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Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Several years ago, the powers that be at Radford University tried to force various forms of ill-conceived will on their faculty. The issues were several and constituted the sort of direct assault on the fundamental role of the faculty in academic governance that the University of Virginia suffered through more recently.
The RU faculty push-back headed off many of the egregious insults. One such effort was an attempt to diminish Appalachian Studies at Radford. Hundreds of letters and emails of internal and external support for this outstanding program turned back the RU administration’s attack on the deep Appalachian cultural roots of Radford University.
Fast forward to early August of this year. Without discussion, the Appalachian Regional and Rural Studies Center was evicted by the university administration from the building it had occupied for 19 years of the program’s 30 years of excellence in transformational education. It is one of the oldest, most successful centers at Radford and recognized internationally. The three faculty members were sent to two separate buildings, and the center director and an adjunct faculty member ensconced in a conference room.
Further, the center has assembled over decades of loving effort one of the region’s best archival collections, including more than 1,500 oral histories and cultural studies. This archive, unmatched anywhere, went to the university library.
The RU administration has done away with ready access to this gem. There is no “center.” Scattered remnants remain. Though courses and some programs remain, no place to be, with no specific future plans, means no center, just as the administration intended. Most importantly, the resources of this perhaps virtual center are now virtually inaccessible to students — the reason for the university’s existence.
This program has introduced hundreds of Appalachian students to opportunities in the nation’s capital through grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission and to present research findings to national conferences from New York to San Francisco, and internationally in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The center sponsors, along with the Appalachian Events Committee, multiple full-campus events, such as the recent Appalachian Folk Arts Festival during RU’s Homecoming Weekend. Faculty members make dozens of presentations in the region, state and country. They edit and disseminate several journals, and have published three books over the past few years, two in 2012. This would be a marvelous record for any RU academic department, much less one so undervalued.
The university administration has consistently failed to recognize this center’s accomplishments and the priceless recognition that accrues from it to the university. For example, through the Appalachian Arts and Studies in the Schools program, hundreds of regional high school students have gone on to postsecondary and post-graduate studies far and wide.
Hundreds of elementary school students have become excited over their heritage as depicted at The Farm at Selu, another example of excellence receiving little support or encouragement from current administrators.
These are but two more examples of the accomplishments of the Appalachian Center that the university seems bent upon denying as it attempts to emulate the cultures of Richmond, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. A needless effort when there is so much to be proud of right here.
It is such a shame that Radford University has lost its way and wandered from its role as a principal source of educating Appalachian youth on regionally important issues such as education itself and health.
What will Appalachian people think about Radford University’s move away from preserving their culture and serving this region? How sad will they be to learn that decades of work on their behalf have been literally trashed?
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