• Happy Ending At Last in Cedar Falls

    • Posted on Apr 10, 2016
    This morning's (April 10) Courier column on the Cedar Falls School Bond election last Tuesday.  Good news and a happy ending for a change.   

    Cedar Falls Bond supporters finally got good news last Tuesday.  Their perseverance won.   

    Two previous bond proposals did not—in September, 2014 for 118 million, and June last year for 35 million. The winner last week was for 32 million.  Three million seemed to make the difference.  

     Well, only partly.  The cost to taxpayers was about the same.  

     Actually, the community seemed to change its mind.  Elementary enrollments are increasing, making overcrowding inevitable.  Also schools are visibly deteriorating. 

     You don’t want your schools looking third world, as though public support were unavailable.   Worse, if public support is available but not given, it shows a community turning its back on itself.       

     Yet this time, even hard-core naysayers like Judd Saul, who was loudly and vocally against the first two referendums, supported it.  His reasoning, according to one report, came down to the school using 8 million in its reserve funds. The actual cost will be forty million, with bond funds only covering 32 million.  

     So even to naysayers like Saul it seemed like good money management. 
    When I heard this bare-bones proposal had passed, I breathed a sigh of relief.   If it hadn’t passed with the needed supermajority, those of us who care about public education would have gone into despair mode.  
    A loss would have put naysayers in charge, making any real progress all but impossible.  More classes in trailers.   More jammed-up school hallways filled with storage containers. Larger classes, lower teacher morale.  Public education in decline. 

     A deteriorating school system sits right next to a deteriorating infrastructure as visible signs of community decline.  

     When you visit a city as a possible new home, you want to see signs that it’s taking care of itself.  Badly potholed roads, shuttered buildings—College Square, anyone?—bode ill, and deteriorating schools reveal a community that no longer bothers.     

     However, in Cedar Falls, a vibrant downtown Main Street, a saved historic Depot, and as of last Tuesday, a renovating school system, make it all go together. 

     Repairs, remodeling schools, and construction of a new elementary school mean citizens still want a community that cares about its future.   

     And yes, the current repair of University Avenue sits right up there as a sign that yes-sayers are still in charge.  

    Roundabouts are coming here, and in a decade we’ll all be thankful.  The larger world out there happily uses roundabouts, after all.    

     Condition of a school system and roads reveal the future of a city, now and always.  Cedar Falls has some of the best-run and best-regarded schools in the state, and good schools attract families more than most other community features, I wrote in 2014 in support of the first bond issue.  

    In fact, I did despair after that first loss, and immediately contributed to the school system as a token of support.   

     A hearty thanks to Superintendent Andy Pattee, the Cedar Falls School Board, and all the yes voters who look to a positive community future.    

     As a former student and resident of Cedar Falls wrote when he saw the good news:  “The covenant has been nurtured.”   


    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Hot Button Issues
    • Education
  • Professor Josef Fox: An Appreciation

    • Posted on Apr 04, 2016

    By the time you read this, a long-time Cedar Falls resident and local legend will be well on his way to his new permanent home in Peacham, Vt.

    Joe Fox is probably into Ohio by today, rolling east on the turnpike in his old blue Ford for the last time.  Just last Friday I lunched with Professor Fox and another (besides myself) former UNI student-turned-faculty member, Robert Waller.  

    Robert and I both felt a need to say goodbye to the Grand Old Man of UNI, the professor whose legend had touched us both.

    Back in the late fifties-early Sixties, when ISTC was becoming  SCI, the saying among students was “Avoid the four F’s!” These were professors whose last names all began with “F” and that was supposedly the grade that they most often assigned. “Fox” was of course one of them.

    Yet, Fox was also given the “Favorite Prof” award an unprecedented three times, showing that those students who didn’t obey the “Four F” rule loved him.

     That’s the way it is with legends, I suspect; they’re both loved and hated, revered and feared. Legends never provoke indifference, and Joe Fox never tolerated it, either in himself or in his students.

    The key to his legendary status around UNI certainly was his presence. Joe Fox always seemed like a huge man to me. Actually he’s not; he’s under six feet, and probably weighs around 170.

