Michael Manson

A memorial service to honour Dr. Michael Manson was held at 2:00pm on Friday, September 14 in the Multi-purpose Room at CBU and was followed by the renaming dedication of the Faculty/Staff Lounge to the Manson Lounge. The following are four eulogies given at the memorial.

Michael
by Scott Stewart

Michael Manson

Michael Manson in the Spring of 2005

What to say about Michael? Like most of us, Michael was a complex personality containing lots of inconsistent and contradictory traits. For example, like me, he unfortunately combined a big mouth with a thin skin. And despite all his bravado, Michael was, like all good academics I think, keenly aware of all that he didn’t know and was deeply insecure about it.
One can’t say much about Michael’s tenure at CBU independently of his relationship with a whole host of administrators over almost thirty years. He was the antithesis to their thesis, the transvaluation of their values, as it were. In short Michael was the longstanding spokesman for our union, most famously in our successful effort to finally get a full collective agreement and to achieve a deal on remuneration that began the process of addressing the pathetically low rates of pay under which faculty at UCCB had historically to suffer. To give you a taste of the difference this has made in our practical lives, consider that the bottom step for Assistant Professor is now more than Michael made the year before the strike when he was an Associate with 25 years at CBU.
The successful conclusion to our strike in 2000, then, is also inextricably linked to Michael. This is exactly as it should be since Michael was at the time both FAUT President and our Chief Negotiator; a negotiation, it should be noted, that lasted for more than four years. Again, just to give you a taste of those negotiations, imagine meeting at least one full day a week, and sometimes two (more during non-teaching terms) where, at their insistence, we had to read aloud, word by word, line by line, our proposals for everything from office equipment to sabbatical applications. It was an obvious ploy to delay. But we were horribly green and so it worked, at least for a while.
That strike made the union popular, not only because it gave us a significant pay raise and a whole host of new protections under a collective agreement, but also because it gave us a sense that we actually had the power to affect the conditions under which we worked. But Michael was a union man long before that, during a time when even many of his friends really couldn’t have cared less about it. Indeed, I recall a dinner party hosted by Richard and Mary Keshen shortly after I arrived in Sydney when there was a heated discussion amongst the guests regarding whether a strike at UCCB would ever be justified: a majority, I think, thought it wouldn’t. And those were some of the so-called radicals within the institution. It’s fair to say, then, that Michael had to do some consciousness raising, as it used to be called, amongst the faculty to get them to see the importance of the union, not just with respect to monetary issues, but for a collective agreement that would provide language offering us protection from an administration that had abandoned a vision of the institution as a family to one that increasingly saw faculty as an adversary that had to be kept tightly under control. In effect, Michael helped lead us out of the desert of despotic rule to a workplace that began at least to look something like a democracy where we had some measure of control over policies that affected us.
I would be remiss and perhaps even disloyal to the memory of Michael if I left the impression that everything is perfect on the labour front at CBU. It is certainly far better than it once was, and our disputes are no longer as personal as they once were, but things are far from perfect. In general, it’s a tough time for labour. We hear ad nauseum about how horrid the economy is. Governments in BC and Ontario have used this as justification to assault the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers, and to slash their salaries and deprive teachers of the right to strike. We hear the same thing in Nova Scotia, and we are expected to accept wage increases below the rate of inflation. At the same time, however, administration is growing at an unparalleled and uncontrolled rate and has increasingly eaten into academic resources that exist at the real core of any university. This administrative bloat is something we need to fight vigorously. We also need to fight against assaults on academic freedom. In 2011, University Presidents within AUCC unanimously endorsed a new policy on academic freedom that subjects that freedom to what the President’s statement calls “institutional integrity,” which is, of course, determined by the administration. This will serve to take academic decisions out of the hands of faculty and hand it over to administration. The new policy will also make it more risky for academics to engage in open critique, particularly against their own institution.
To mention just one further area of concern that needs urgently to be addressed (among the many that I could discuss) is pensions. We desperately need to ensure that our members can retire in a timely manner without worrying about living in poverty. While many of our colleagues at other institutions are assured of approximately 65% of their salary when they retire, our members will be lucky to retire with about 15-20% of theirs. That puts pressure on all of us to work beyond 65 whether we actually want to or not.
There was, of course, more to Michael than the union, and so I want to say a few words about other aspects of his professional life at CBU. Michael was on just about every committee at CBU during his time here and indeed usually played a leading role in them. In all of this work, Michael strived to make CBU the best university it could be even if, at times, this annoyed some of his colleagues as well as some administrators.
Michael was also a devoted teacher who attempted over his career to bring the same sort of democratization to the classroom that he argued for with respect to the workplace. Hence, he was one of the first here to abandon traditional lectures in favour of class discussion as urged by reader response theory, of which he was always an advocate. And he was one of the first here as well to introduce students to the difficult world(s) of postmodernism and critical theory, even when he had to convince his colleagues of their importance and centrality to the study of literature. And in all of this, he was devoted to the same vision of social justice that I’ve already spoken of: hence, he was always a firm supporter of the student’s union and of the plight of marginalized groups at CBU. If he were with us today, he would no doubt be ruffling lots of feathers regarding the increasing class sizes in the BBA; he would also point out that we are still falling short in providing the necessary academic support to ensure these students succeed, especially those whose first language is not English.
Michael was also an active researcher. In fact, we published four papers jointly that dealt with our interdisciplinary interests in philosophy and literature. I find it interesting that our last two papers dealt, respectively, with literature about the difficulties of growing up and of growing old.
I want to add in closing that Michael was a fast and close friend of mine from the time I arrived in Sydney in 1990. He helped me through the worst of times, as he and Elizabeth did when they took me in for a while during my divorce as I regained some sense of balance, and the best of times, whether that was lunches in the faculty lounge, Friday nights at Bunkers, dinner parties at our respective homes, or traveling through the streets of Paris or Santa Fe. I am the better for having known him, and I shall miss him deeply.



