York City, was hit by a truck and killed while riding a 400K near Columbus, Texas, on May 6, 2007.  Oldak had been president of the New York Cycle Club, and had come to Texas for the 400K in order to qualify for Paris Brest Paris.  The driver of the truck that hit him left the scene of the accident, and, so nearly as I can tell, was never apprehended. 
            James Swartzman, aged 46 from Encino, California, was hit and killed early on the morning of April 10, 2011, while riding a 600K near Leucadia State Beach.  The motorist left the scene of the accident, but was later apprehended and sentenced to two years for hit and run manslaughter.
            I am not well enough versed in the actuarial sciences to say whether six deaths over the 15-year history of an organization that has had 10,000 members mean that randonneuring in the United States is particularly dangerous.  With over 30,000 highway fatalities in the US each year, I am inclined to think that most randonneurs are at greater risk when they drive to events than they are when they actually ride them.  In the age of the automobile and jet plane, all forms of travel carry some risk, and I am not convinced that cycling in general, or randonneuring, in particular, are especially dangerous forms of travel.
            I do know, however, that all of these deaths hurt.  And I also know that 2014 has been a tough year for RUSA.  Not only have we had two deaths, but, in the passing of Joe Giampapa and Matthew O’Neill, we have seen two good men snatched away, in the prime of their lives, from their friends and family.  And there is simply no good explanation for either death.  As cyclists, Joe and Matthew were doing everything right.  And yet they were killed.
            One of the questions I have found myself thinking about since riding through the site of Thai Pham’s death three years ago is this: What do we owe to fellow randonneurs who have fallen?
            If you are in the middle of an event where this happens, it is hard to muster the detachment and good sense to give a reasonable answer to this question.  If it had been entirely up to me, I think I would have cancelled the events in both Ohio and in France.  And I think that would have been the wrong answer.
            For one thing, if you are a near-witness to a death, it is all too easy to put yourself in the place of the victim.  What if I had reached this place in the brevet an hour earlier?  Or what if the motorist had come by an hour later?  These are not merely hypothetical questions.  You know in your heart that it could just as easily have been you who died that day.
            Moreover, being at the site gives you a deeper sense of the loss than you would have if you had read about it afterward.  For several weeks after the death of Joe Giampapa, I was in touch with two randonneurs who were thinking about quitting the sport because of what they had witnessed.  It wasn’t so much that they feared their own death as they feared what their deaths would do to their wives and children.  How could I put my family through that, they asked?
            Ultimately, though, they both kept riding, and they both went on to finish longer RUSA rides in the course of the season.  And it seems to me that this is the right answer.  Curiously, we honor our dead best by continuing to do the sport that we love and that we share with them.  In this, randonneuring is like life itself.  Sooner or later, we must all come to grips with the death of friends, colleagues and loved ones.  But we cannot stop living out of deference to the dead.
            For this reason, I have been grateful for the wise and humane guidance of organizers and riders who carry on despite grievous circumstances.  In Ohio, I was impressed by the quiet dignity of David Roderick, David Buzzee, and the other volunteers who made it possible to finish that ride.  And, while I was not there, I understand from the accounts of others that the California Central Coast 1200K continued in a dignified and respectful way after the death of Matthew O’Neill.
            At the end of the day, I think, the best we can do for fallen randonneurs is to keep riding, and to keep their memories alive.
            One way to remember and honor those we have lost is to work to change the circumstances that led to their deaths.  After his death, the family of Joseph Giampapa released a statement supporting a three-foot passing law, which was then before the Ohio legislature.  (Unfortunately, the bill was later withdrawn.)  Likewise, the family of Matthew O’Neill launched a campaign, “Remember Matthew: Change Lanes to Pass a Cyclists,” to extend and enhance California’s recently enacted three-foot passing law, and to increase awareness of cyclists on our roads.  We owe it both to ourselves and to those we have lost to be the best bicycle advocates we can be in our communities.
            But we can also do a lot through RUSA and through our individual clubs to remember those we have lost.  One of my favorite things about randonneuring is the Société Adrian Hands, which has its own jersey and recognizes riders who achieve a time on PBP “equal to or greater than Hands' 2003 finish time of 88:55.”  While the mission of the Société is somewhat jocular, it keeps Adrian Hand’s memory alive, and it perpetuates the spirit he brought to randonneuring. 
