Alana Merritt Mahaffey: Weary English graduate student goes AWOL from UCA

Alana Merritt Mahaffey
Guest Columnist
Published Monday, September 06, 1999

Count me as one who's going AWOL. No other word describes how I feel about leaving the University of Central Arkansas to attend another university. Those of you who have kept abreast of our campus politics here at UCA, and readers of The Echo who followed my columns for two years, realize that politics at UCA between administrators and the English Department has escalated over several years reaching the unbearable boiling point. And so that's it. I'm tired and I'm bowing out -- off to the more tranquil campus of Henderson State University.

Like professors and students before me, I'm making my exit because -- like them -- I've had my fill. I came to college to get a degree. When I earned that, I stayed for a master's. Unfortunately, ongoing conflict between Dr. Winfred Thompson and my professors has made UCA an intolerable place to be, and a place where education is brushed aside and politics takes center stage.

To simply drop out of the UCA battle without an explanation to professors and students seemed hypocritical, and so I sent to the English department a six-page, single-spaced letter full of praise for the department, anger at President Thompson, and regret for the continuing deterioration of the English department under Thompson's administration.

Over the years, Conway residents have voiced opinions from all sides of the debate via the Log Cabin Democrat. The opinion that is least heard, however, is that of the student. For that reason, I would like to release excerpts from my letter to the English department so that this quiet side might be heard.

Aug. 10, 1999

To the English Department

care of Dr. Henry Rogers, my advisor:

... I'm leaving UCA in mid-thesis and am leaving behind several non-transferable hours. I am leaving behind friends and admired, intelligent professors. Although I live an hour closer to HSU, my transfer has nothing to do with my location and everything to do with the quality of education I expect to receive, and the level of harmony on that campus -- a welcome change from the discord and upheaval at UCA.

This upheaval has driven much of the zeal from (English) professors -- a zeal that I very much appreciated in my undergrad years. With my favorite professors gone (having died, fled, been fired, or retired) I feel I am no longer getting the education I'm (paying for.) This is not to say that the remaining professors are not wonderful teachers. I sense many are stressed, unhappy, fed up, oppressed, and fearful (some) of losing jobs, bonuses or tenure. It is impossible not to notice when professors -- or half a department -- are feeling this way, and many students are quick to pick up on the fact that there is some terrible tension here. When there is so much animosity in the air, it stifles what should be a creative environment for students.

There are those outside the conflict who have said that all universities have problems. Well and true, but few universities have battles that are this extensive, have as many casualties, or last so long. Something changes and those universities move on. At UCA, nothing changes.

... The English department as I knew it no longer exists. What made it worthy of its excellence rating is being successfully destroyed by one force: Win Thompson. Although I love UCA ... I am not foolish enough to keep hanging on and hoping things will get better at the expense of my own education. I don't know which professors will be fired next, what other tricks Thompson has up his sleeve to tear down the morale and structure of the department. I am not comfortable in the instability brought on by his poor management. What else is there to say really? Count me as one who has chosen to go AWOL. I no longer want to be a student in a university run by such (an uncompromising, misdirected administrator).

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Alana Merritt Mahaffey now lives in Hot Springs.)




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