Memorial for Mike Manson

by Richard Keshen

One

I woke up 3 days ago with a dream of Michael. He was lying face down on the ground and I lifted him up.
Most people we meet fade from our memories. But some people because of the power of their personalities, their achievements or because they were close friends stay in our memories. They become signposts for the rest of our lives. Michael was all of these things for me.
Michael was a serious scholar and teacher. He did his doctorate on the poet Robert Browning. There is a poem by Browning about the impact some people have on us, even second-hand. It’s a poem about a person meeting the great iconoclastic poet, Shelley, a man anathema to the authorities of his day.

It’s called “Memorabilia”:

Ah, did you once see Shelley (Michael) plain,
And did he stop and speak to you
And did you speak to him again?
How strange it seems and new!
………
For there I picked up on the heath
And there I put inside my breast
A molted feather, an eagle-feather!
Well, I forget the rest.

Two

There are hundreds of examples of Mike’s confronting unjust power. No-one I know could get as mad as Mike at what he perceived to be injustice, even when his anger, or the acts which issued from it, was at significant cost to himself.
Here are two examples:

  1. Shortly after Mike came to Cape Breton he wrote a blistering letter to the Cape Breton Post criticizing the regional Archbishop for advocating that abortion be made illegal. In the late 1970s, this made him very unpopular with many people where he worked and lived.
  2. Toby Smith, a professor, was fired unfairly by CBU, at least as many of us saw it. Mike went to bat for her as only he could He went apoplectic, to use his word, and tried (unsuccessfully) to bring her justice. It hurt him deeply and for a long time that he couldn’t remedy Toby’s situation.

I always saw Mike as in the tradition of Old Testament Prophets: Driven by a sense of justice, the Prophets were often difficult people with large frailties of their own. And of course they were not always right. All of these things were true of Michael.
Lenny Bruce, the stand-up comic and social critic, was in this tradition. He also had a lot of frailties. He was reviled by the authorities of the day. Mike and I shared a passion for the music of Bob Dylan. Here are some pertinent lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song, “Lenny Bruce is Dead”.

Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lives on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synagogue
He was an outlaw, that’s for sure
More of an outlaw than you ever were
Lenny Bruce is gone but his spirit’s living on and on.

Maybe he had some problems, maybe some things that he couldn’t work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth and he knew what he was talking about
Never robbed any churches nor cut off any people’s heads
He just took the folks in high places and he shined a light in their beds
He’s on some other shore, he couldn’t live anymore.

He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts
Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had.

That’s for Mike and, in a different way, the administrators who fired Toby Smith.

Three

The Mourner’s Kaddish is the prayer Jews declaim publicly in synagogue when people close to them die. It goes back 2500 years to Babylonian times. It’s written in Aramaic, an ancient Semitic dialect. It was probably the language Jesus spoke. Parts of the Lord’s Prayer derive from it, and at the end there’s a prayer for peace. The prayer says nothing of death or grief. Rather it proclaims the greatness of God and the goodness of the universe. For people like Mike and me it can proclaim the meaningfulness of life even in the face of death. As a non-believer Mike was very conflicted about his Jewishness, but he knew, and his friends knew, it was one of the deepest and most important things about him. I doubt that the Kaddish has been said for him. I just know he’d appreciate it if it were said. Most Jews don’t pay attention to the meaning of the words (it’s in Aramaic after all). The mere sounds, as in music, are meant as a contemplative meditation on the deceased. You can do the same, as I end my comments with its recitation:

Mourner’s Kaddish (Transliteration)

Yitgadal v’yit-kadash sh’mei rabba
B’allma dee v’ra chir’utei v’yamlich malchutei,
B’chayeichon, uv’yomeichon, uv’chayei d’chol beit yisrael,
Ba’agala u’vizman kariv, v’imru: Amen

Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’allam u’lallmei allmaya.