Because of the Société and its distinctive tie-dyed jersey, I have had conversations about Adrian Hands with riders in various states in the US, and in England, the Netherlands and Norway, and I got to meet and ride with his son on a stretch of PBP in 2011.  I was very pleased to learn afterwards that Ian had managed to match his father’s time 88:55. As I have met others who have either joined the society or aspire to do so, it is clear to me that Adrian Hands is now a living part of an international randonneuring tradition.
            Likewise, when I rode the Cascade 1200 this year, I found that the ride jersey had RUSA number 2391 printed on one sleeve.   In this way, I got to know about Donald Boothby, who died a premature death from cancer at the age of 61 in 2012.  While I never had the chance to meet him, I learned that he was a spirited randonneur, and a much loved volunteer for Seattle International Randonneurs events.  I thought that a wonderful way to remember him.
            In the same way, I think we need to keep alive the memories of Mathew O’Neill, Joe Giampapa, Jim Swartzman, Stan Oldak, Gustavo Antonini, and William Cupples.  In some sense, they are all still with us.  We can look up their results on the RUSA website, and we can talk with people who knew and rode with them.  And we can go on telling their stories, and remembering what they brought to the sport.
           Let us ride on, then, no longer encumbered by their deaths, but enriched by their presence.

Postscript: Since I wrote this piece, I have learned of two more randonneurs who have died on RUSA events.  Jared Carr, aged 31, was killed by a drunk driver while riding a 400K in eastern Washington on May 27, 2012.  On May 18, 2014, John Fusselman, aged 67, was hit and killed while riding a 200K permanent outside of Austin, Texas.  This means that at least eight randonneurs have died on RUSA events during the 15-year history of the organization, and 2014 has been an especially painful year, with three deaths.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Super Brevet Summer

            When I described my cycling plans for the summer of 2013 to my friends, they said, politely, that they sounded “fun” and “challenging.”  They probably also thought that I was crazy, but they did not say so to my face.
            After completing my Super Randonneur series in Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia, my plan was to do two overseas grandes randonnées.  The first was London-Edinburgh-London (LEL), a 1400-kilometer ride that would take place from July 28 to August 2, 2013.  Then, two weeks later, I planned to do the Super Brevet Scandinavia (SBS), a 1200-kilometer ride that was to begin in Frederikshavn, Denmark on August 16, and was to end at midnight on August 19 in Kristiansand, Norway.
            But my plan was not simply to complete these two rides.  I would also ride my bicycle from the end of LEL to the beginning of SBS.  Thus, after riding 880 miles from London to Edinburgh and back, I would load my camping gear onto my bike and travel about 850 miles to Skagen, the resort city at the most northerly tip of Demark.  After a few days of rest in Skagen, I would ride about 25 miles south to Frederikshavn, and then about 745 miles over the next four days to Kristiansand, Norway.  After completing the Super Brevet, I would rest for a day, and then ride about 220 miles to Oslo, where I would board a plane back to Indianapolis.
            In total, then, my plan was to ride about 2800 miles over the course of one month, from late July to late August.
            I had several reasons for wanting to pull off this elaborate plan.  I completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011 (see my account in the Winter, 2011 issue of American Randonneur), but I had never undertaken two grandes randonnées in a year.  I looked forward to the challenge.
            Secondly, even as I have taken up randonneuring, I have continued to enjoy touring, and I go on several loaded trips each year.  I looked forward to the two-week tour that would take me from London to the tip of Denmark, and I liked the idea of combining randonneuring with touring in this way.
            Thirdly, I enjoy the self-sufficiency of bicycle travel.  I commute and do most of my daily travel by bicycle, and I wanted to see how far I could go on my own.  I relished the idea of covering a good swath of northern Europe by bicycle, unaided by the internal combustion engine or other machinery.
            So, at the end of July, I uncoupled my couplers, packed my bike, and boarded a plane from Indianapolis to London.  Once I arrived, I took the underground from Heathrow Airport to a hotel in a northern suburb of London, where I reassembled my bicycle.  I shipped my bike bag, via Royal Mail, to a hotel in Oslo, where I would end my four-week ride.
