MISFIT DOC: The Roof of the Public University Is Leaking Again

A Prophesy From Utopia, Seattle, 1999


Dear American Public,

Disclaimer: This op-ed is also an inaugural poem

(anti-intellectual America rolls its eyes. Here we go…)

But wait a minute! To be an op-ed it can’t just be any poem. No, in the least it should be a time traveling poem; a poem that Boldly goes back to the time of Great Again. Historical and stuff. A Golden-Aged Laminate Poem.

I mean it’s a Really, Really Great Poem!

Please keep your hand inside the vehicle as we travel to where the notion hits home: As a university instructor in an American Studies department that was consolidated into Transnational Studies, re-envisioned, innovated, expanded–simultaneously downsized– the positioning of borders, barriers to pluralism in higher education,

blurred lines

between social imaginaries and unequal political realities have come to mean a great deal to me. This is also an adventure in hybridity!

One that I’ll warn you is dangerous too. The kind that mines past perspectives

through artists and teachers of troublesome voice and that messy insistence on making a living, bodies with curves that resist textual advances of dead poets on top of History, those Ministry equivalents of fake news variety
that everybody used to just call


But I’m not saying you should leave all the interpretation up to me

(I am a Big Woman, but certainly not alone).

Ursula K. LeGuin* once wrote ‘… the nature of the utopia I am trying to describe is such that if it is to come, it must exist already. […] I don’t think we’re ever going to get to utopia again by going forward, but only roundabout or sideways…’ or, as she explains,

going backwards.

So cue the replay, adjust your screen. We’re about to go from LeGuin to

the threat of the Leaky University!

(This is where we punch in the Destination: Utopia, Seattle, 1999) 


Enter scene: I think this is when they might have figured it all out, that when it reigns it pours; that educated minds under cuts think critically; that democratic scholarship, when ideology comes down, catches it like a sieve, filters it,

floods the streets.

Can you imagine them now, Space Needle in the foggy distance, 50,000 – 100,000 little holes in their free market plans, angry, eating up economically

loaded words

like affordable textbooks in the rain?**

What if I told you that you didn’t have to imagine them anymore, folks? 
What a wormhole that is!

An education still somewhat untethered from a dutifully repaying STEM career,

and it’s only 19-99!

Who knew that the back-stepping, forward-marching, American-Dream-plated neoliberalism of Trumpism would bring us to where Seattle

trickled off?

Or at least, back to its Prophesy.
This is how it generally works:

you recite it long enough and it becomes Reality.


This is where I started, at least, inside a giant, dysfunctional tv,

traveling through an obsolete building at my public university

that also routinely leaks.


“Back round once more. Usà puyew usu wapiw!” 

– Ursula K. LeGuin*

The priestess clicks her tablet

and Sees:

“ And the calendar year will crack.


And the institutional facades will leak, will crumble like

40-year-old public spending campus constructions in

the rain.


And they’ll send out the workers scrambling,

circling above in furious rituals to patch it, illusions

collecting in public spaces far and wide like


caught into conspicuously placed Emergency buckets.


And those buckets will look an awful lot like unused

Construction buckets.


And the Men will be At Work Again.


And the women can ask them

for The Pocket Monies.


And the people coasting by on

debt with their breakfasts

in their hands will

look up, awe-struck, incred-

ulous, and inauger


that this Work is not about

the work anymore, this endless holding up

the roof, On Fire,

in suspension, in suspense, in desperate invest-

ments, and grumbling comparisons of


but inside deeply held breaths has become something


irrevocably into ruin.

something beyond

the cheap fixes, the $6000 shower curtain, the golden

laminate dream in-between,

all these idolatries impossible to lean on anymore,

unspeakably shiny, really,




pooling in a just sad corner to reflect to us

that we are all just squatters here.


And the silver view will slide far away,

to something out there now, immovable,


not so pretty,

but together, seeking out elsewhere

under efficient, Brutalist architecture,

exhausted, sure,

I mean, aren’t we all, who can even get ahead these days? but

still reaching, gathering up

the last, long, bright

green, ecofriendly years

from the bonfire with their hands,

awoken and scorched,

maybe a little bit hungover,

but with paid leave now, just glowing

with a holy trinity of Arts, Universal Benefits, and the Spirit of

Collective Leisure,

casting out the evil demons

of ass-backwards mechanization and their

greedy little cronies,

enlightening the Kids not to be Alright again, 

but furious

with bad-ass anti-bigotry,

-amend transmission-






Jennifer Seaman Cook’s cultural political scholarship in the arts, media, and visual and public cultures is augmented by her intermedial practices in poetry, essay, and documentary. Her most recent essays can be found in Salon, PopMatters, and Heide Hatry’s photography book Not a Rose. Jennifer’s poetry has been published in Cedilla Literary Journal (archived at University of Montana), Lunch Ticket and more. Jennifer teaches American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She stands firmly behind the democratic promise of publicly funded institutions.

Submit a comment