    But he always projected himself outward with a thunderous, rolling voice, carefully cadenced into fully realized sentences. He orated when he spoke, much like Orson Wells narrates or the younger Everett Dirksen spoke before the senate.  

    And Joe would look at his hearers with penetrating, intense eyes-no glasses-under a deeply furrowed forehead and bushy eyebrows.  His eyes always seemed to place his points while his voice hammered them home.

    More than one freshman trembled before Josef Fox’s rolling thunder.  Indeed, more than one faculty member and administrator trembled.

    I remember once when the administration committed an obvious blunder; the whole faculty knew it, as did most administrators, but they forged ahead anyway, defying the full faculty and refusing to admit their mistake.  

    At a faculty meeting held to debate the issue, someone said, rather weakly, “Maybe we could just count on the Board of Regents to act honorably and overturn this decision.”  

    This was after long debate and discussion.  Joe Fox rose majestically, took us all in with a deep, sorrowful glance, and began softly, “If (pronounced “eeehff”) the department head had acted honorably, we would not have to deal with this problem today.  (pause. Then louder) And eeefhh the dean had acted honorably, we would not have to deal with this problem today.  (longer pause. then almost shouting.)

    AND EEEHFF THE VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENT HAD ACTED HONORABLY, WE WOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM TODAY. (pause. now very softly again.)  Ladies and gentlemen, I submit: If our administrators haven’t yet seen fit to act honorably, we would be foolish to expect the Board of Regents, who hired them, to act honorably NOW!”

     The faculty always giggled a bit after these outbursts because such passion and rhetorical flair had long gone out of style.  Cool reserve and stumbling managerial doublespeak was the order of the day.

    Still, no one could deny Joe Fox’s presence, and his speeches, which he usually placed at the end of a faculty debate, would often swing a vote entirely.

     So I was surprised when I asked him, “Joe, why didn’t you ever publish your ideas nationally?”  And he answered “I wasn’t good enough.  By the time I was 40, I realized I wasn’t going to write a great book, and my pride wouldn’t let me write a bad book.”  

    So Joe Fox’s legend has remained local/

     But not his legacy.  Friday afternoon, afternoon, after his final lecture, he took a moment to thank his “Present Predicament of Mankind” class for their attentiveness.  The whole class rose and fervently gave the Old Professor a sustained standing ovation.  

    It was a movingly right moment, though we all knew we couldn’t repay him for those 32 years of exhorting, explaining, questioning, wondering aloud, struggling with mankind’s follies, tragedies, and now the ghastly predicaments facing us all.

     What Joe Fox leaves us is the notion that education, a genuinely liberal education, is a fundamental first condition for understanding one’s self and the world.  Without that, we remain in personal darkness.  He insisted that we must change our attitudes and institutions, and soon.  To not change is to not survive.  

    And Joe thought that the most important mission of the university is changing students’ minds-teaching the ways of seeing, thinking and communicating that will insure mankind’s survival.

     He was not optimistic last Friday.  He saw a horror of a decade ahead precisely because so few people can or will change.  But of those few who do initiate positive changes, Fox insisted that it will be because they were touched sometime by a good teacher in a good class.

     Professor Fox was too modest last Friday to suggest he made that kind of difference at UNI.  When I asked him what he thought his major accomplishment had been, he said with a chuckle, “I made up the reading lists for the humanities course years ago.  That got the students reading books they wouldn’t have.  That’s my major accomplishment.”  
    Well, as he would say, horse manure.  

    Those of us who know him well or appreciated him as a teacher carry part of him with us as his permanent legacy.  When we catch ourselves hearing a voice thundering inside us, “By damn, that’s Wrong!” or “What is the REAL problem here, beneath all this CRAP?” or “I’m sorry, I’m confused.  Please enlighten me,” we can thank our local legend, Professor Josef Fox.

    He’ll be more than missed at UNI. He’ll be remembered and revered. 

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Personalities
    • Education
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


Contact Scott

Contact Scott Photo