            The organizers of LEL had made arrangements for participants to stay at a campground near the start, so I rode there, and pitched my tent for the week.  This would give me a place to rest before and after the ride, as well as a place to store my belongings.  I registered, and then I rode back into London, where I spent the night in a cheap hotel so that I could take part in the Prologue, which went from Buckingham Palace to the start in Loughton.
            The ride itself was brilliant.  Like Paris-Brest-Paris, food and sleeping facilities were available at each of the controls, which were spaced 50 to 90 kilometers apart.  Unlike PBP, the registration fee—which was a very modest 219 pounds, or about $360—covered all of the food and services on the ride.  This meant that I and the other 1000 riders on LEL were well fed and sheltered for five days.
            The scenery on the ride was also varied and wonderful.  Once we crossed the massive bridge over the Humber River, the land turned lumpy, first in modest doses through Yorkshire, and then in more dramatic fashion as we climbed Yad Moss and entered Scotland.  The Devil’s Beeftub, just outside of Moffat, Scotland was one of the more memorable and memorably named climbs on the ride.
            And while there were not crowds cheering us along the route, as there are on PBP, there was an army of cheerful and ever-attentive volunteers at the controls, who saw to our every need.  At one point, I needed to replace a brake pad, and I was helped by a volunteer mechanic, who turned out to be Dave Yates, a well known frame builder in England. The spirit of the ride was incredible, and while it was quite different from PBP, it was equally memorable. 
            I finished LEL just after midnight on Friday morning, a little more than six hours ahead of the cut-off time.  I returned to my tent, had a nice long sleep, and spent the rest of the day, and much of the next morning trading stories with fellow finishers (one of whom broke his downtube in Scotland, had it welded by a local craftsman, and then finished the ride in good time). 
            At noon on Saturday, I loaded my bike again, and rode 70 miles north to Harwich, arriving just in time to board the ferry to Holland.  This was one of my few luxuries on the trip—I booked a sleeping berth, and purchased a three-course dinner and a big breakfast for the morning of our arrival.  Thus, I arrived at Hoek van Holland, near Rotterdam, feeling well rested and well fed, ready to begin the continental portion of my journey.
            One of the pleasures of touring in Europe is that many areas have municipal campgrounds, allowing you to enjoy the pleasures of the city while camping outdoors.  I stayed two nights at a very nice campground within the city limits of Amsterdam, paying about $15 per night.  I visited the Van Gogh House and other sites, and enjoyed two very pleasant summer days in Amsterdam, watching all the world pass by on a bicycle.
            On most days, I aimed to ride only about 100 miles, and so I had a fairly leisurely trip across the Netherlands and into Germany.  I stopped for two nights at what must be most immaculate and meticulously maintained campground in the world, in the city of Bremen, and enjoyed several walks in that delightful city. 
            As I approached the Danish border one night, I could not find a convenient campground.  So I rode through the night, stopping, rando-style, for a three-hour nap during a pouring rain in a German bus stop.  German bus stops, I found, were better set up for sleeping than many of the Super 8s I have stayed in during North American brevets.
            I was surprised to find southern Denmark to be very hilly—I had always thought of that country as perfectly flat, and just a few feet above sea level.  I sprained an ankle hauling my loaded bike up one of these hills, and it was swollen and a bit bothersome for the rest of my trip. 
On the other hand, though, I found camping in Denmark to be fabulous.  Every small town had a small campground, and with only 20 or 30 kilometers between towns, I did not have to decide in advance where I would stop for the night.  I knew that, whenever I was tired and wanted to settle down for the night, I would find a campsite.  And Danish campgrounds, like German ones, were clean and well equipped. Not only did they have kitchens with stoves, pots and refrigerators, but they also had baby baths.  I did not have any babies with me, but I was happy to be in campgrounds that addressed everyone’s needs so well.
The touring portion of my journey ended in Skagen, the most northerly point in Denmark. I camped near where the Baltic and North Seas come together.  Because of its peculiar northern light and its barren beaches, Skagen has long been a Mecca for tourists and artists.  It proved an ideal place to rest before my last challenge.
