Sunday, May 10, 2009

Goodbye Mr. Rose

[Jasper Rose was a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz during the 1970s and 1980s. This piece appeared in City on A Hill, the UC Santa Cruz student newspaper 20 February 1986. It was written by Douglas A. Erdman, but the views expressed are, of course, pure Jasper.]

The only thing louder than Jasper Rose's bow-tie is the man himself. "My dears," he bellows at 400 students, waving his walking stick wildly over his head, "you must pay attention! I'm trying to teach you something!" They--do, and he does.

A founding member of UCSC, Rose has been delighting students for 20 yars with his flamboyant style and his genuine concern for undergraduates. One out of every eight undergraduates at UCSC is currently enrolled in his Art History 10B, making the class a recordbreaker at 882 students. Yet, at what appears to be the height of his popularity, Jasper Rose is leaving UCSC.

In a recent interview with City on a Hill, Rose refused to discuss personal reasons for his departure, claiming it wasn't "worthwhile going into." A native of England and a graduate of King's College at Cambridge University, Rose bludgeons unsuspecting words with a dignified English accent. "One doesn't resign or retire for a single motive," said Rose, rolling his eyes, his intonation becoming grandiose. "One retires for a great, curious cloudbank of hovering reason!"

Rose was, however, willing to comment on the public ramifications of his retirement. Since 1965, Rose has remained a staunch advocate of "alternative education." While others falter in their commitment to what UCSC was intended to be, Rose stands as one of the last of a dying breed--a voice to be reckoned with. Forthright and articulate, he spoke passionately--often bitterly--about the University he has poured his life into, and why he feels he can no longer stay.

"If you really want to understand," said Rose, "why some of us have succumbed to a certain amount of disappointment, bitterness, and disillusion, [it is because] we had a sense of how vulnerable American undergraduate education was to the vulgarization [and] the commercialization of mass-production, and wanted to make a stand against it. To some extent, Santa Cruz fulfilled an element of its function by, for a while, setting a higher standard, which then became of interest to the rest of the University of California. It was particularly important at a time when mass-production of students was very much in the air." Rose paused thoughtfully, shaking his head. "But, you do sometimes get the feeling that you might just as well be in an egg factory at the present time. That's worrying. Quantity is not the thing that counts. Receptivity, responsiveness, susceptibility, sensibility--are what count."

Among Rose's primary concerns is what he describes as a "dangerous level of hypocrisy" at UCSC. "Something I simply cannot stand which has emerged more and more strongly in recent years," said Rose, "is the tendency for the administration to put out glossy little pamphlets saying how much everybody cares about teaching a UCSC." His eyes glow with outrage at the thought of such obvious fraud. "It should be made perfectly clear that this is not true. There are many professors who teach a very small number of classes and avoid teaching if they can. They're much more interested in administration and should be delighted to get into an administrative post where they're excused from teaching.

"I know a lot of good teachers on this campus who've stuck around as associate professors for years," he continued. "Some of them have now become full professors. I know others who are good teachers and don't get promoted, and they say, 'Well, I'll forget teaching. I'll research my way into the next steps up the ladder.' Chancellor [Robert] Sinsheimer said, I think quite openly, that only on the rarest kind of occasions can excellence in teaching reap significant rewards, unless it's accompanied with excellence in research." Rose shook his head in disappointment. "My view of it fundamentally very different. If you want to talk about your institution as caring a great deal about teaching, you must then be fairly liberal and generous in rewarding the people who teach and teach well."

Rose laments that faculty get punished by non-advancement for being "too interested" in the daily lives of undergraduates. In previous years, professors who spent too much time meeting with students socially and advising them found themselves "cajoled and harassed" about their research. Those who weren't "putting up a show of publishing" were not advanced with the same speed as other professors, he added, explaining that as a result, many faculty today are frightened for their careers if they interact too closely with students. This directly contradicts Rose's personal commitment to personalized undergraduate education.

"The people who don't get advanced," said Rose, "become discouraged. They become known as people of no importance in the University. They don't count much because they're not `nationally visible,' in that terrible phrase." He is clearly repulsed by the thought. "I well recall it being used in a personnel case. A very senior person said, `Oh, we can't advance this person, because he's not nationally visible! And I wrote back, saying, 'I suppose what this campus now wants is local invisibility and national visibility! And I didn't get an answer which denied that."
Rose tries his best to adhere to his commitment to faculty/student interaction. "I'm one of those unfortunate people who are nationally invisible," he said, chuckling with irony. I always make it my business to greet students as I walk about, and talk with them if I possibly can, as it seems only civil to do." He spread his hands wide in question. "One knows that the students belong to the same institution. Why should one put one's head down and pretend they don't exist?"
"In terms of the ambitions and proclaimed ideals of the place," he added scathingly, "the amount of interaction between faculty and students now is pathetic. The number of faculty who said to me quite early on, 'Well, my place with the students is in the classroom; that's where I know how to deal with the students,' struck me as being such an admission of failure, and also a kind of cowardice."

