Remarks at NYFAF Opening, June 1, 2016
Howard M. Wach, Associate Dean
I want to begin by welcoming our guests to LaGuardia for this special occasion, and to thank, on behalf of President Mellow and Provost Arcario, Professor Boumlik and Professor McNair for their efforts in organizing and arranging the program for today and tomorrow. It’s a wonderful learning opportunity.
The history of relations between indigenous populations and invaders is seldom very happy. From our perspective today, that history is about human difference and power, and most often about the inability or unwillingness of conquerors to see indigenous peoples as equals or to treat them fairly—indeed in many times and places, the inability to treat them as human at all. In these instances the invader—the conquering ethnic group or political force—resorts to murder, or slavery, or forced migration in order to establish and keep power. There are too many examples of this to count, including of course our own U.S. history of genocidal action against indigenous Americans.
At times, invaders have combined cruelty and violence with persuasion and indoctrination, leading to some portion of the indigenous population adopting their language, their religion, and their culture. Roman imperial conquests often worked this way, as did the British.
The cultural history of the Amazigh we’re learning about today and tomorrow falls more closely into the second category. From the time of the Muslim Arab conquest of North Africa 1200 years ago and extending to the Arab Spring of 5 years ago, Berber or Amazigh culture has lived both within and apart from an “Arabized”, Muslim linguistic and religious hegemony. It’s a long, complex relationship, made more complex in the contemporary world of instant communication by the impact of a global movement for indigenous and minority cultural and political rights on one hand, and the conflicts unleashed by the Arab Spring and Islamist politics on the other, and finally by the internal contexts that differentiate the states of the Maghreb—Morocco’s politics are not Algeria’s, Tunisia’s are not Libya’s, and so on.
From our standpoint at LaGuardia, today’s and tomorrow’s program—thanks to the efforts of Professors Boumlik and McNair—is an opportunity to learn, through film, about a minority culture asserting itself. It’s an opportunity to learn and to see how human differences can be expressed and negotiated and understood. What examples does the Amazigh experience provide for us here? In our country today we are in the midst of a political season in which acceptance of difference—racial, religious, sexual, gender-based—is continually argued for, attacked, defended, and contested. Here at LaGuardia, we are blessed with incredible diversity—a richness of difference—and we are attempting to build a practice of global learning with that difference at its center. This program is a marvelous opportunity to learn from another context of contested difference. Our distinguished guests will help set that context for us.
Howard M. Wach joined Guttman Community College as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost in April 2017. Dr. Wach began his academic career as a historian, completing his doctorate at Brandeis University after undergraduate studies at Nassau Community College and the State University of New York at Albany. Prior to joining Guttman, Dr. Wach worked in the CUNY system for over 20 years as an adjunct assistant professor, a full-time faculty member, a director of instructional technology, an academic dean, and an interim Vice President of Academic Affairs. While most of that experience was at two community colleges, Bronx and LaGuardia, Dr. Wach also worked in the University’s Central Office of Academic Affairs, giving him a broad and deep knowledge of the community college mission and the University’s structure and organization. He has a practiced understanding of the roles faculty, staff, and administrators must play—and play in partnership—to create the strongest chance for students to graduate ready to pursue further study and begin successful careers.
A passion for excellent teaching and a passion to learn have been the guiding principles of Dr. Wach’s professional life. He knows that demanding, attentive, humane, and honest teaching can transform students’ lives. At a time of vast inequality, there is no more important task and no more powerful engine of social mobility. He brings to the Provost’s job a deep conviction about the administrator’s core role: to create the everyday conditions and environment that lead to student success, and to help faculty and staff work together to meet that vision.