Yit’barach, v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar,

v’yitromam, v’yit’nasei,

v’yit’hadar, v’yitaleh, v’yit’halal,

sh’mei d’kudsha b’rich hu
L’ayla min kol b’irchata v’shirata,

tush’b’chata v’nechemata,

da’ami’ran b’all’ma, v’imru: Amen
Y’hei shlama rabba min sh’maya,

v’chayim aleinu v’al kol yisrael v’imru: Amen

Oseh shalom bim’ro’mav,

hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu,

v’al kol yisrael v’imru: Amen


Notes for talk given at The Celebration for Michael Manson at CBU
by Bill Clemens
Michael Manson and I were close friends for more than 30 years and until recently I never wondered why. It just was! We were very different people. Consider Michael – urbane city boy from Toronto, Jewish, a Victorian scholar, a romantic, a humanist; and me – a football-loving, beer swilling, southern boy from a small town with no Jews (or Catholics) and a grotty, bio-behavioral determinist. On the face of it, it seems an unlikely match. Certainly Mike had many positive attributes and multiple roles as a teacher, a scholar, a faculty/union leader; but I think our friendship was based on shared humor. We made one another laugh — a lot and over many years.
Thirty-five years and a few days ago I first encountered Mike in the long hallway in the portable offices of the old George St. campus. I turned around to suddenly behold this bearded, long-haired, hippie wearing sandals and bib overalls sauntering toward me; and I blurted out “ What the f*** are you?” He stopped, looked at me, and burst out laughing. This meeting launched our friendship.
Soon thereafter began what became an almost daily lunch time ritual. It began in the cafeteria on the bottom floor of the Logue building on George St. (or across Dorchester St. at the Shingle Inn). It continued throughout the ‘80s here in the cafeteria down the hall; and, finally in the‘90s it moved into the lounge, which is about to bear his name.
These lunches were a time of constant joking and bantering between us to the amusement (or dismay) of anyone within earshot. The humor was sometimes risque, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes politically incorrect, and often commented about local or university policies, people, or events. At times these conversations could get outlandish and/or boisterous. I remember on one occasion we were performing at a table on the lower level of the cafeteria (down the hall) – and I guess we were too loud or unruly. I looked up and saw Elizabeth at a table on the upper level. This was before she and Mike were involved; but she had worked for me and I knew she was giving us “the look”. You know the one, down her nose – as if to say, “Why are those little boys being so foolish?”
Michael used to refer to the two of us as Statler and Waldorf, in honor of the two old codgers in the booth of the Muppet Theatre that would jeer and mock the muppets performing below. Sometimes we took our cafeteria act on the road to Halifax and beyond – again to the delight (or disgust) of those near us in meetings, airports, or planes. In any case we couldn’t stop doing it; and we, at least, enjoyed it.
In addition to our verbal sparring, we often played pranks on one another – particularly around birthdays. For example, I once arranged for a woman in a gorilla suit to drop into his class and present him with a bunch of balloons. In retaliation, on my birthday he had my class present me with a cake and a huge box of Depends. In perhaps his crowning achievement in prank retaliation, I was mostly innocent. On his 50th birthday Elizabeth and her mother had a big portable sign erected at the main walking entrance to the university with a happy birthday message written in large letters. For some reason, he vowed to retaliate against me.
So my next birthday comes along; and, as luck would have it I’m to leave on an early afternoon flight to Ottawa. All morning and throughout lunch I’m on guard, alert, and waiting – but nothing happens! I go to the airport, get on the plane and feel a great sense of relief……… That is I was relieved until, after the preflight safety instructions, the flight attendant leads the rest of the passengers in signing “happy birthday” to me as we’re rolling down the runway.
Obviously, Michael touched many different people in many different ways; but he always made me laugh – and I’m thankful.


The Michael Manson Commemorative
by Don MacGillivray
On countless occasions through the years lunches at the faculty lounge were entertaining, thoughtful, demanding and informational – and were frequently valuable to the participants about what was working and what was remiss and of concern to faculty at Cape Breton University.
Michael was invariably at the centre of them – both as a spoksperson and as a listener. While other union executive members were frequently present as well, it was an egalitarian mix – indeed, we even let the complainers from the valley have their say – and scores of faculty knew they could air their concerns or displeasure if they wanted responses on a more that one-on-one basis. And we all realized there was food for thought at these lunches.
The Manson Lounge is appropriately named.

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