"One of the things that has horrified me is the growth of midterms, which then become quarter terms, and then eighth terms ... this sort of continuous examining of students." Rose shook his
hands in frustration. "If you treat students in this way, you don't have to be specially intelligible, or interesting, or entertaining when you're teaching them. All you have to do is make it perfectly clear that if they want to get some credit, they're going to have to do exactly as you tell them, which I'm afraid smacks to me of anything but a university. It smacks to me of a military establishment. And I do get very frightened about the seizing up of free inquiry:'

ACCORDING TO ROSE,-THERE IS no reason to expect professors to be equally skilled at both teaching and doing research. "One of the biggest and most foolish myths which is perpetuated here is that 'all-arounders' are immensely common." He leaned forward in emphasis. "They're not very common. Actually, the people who are gifted at teaching very often are-not going to be terribly gifted at certain kinds of research. To be gifted as a teacher-requires a certain amount of
gregariousness... teachers are fulfilled by talking and public exposition." Rose's tone showed how obvious he considers this. "If you're fulfilled in that kind of way, you're not very likely to be keen to rush away into an odd corner and sequester yourself from the public world. You may have some good ideas, but the forum for those good ideas is not a learned journal. The forum for brilliant ideas is very often open discussion."

Rose knows better than anyone that gregariousness and genuine interest in under-
graduates add up to enormous popularity. As he explained ,"When the proportions start changing to those who are really interested in students and those who are not, and the student body grows, those who make themselves available to students become mobbed. The issue of showing respect to students is really fundamental. By the late 70s, UCSC's colleges no longer had the power to choose or reward faculty for their respect towards students—or for any other qualifications.

The UCSC reorganization of 1978-79—which Rose refers to as the "disorganization"—dealt the final blow to the concept of collegiate autonomy. Many professors left whatever college they were affiliated with to congregate where their board of study was located. Rose's idea of "tradition and continuity" was crushed. "The healthy interchange of ideas between professors in different disciplines collapsed," he said sadly. "It became clear to me that the sort of things that I represented were things which are not very much wanted by the dominant impulse; that I would have to struggle hard to maintain the sort of things I cared about. There comes a moment when you get tired of struggling ... and I got tired of struggling."

"I think the University has to worry about something which is connected in some way with me," said Rose thoughtfully, "and that is that it does need some people who are ready to answer back. I always think of most American graduate schools as schools of calculated humiliation; they humiliate the people who enter them." He spoke faster, trying to impart the futility. "Those people then go on to become professors, and they are so scared of their own shadows, and they have to wait eight years to get tenure, which is a ludicrous thing. This University needs some faculty who are more ready to answer back, who are ready to take up an independent stance!'
Rose sighs, folding his hands onto his knee. "It also desperately needs some faculty who retain a sense of humor and a sense of fun. When the joy and pleasure run out of an institution, it's
due for a very grim, dull time. I think you might worry about my leaving not as an event, but as a symptom, and a serious symptom. When people like myself leave the University, crying that it has become hard and cruel, the University has to worry. Is it becoming a very heartless and empty place? Because if it is, it's going to have terrible,, repercussions."

Rose never wanted it to end this way, and his sorrow is etched into his features and his words. "I had hoped, and I initially thought of myself about the year 2000, very lottery, as a kind of `Mr. Chips' figure—an elder of the tribe who would occasionally say to an undergraduate, `Very interesting, the early days here, but you're lucky you don't have to put up with that now.' "
Instead, he will retire into the English countryside to paint. "My final decision was made in England. I saw a lovely house that I suddenly realized I could afford, and a number of immediate problems had depressed me very greatly." His voice drops in recollection. "I had deeply lost confidence in the [UCSC] administration. And so I thought, 'I need to do something different.' "

Does Rose see any hope for UCSC? "Not in the near future," he said. "There is still an inheritance, that's true. My son said to me today, 'Come on ... for students who know how to find their way about, Santa Cruz still offers more than almost any other place.' And I'm ready to believe that." Rose nodded his head slowly. "I still think there lingers about it a humane spirit, a sense of humor, some kind of festive quality...they're they're all things that are very badly needed. But another major growth could easily destroy it. It's nothing to be complacent about." His voice became heavy with pain. "Compared with what could be, and indeed what needs to be ... what terribly needs to be..."

His voice trails off. Jasper Rose sits back and considers. "A long time ago I thought about this University, and I thought, 'I'm being defeated.' That was about 1967, I suppose. And I said to myself, `Why are you being defeated? Is it because you're standing up to your neck in a morass, and you can't move your arms?' Because then you don't go on fighting, you get out of the morass, and you find some other place. I think that's the only way to look at it. I have to find some other place in which to exercise what talents I have. And," said Rose quietly, "I'm also tired, my dear."


Unknown said...

I had an undergraduate student over for tea today to talk about his research. My advice - quote other people less, develop your own ideas more. At one point he said, "I`ve never been invited to a professor's house." I thought of Jasper, who opened his home to so many students at Cowell College. I don`t call my students "ducky" but at least I teach in a small liberal arts college where I know them by name and take great pleasure in their excitement over books. And yes, I am a very slow writer and publisher. Thank you for your blog entry, which does a great job of capturing the spirit of Jasper Rose.

Unknown said...

I recall many lovely lunches and teatimes on the Chalet deck with Jasper Rose and Alan Chadwick back in the early 1970's at UC Santa Cruz. If anyone is interested, check out this website about that garden and that time:

Alan Chadwick, a Gardener of Souls