The Journey of a Journalist (Part 5A)-GLOBAL CITIZEN: DRIFTING FROM AMERICA TO MALAYSIA
Posted on September 29th, 2009

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2009

In Therigatha, bhikkuni Vajira is said to have responded to Mara:

It’s only suffering that comes to be,
Suffering that stands and falls away.
Nothing but suffering comes to be,
Nothing but suffering ceases.

In retrospect, I find my quest for a PhD in journalism and mass communication and the subsequent travel across oceans in quest of jobs that set up competing human beings against one another””‚all as traps set up by Mara to delay my emancipation from the grip of the wheel of becoming. Existence is indeed a reflection of tilakkhana“”‚anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering/unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (no-self/interdependence).  

Let’s look at the sequence of events that affected my life from 1972 to 1974.

I accepted the award of a doctorate thinking of it incorrectly as a permanent emblem of my nƒÆ’-¾marƒÆ’-¦«pa (ego/psychophysical individuality). A hybrid of my avijjƒÆ’-¾ (ignorance), sankhara (karmic action), tanhƒÆ’-¾ (desire/craving), upƒÆ’-¾dƒÆ’-¾na (entanglements), viƒÆ’†’±ƒÆ’†’±aƒÆ’†’±a (consciousness) and other nidƒÆ’-¾nas (co-arising factors) propelled me to get the doctorate. A new cycle of suffering from another hybrid of co-arising factors replaced the previous cycle each time I competed for jobs.

My doctorate and successful competition with other candidates, enabled me to get my first full-time faculty teaching position at the mass communication department, Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg (about 50 miles southeast of Kansas City), with a salary of $12, 500 for the school year beginning Sept. 1. It was simply a nine-month contract that I was able to get for my “training” after graduation on an F-1 student visa.

In accepting the CMSU job, I caused dukkha to Timothy Yu, chairman of the department of communication, Hong Kong Baptist College, who offered me a faculty position at a salary of about $450 a month. TanhƒÆ’-¾ determined my decision to accept the offer with the higher pay although I had an obligation to serve the developing world for a period of time in return for my WPI fellowship and subsequent “free” education in the U.S. Had I used the criterion of “suffering,” my decision could have been the reverse. 

In general, as I reflect on my past from the perspective of paticca samuppada (dependent co-arising), I can see the role the nidƒÆ’-¾nas played from the days of my childhood ambitions, including in the decision to quit Lake House. I think that I might have exceeded the Buddhist middle path in succumbing to the material “benefits” that America offered me. Perhaps a feeling of guilt induced my drift toward Asia again.

CMSU offered me the training ground for teaching courses in mass communication. The SJMC at University of Minnesota had not prepared me for a full load of teaching. My diary entry for Sept. 8 says it all: “I was dead tired today after teaching four classes in succession””‚Public Relations, Elements of News Reporting, Editorial and Interpretative Writing, and Case Studies in Public Relations.” Preparation of detailed course outlines, weekly lectures and assignments, as well as the commitment to return the graded assignments promptly, left me with hardly any time do anything else.

My burden didn’t get any lighter in the next two terms. I had to teach courses that required new preparation””‚such as Feature Writing, International Broadcasting, International Communication, Comparative Media Systems, and Criticism of Mass Media. Despite my dukkha with the teaching load; I maintained very cordial relations with Robert E. Summers, my department head; Linda Marchbanks, instructor; Robert Kendall, assistant professor; and other faculty. Although I experienced much psychological suffering, I also learned a lot by trial and error.

In hopes of reducing my suffering, I bought a 1972 Chevrolet Malibu for $3,657 in late September to solve my transportation problems. It was my first purchase of a vehicle after the Hawthorn bicycle in Eugene. To seek solace in idyllic surroundings, I often visited Pertle Springs, a 300-acre recreational and biological research area one mile south of the campus.

Just before I arrived in Warrensburg, I stopped in Carbondale, Ill., to attend the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism, where I presented a paper titled “Survey technique as a tool for teaching news reporting” to the Newspaper Division on Au. 22. This was another delusionary endeavor to establish my nƒÆ’-¾marƒÆ’-¦«pa following the norms established by the ego-promoting academic elites of the West.

However, I restrained myself from participating in another ego-boosting event””‚the University of Minnesota fall-term commencement on Dec. 13, when the degree of doctor of philosophy would have been conferred upon me. 

In the winter term, I was saddened to read the news about the death of Cecil Graham, former CDN editor, in early February. At the same time, the news of the arrival of my younger sister Kanthi in the United States as the guest of Ruth Hoggard, a woman who worked for the Eugene Register-Guard during my WPI internship, heartened me.

In the spring term, several unexpected developments took place that shifted the venue of my dukkha from Missouri to Malaysia via Minnesota.

