University Year for Action

The trainers we had brought in to help train the Board of Directors of the local poverty program were from the Federal Region VII ACTION office in Seattle.  This was the office that oversaw all of the various ACTION programs (including the OEO –poverty programs) in five or six states. They enjoyed my resignation tactic at the training retreat and had my contact information so one morning I got a phone call at my university office from one of them.  “Drake, do you think your university would be interested in running an off-campus program similar to VISTA but getting students involved in community service agencies while still getting academic credit and training in the field they are working in?”

“Sure,” I said, “Put us down as interested.”  I was informed that I would be contacted again when decisions would be made as to which universities would be invited to submit a proposal for consideration in the initial round of grants.  I immediately called Ralph Munroe, head of the Washington State Office of Voluntary Action, and asked him about this call.  “Oh,” he said, “that is the University Year for Action” program.  I just came back from Washington, DC, where I helped design it.  Drake, you should call Jerry Brady, National Director of the program, and convince him that Western Washington University should be in the first group of universities to be funded.”

So I immediately called Washington, DC, and got through to Jerry Brady.  “How many schools are going to be funded in the first round?” I asked.  “Eleven.”  “How many are already selected?”  “Nixon announced the program at Little Rock, Arkansas so the first program will be there.  No other commitments have been made as yet.”  I continued, “Put Western Washington University down as the second to be funded.”  “Whoa, slow down,” Brady said.  “First you have to fill out all the necessary forms.”  “OK, send them to me.  How long will it take for you to respond once we have the forms filled out?”  “We will take no longer than you take to fill them out.”

I got the forms in two days and took three to fill them out.  The following week Jerry Brady was out to visit our university and we got funding as the second university in the nation with that program.  The Dean for Research and Grants named me as Program Director a post that I held for the next several years.  The UYA program initially generated an immense amount of ill-will on campus where traditional academics felt students could not learn anything if they did not attend daily lectures taught by Dr. Ego himself.  It also generated hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in grant money.

Well, we worked it out and if the proof is in the pudding, we succeeded beyond our dreams.  Now, years later the program has morphed into what is called the Human Services Program in the Woodring College of Education.  It currently has over 400 majors in that program who are getting their university degrees while working in social service agencies throughout the state and attending classes specially designed for them once or twice a week in the evenings, on weekends, or in special seminars held in their region of the state.

One of the campus academic departments that worked with us early in the program was the Speech and Audiology Department.  We placed their volunteers in public schools to help the speech therapists in their work with students who needed such help.  This program was deemed so successful that such an internship is now a required element in getting a degree from WWU in that field.  Such is also now required for State Certification as a speech therapist in public schools.

The program almost was killed, though, when a new Regional Director for ACTION was appointed in the Region VII Federal Office in Seattle.  The woman appointed to that post was a former Republican Senator in the Washington State Senate.  She held our university President and Dean for Research and Grants in very low esteem because of the contumelious manner in which those two clowns addressed the legislature when giving testimony at legislative budget hearings.

A warning call came from a staff person in Washington, DC, telling me that our proposed third-year budget was to be cut by one third by Marge because of her prejudice toward WWU.  Two days later the caller informed me that he was wrong, it was to be cut in half.  I called Marge in Seattle and asked for an appointment to meet with her and her staff.  I took with me two of my staff.  Due to my “I Resign” stunt several of her staff knew me and were supportive of our proposed programs.  We eventually went over every element of our program, item by item, budget figures, and personnel needs.  To my delight, Marge not only approved our proposed plan as originally submitted but also increased some elements that she felt we were under-budgeting!

The Dean for Research and Grants took the final grant proposal to Washington, DC for submittal but while there he did some ‘adjustments.’   After his return, I received a phone call from one of the deans.  “Drake, this is in confidence and you are to tell no one but you should be aware that Dean Taylor adjusted your UYA program by inserting a young lady as ‘liaison’ between your office and his.”  The next day I got a phone call from the person who would be replacing me as Director of the program as I was going back to the classroom after two years of serving as a full-time director.  He informed me of this change also but, again, stated that I was not to react to the information as I was not supposed to know about it.  So I waited for another three days until I answered the phone and a very angry Marge was on the line demanding an explanation of this change in the program after she had agreed to the one we had worked out with her and her staff.   I told her that I was waiting for her phone call and now that I officially knew of the changes I would go and confront Dean Taylor.  I asked, “Are you telling me that if this ‘liaison person’ is not removed from the grant proposal it will not be funded?”  “Correct!”

When admitted to his office I asked Dean Herbert Taylor how his things had gone in Washington, DC and whether he had any trouble with the grant. “No,” he said with a big smile, “Everything went beautifully.”  “Well it may have while you were there,” I responded, “but the shxx has just hit the fan and if you don’t remove your pretty liaison from the grant the university will lose it as it will not be funded in its present form.  And,” I added, “the world will know why.”   This bully turned beet red and started shouting “Remove the item from the grant.  Put it back as it was and get your f.. a.. (  ..’s are put in so this document can pass Boy Scout censors) out of here.” Plus a lot more expletives.  As I left his office he slammed the door as hard as he could.  Before returning to my office I went to the Academic Vice President to report what had just happened as I was still an untenured faculty member and could be subject of dire repercussions.  I was assured that nothing would happen to me so I went to my office and called Marge in Seattle and told her of the result of my meeting with the Dean.  She commented, “That didn’t take long.”  I responded, “I’m going home (11 a.m.).  I need a drink.”

If anyone in their naiveté thinks such things do not happen in academia they have to be roused out of their sleep. Dirty politics, stolen ballot boxes, and underhand dealings are not limited to Washington, DC.  Such has a potential of happening where ever there is a resource available for distribution, universities included.  I am all for ‘transparency’ and ‘public accountability’ and since I am an activist and not a mere academic I tended to get involved more often than was good for my career.   

More of that later.