So, I had a lovely rant semi-written about last week's inbox full of sustained hissy-fit by a parent-of-student who is incensed because offspring doesn't make the cut for their programme of choice, and has been spamming the faculty hierarchy with increasingly self-important rants accusing all and sundry, but me by name repeatedly, of inefficiency, discrimination, racism, ignorance, despicable conduct, cruelty and what have you. Plus threats of legal action. And I was more than somewhat annoyed about all that, but then yesterday happened, and suddenly it all seems trivial and petty. I suppose the university catching fire would, in fact, deliver a nice hot cup of perspective.
I always vaguely expected my Cherished Institution to be burned down by angry students, not by rampaging bush fires, but that's nature for you. Table Mountain has significant fires every couple of years, we have stuffed the fynbos cycles royally by not allowing it to burn naturally at intervals, so when it does go up, there's all this deadwood and it's a ferocious blaze. There has been ash falling even out here, a suburb away, and the whole city is full of smoke, my eyes and breathing are feeling it.
But none of the previous fires on the mountain have actually affected campus - this time there were fairly serious winds, and the fire leaped onto campus in weird pinpoint strikes, and down over the freeway. Yesterday we lost three buildings (Jagger Library, the Botany building, and a middle campus smallish residence), and saw fire damage to others. The palm tree outside Fuller Hall went up like a torch, it was horrifying. We evacuated all the students from residences because of the smoke and ongoing threat, and there were awful pictures of little trains of them trekking through various suburbs with suitcases. The university apparently found beds for everyone in various hotels, and the community in general has been rallying magnificently with donations and food and what have you, but it's still a lot.
I have been part of this university for my entire adult life: here for undergrad and two grad degrees, and then working here both part time and full time thereafter. The Jagger library, with its special collections section, was where I spent a fair amount of time writing my PhD, it had a fantasy/sf critical collection which we started when I was chairing the Tolkien Society, and the lovely librarian used to order in good fairy-tale texts for me. It's all gone: the pics were horrible, the old building with all its windows full of flame. Some of the more fragile and valuable collections were in fireproof rooms under the library and are mostly OK, but we've lost a bunch from the African Studies library. The building is across the road from my office, which feels uncomfortably close, but it also feels as though a part of my own history has gone up in flames. Yesterday was awful, increasingly disbelieving doomscrolling through all the social media pics, and the weirdest sense of unreality - as if a year of COVID wasn't bad enough, now this? some kind of cosmic joke. The library going was a gutpunch, I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon in helpless tears.
This image of the sign to upper campus, which I've screenshotted from a media compilation on Youtube, really got me:
I suppose, now, we go on doing what we've been doing throughout the COVID crisis: what we can. Assess, replace, try to make it work in spite of everything. I hope the university has really good insurance. This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at https://freckles-and-doubt.dreamwidth.org/. The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.