  • John A. Lent, an American journalism scholar, had been hired by the Science University of Malaysia (USM), to establish a communication program in the university’s School of Humanities. Lent got acquainted with me as the author of the chapters on Ceylon in two of the books he edited””‚Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific (Temple University Press, 1978) and Newspapers in Asia (Heinemann Asia, 1982). In mid-February, Lent wrote me about a job possibility at USM, which sent me an official application form a month later. Lent promptly informed me that I was among four candidates considered. In mid-May, Registrar N. A. Ogle officially informed me about the “favorable decision” of the board of selection. Sharom Ahmat, dean of the USM School of Humanities, informed me that my appointment as a lecturer would be effective April 1, 1974.
  • By the end of May, I also had the offer of a teaching position for the fall term at the College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida in Gainesville. In a telephone conversation early May, UF assistant professor Kurt Kent, who was a research fellow at SJMC in Minnesota in the late “ƒ”¹…”60s, told me about the short-term assistant professor position at his school. Dean John Paul Jones sent me the offer of employment from mid-September to mid-December.
  • Ted Miller, executive director of the World Press Institute appointed me as a consultant to WPI in Saint Paul during the winter term from January to early March. My main job was to produce a WPI alumni newsletter.

Moving from state to state and crossing the oceans to work on three different jobs within nine months entailed much agony and suffering. Yet I took this state of anicca (change) as a challenge. Now, I was left with one more decision: How should I spend the summer?

 Because my younger sister Kanthi wanted to visit with me in Missouri and the Wigtons (Ruth Hoggard’s brother Bill and his wife Slo) in Alabama, I planned a tour from Warrensburg, Mo., to Gadsden, Ala., as a journalistic field experiment. Hypothesis: Southerners do not discriminate against the coloreds from South Asia if they are so identified. Kanthi was to wear a saree throughout the tour as part of the experimental design.

Kanthi and I left Warrensburg on June 23.  We drove south stopping at tourist sites on the way, and stayed the first night in Pocahontas, Ark. (Townhouse Motel). Next day, we stopped in Memphis, Tenn., for a cruise on the Mississippi River on board the Memphis Queen. At the Holly Inn Motel in Holly Springs, Miss., the woman at the reception didn’t respond to my doorbell ring, so we left. We spent the second night in Oxford, Miss. (Holiday Inn).

 After visiting the Chickasaw Village in Tupelo, Miss., we crossed over to Alabama and stopped at Hamilton “where we were taken around by a very kind-hearted lady, Mrs. B. T. Nixon””‚something we never expected of a stranger.” She took us to her luxury home too. Except for the minor snub in Mississippi, the Southerners were generally friendly and hospitable.

We arrived at the Wigton home in Gadsden, Ala., on the third night about 10.

The next day, the Wigtons took us to see the Noccalula Falls.  I left Gadsden for Gainesville, Fla., the next morning leaving Kanthi with the Wigtons.

I leased a unit at College Terrace apartments, just opposite the UF campus, for six months. To while away time until fall term, I took a two-week tour of Florida””‚visiting many tourist attractions on the eastern seaboard all the way to Key West. I returned via the Everglades along the western seaboard. Soon after, I went on a bus trip to Fort Collins, Colo., to cover the 1973 Association for Education in Journalism Convention for the weekly publication Editor& Publisher, which paid me $125 for my story.

The fall classes at the UF College of journalism and communications started Sept. 24. I was assigned to teach Advertising 507 (Public Opinion and Advertising), Journalism 300 Lab (“an overcrowded class which lasts from 8 a.m. to noon”) and PR 340 Lab (“an editing and production course”). In effect, I was mostly working as a lab instructor for two of the classes taught by two regular faculty members, John Griffiths and Robert Cox. This was one of the aspects of dukkha that foreign graduates in American universities had to grin and bear in the “ƒ”¹…”70s.

Having shipped my belongings to Malaysia, I left Florida for good on Dec. 31, 1973. I drove all the way to Saint Paul in my Chevrolet Malibu (which I later sold for $2,650) to work as a WPI consultant. I designed and produced the first WPI alumni journal. A letter from John Lent was awaiting me. It reflected dukkha: Lent was leaving Penang before my arrival because of personnel disharmony in the department.

I left Saint Paul on March 10, stopped over in Carson City, Nev., Honolulu and Agana, and left the United States on March 12 from Guam. Back in Asia, I spent a week in the Philippines (Manila and Quezon City) before landing in the Malay Peninsula (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur).

In Quezon City, I met with former Ceylonese journalist Gerry Delikhan, editor of Insight. Gerry and his wife arranged a dinner for me at their home. I also visited the Press Foundation of Asia, where I interviewed Amitabha Chowdhury, Eduardo Sanchez and Juan Mercado.

In Singapore, I re-visited Amic, which had relocated to Newton Road. Juan F. Jamias, Amic’s senior fellow, took me out for lunch. I also telephone Ernest Corea at the Straits Times.

[Note: In late 1974, Ernest Corea and I had a public disagreement over his article “Should newspapers in Asia be freed?” published in Media Asia (Vol. 1 No. 2). My dissent “Fallacious arguments””‚a reply to Ernest Corea” appeared in the next issue of Media Asia together with Corea’s response. I doubt that Media Asia carried my short response to Corea’s rejoinder.]

In Kuala Lumpur, I visited the South East Asia Press Centre, where I interviewed editorial director Howard Coates and PFA’s Pran Chopra.

I arrived in Penang on March 28 to take up my new job.

I was glad that I had come to serve Asia to disseminate the benefits of my American training in journalism and mass communications.

 

Next: Part 5B””‚Global Citizen: Teaching journalism and getting married in Malaysia

[The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead]

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