Like LEL, the Super Brevet Scandinavia was very well organized, but it was also very different in character.  There were about 90 of us on SBS, and we stopped each night at the same hotel, and left each morning at the same time.  This meant that the fast and slow riders came together every day, and this, in turn, created a special kind of camaraderie among the riders.
Unlike my experience on LEL, I had some mechanical problems on SBS.  At one point, my chain over-shifted and got stuck in that inconvenient gap between my spokes and my cassette; it took a very kind Dane about an hour to coax it out with a screwdriver and hammer.  He broke a spoke in the process. 
Then, on the second night of the ride, my front light quit working, and I had lost my back-up light on LEL (this was one problem with doing two rides back-to-back rides—I did not have the chance to replenish my equipment).  This meant that I was stuck in the darkest corner of Sweden without a way forward.  But fellow riders soon came along and lit the way for me during that night, and, the following night, another rider lent me his back-up light.
On the final day of the ride, my GPS stopped working (a fate that seems to befall all Garmin Edge users at some point) just when the navigation got complicated in Norway.  Luckily, though, I was able to join up with some Danish riders, and we managed to finish, with just 30 minutes to spare.
I had been an exchange student in Norway when I was 16 years old, and I had not been back in 38 years.  It was thrilling to return, and I enjoyed trying out my very rusty Norwegian each time I stopped for food or directions.
I was surprised, though, to discover that Norway had grown some massive hills in my absence.  I knew, of course, that there were mountains in the north and in the center of Norway, and I had been to some of them, but I was unprepared for the long, long climbs of 8 to 10 percent grade on the road to Kristiansand.
Because of the difficult climbs, I did not completely fulfill my plan by riding 220 miles to Oslo.  I was tired and I could not bear the thought of climbing some of the same hills I had done on SBS.  So I took a train for about 100 miles, thereby avoiding some of the most difficult hills.
Nevertheless, I managed to get to Oslo under my own steam, and was reunited with the bike bag I had sent from London.  I went to the Munch Museum, Vigeland Park, and some other places I remembered from my exchange student days.  Then I packed up my bike, and flew home to Indianapolis.
My summer adventures brought me many rewards.  I was able to complete two great randonneuring events, and I made many new friends and had many great experiences along the way.  I rode about 2700 miles on my bicycle, and enjoyed the independence and freedom that come with such a long trip.
I also enjoyed crossing boundaries on my bike, watching England become Scotland, the Netherlands become Germany, and Germany become Denmark.  In one way, borders are fixed and absolute; you can identify the exact moment when you leave Sweden and enter Norway.  As I experienced them on my bicycle, however, borders were much more fuzzy, and it was fun to track the gradual and sometimes subtle changes in language, food and street design that signaled that I was leaving one country and entering another.
My trip also allowed me to experience some of the best cycling infrastructure in the world.  I have cycled through the Netherlands several times, and have always enjoyed the completely separate set of paths for cyclist throughout that country.  Cycling in the Netherlands is rather slow, however, because you have to stop at many intersections and ask for permission to cross the street by pressing a button.  I was surprised at how well cyclists were accommodated in Germany, and at how many Germans used their bicycles for shopping and for errands.  In many places in Germany, I traveled on cycle tracks far out into the countryside.  But I found the cycling infrastructure in Denmark to be the absolute best.  While cyclists are generally separated from cars, as in the Netherlands, they are also on equal footing with cars, and you do not have to press buttons at intersections to get permission to cross.  The Danish system for cyclists is fast, efficient and safe.
I also found great pleasure in connecting randonneuring with touring on my trip.  As Jan Heine has shown in excellent four-part history of randonneuring (Bicycle Quarterly, vols. 8-10), the origins of the sport lie in bicycle touring in late nineteenth-century France.  And, of course, Paris-Brest-Paris is still operated under the auspices of the Fédération Française de Cyclotourisme.  I felt that, in my trip, I combined two styles of riding that belong together.
I enjoyed every part of my trip, but I doubt that I will try to repeat it in 2017, when LEL and SBS come up again.  Instead, I will continue to look for new and different opportunities for combining randonneuring events, and for combining randonneuring with touring.