In Memory of Our Colleague, Friend, and Family Member Mike Shively And in Protest of the Investigation that Cost Him His Life
Memorial Remarks by Jim Harris
Mike Shively Memorial 19 August 2020
Remarks by Jim Harris
Mike Shively was a canoeist of the highest order. In Canada, where I attended graduate school, canoeing is perhaps second only to ice hockey as the national sport. The great Canadian canoeing guru, Bill Mason, once wrote, “the canoe is the most beautiful and functional object that humanity has ever created. In my opinion, this is not a statement that is open to debate. It’s a fact! It follows that if the canoe is the most beautiful work of human beings, then the art of paddling one must rank right up there along with painting, poetry, music, and ballet.”
I agree with Mason. And if paddling a canoe is an art, Mike was a virtuoso; he seems to have been born to canoe. Mike could move a canoe across the water like no one I’ve ever seen. In a canoe, he became some kind of mythical creature, a chimera, like a Centaur. Except that instead of being half man and half horse, Mike would become half man and half canoe. The canoe I usually saw Mike paddle was a 19-foot needle just wide enough for his hips to fit between the gunwales. Just staying upright in that skinny canoe took great skill. The second Mike would begin to paddle that dart of a canoe, the boat would become a part of him and responded to his paddle with grace, speed, and elegance. Much of what I know about paddling a canoe comes from watching Mike paddle.
If you think I am exaggerating Mike’s abilities in a canoe, let me quickly dispel that thought. The Texas Water Safari bills itself as “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race,” and I have no doubt that it is. It’s an annual race of 260 miles on the rivers of Texas, non-stop, for three days….in the middle of June! If the Texas Water Safari is the World’s Toughest Canoe Race, then surely those who compete in the race are the World’s Toughest Canoeists – if not the toughest people on the planet. But Mike didn’t simply participate in these races, as one might, say, in a 5K Fun Run; he dominated them – he was there to win. Mike completed 28 of these 260-mile races, paddling in them more than 7,280 miles. Mike finished first in his class in 20 of those 28 races.
My favorite photograph of Mike is one of him taken as a younger man at the end of a Texas Water Safari race. He is standing with a look of utter triumph on his face, his paddle thrust high into the air, his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a torso of chiseled muscle. If Mike had been holding a spear aloft in that photo rather than a canoe paddle, you might have wondered if you were looking at an image of Achilles at the moment he defeated Hector at the gates of Troy. In the current vernacular, the man was absolutely ripped!
But Mike was interested in canoeing not solely as a means of exercise and competition. It was also a medium to explore the natural world and to embed himself within it. Mike had an intense curiosity about everything around him, a trait that in my mind distinguishes interesting people from boring people. In the great children’s classic, “The Wind in the Willows,” one of the characters, Mole, says, “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” This line immediately makes me think of Mike. I probably paddled Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River with Mike about 20 times, including class and personal trips. He would often paddle ahead of the group, checking out the riverbanks and eddies for signs of deer, beaver, and other wildlife, and he often raised interesting questions about the history and geology of the canyon.
I am going to diverge for a moment or two now and speak directly to those of you who are UVU faculty and staff members, and I intend to speak frankly. I retired from UVU a few weeks ago and I now have the freedom to speak my mind. We are here tonight on the anniversary of Mike Shively’s tragic death due to a malicious investigation by the UVU administration into allegations of policy violations on Mike’s part. This immoral and incredibly cruel investigative process is the ultimate cause of Mike’s death. There is no other way to put it. Ironically, the administration’s investigation of Mike was itself a violation both of UVU policy and of academic freedom. Were it not for the disgusting investigation Mike was put through, there is no doubt he would be alive and well today and preparing for his courses.
But Mike’s death is only the most obvious and tragic outcome of an investigative process run amuck at UVU. Mike is simply the visible tip of a very large iceberg. I am aware of several other UVU faculty members who have been put through similar investigations, all of which follow the same general pattern. Out of the blue, faculty members are accosted by the UVU Office of Legal Counsel and interrogated. The accused are not allowed counsel, they are not informed of the specifics of the allegations against them or who made them, and they are threatened with their jobs if they reveal the very existence of the investigation to colleagues. This effectively isolates the accused for weeks or months of intense stress, taking a terrible toll on their emotional, mental, and physical health.
Even faculty who are eventually exonerated pay an awful price. Some have left UVU for other positions, some have been forced to take stress-related leave from the university, and others suffer long-term psychological damage wondering if and when this might happen to them again. In essence, UVU faculty members are being punished and are suffering great personal and professional harm before the allegations against them have even been adjudicated. These despicable investigations can only continue under the cover of secrecy, so let’s end that secrecy right now. If all UVU faculty members were fully aware of what is occurring, there would be open revolt in the hallways, or at least I would hope so. And if you are thinking that this couldn’t happen to you because you have done nothing wrong, please be aware that this is exactly what almost every investigated faculty member thought….right up to the point when people from the Office of Legal Counsel came knocking at their office door. What happened to Mike and to many other faculty members at UVU can happen to you too – to any of you. It is time to fight this abuse of the faculty.
Two Faculty Senate actions in the coming academic year could have a profound impact on this and other issues on campus. The first is Faculty Senate work on revisions to the policy on disciplinary actions. Some of the proposed changes, if adopted, will provide more just and humane guidelines for investigations of faculty. However, policies are only protective if they are followed and in Mike’s case, at least, they were not. What recourse then does the faculty have when the administration violates institutional policy? Currently, none. That’s where the second action by the Senate comes in.
A Senate Subcommittee is drafting a policy that would provide a mechanism for faculty members to anonymously evaluate administrators at UVU. It is my hope that this will be a process with teeth, one in which faculty evaluations of administrators are made available to the next-level supervisor and weighed as a primary indicator of job performance. After all, if students are considered capable of evaluating faculty teaching, surely faculty are capable of evaluating the work of administrators. Please let the tragedy of Mike’s death be an inspiration to all of us to work together for positive change at UVU; this must not be allowed to happen again.
Mike Shively was a brilliant and vibrant man who left us too soon. In the spring of 2019, at the time Mike was removed from the classroom and banned from campus without legitimate cause, he was healthy and strong both mentally and physically. He had even begun training for another Texas Water Safari race in June. His shocking loss is a terrible one for his wife and family, for the colleagues who knew him, for the students of UVU, and for UVU itself, whether it realizes that or not.
As well as a world-class canoeist and a superb teacher, Mike was also a talented musician. In Labyrinth Canyon is a pair of deep alcoves, hundreds of feet high, carved by erosion into the sandstone cliffs along the river. These paired alcoves are the most perfect natural echo chambers I’ve ever encountered. One of the highlights of a Labyrinth Canyon trip with Mike, for me, was having him pull out his trumpet and from the shoreline across from the alcoves, play “Summertime,” the Gershwin song most of us know best from Janis Joplin’s incredible rendition in the 60s. He played with finesse and emotion and beauty, his notes reverberating from the alcoves and surrounding cliffs, filling the canyon with music. Mike’s playing always added a completely new dimension to the trip, one so beautiful it caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end.
Mike was my friend for 27 years and I miss him very much. In two weeks, I will be in Labyrinth Canyon again with friends. As always, many stories about Mike will be shared between us. We will surely speak of Mike as we pass the great alcoves where he played his trumpet, alcoves which from this time forward, I will always refer to as Mike’s Alcoves.