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An open letter to Marty Martin

Photo Courtesy of Josie Poppen

Money talks. It’s an understandable, yet unfortunate, reality of higher education as it exists now. It talks when it comes to framing, it talks in regards to social justice and, as of this week, it talks when it comes to death. 

This week we received an email from our university president informing us of the passing of John Pappajohn, a figurehead in the Des Moines community known for the generosity of his spirit. I am deeply apologetic to his family for his loss and I would like it to be clear I hold no malice toward him, nor do I diminish the importance of informing us of his passing. 

I am, however, just a little peeved because there was a loss closer to the members of our campus that went unacknowledged by Marty Martin. While I’m sure many of you have now heard from other sources, John Graham, an associate professor of theater, has passed away. The loss of this artistic force has resonated significantly within the theatre department and beyond. Yet, I have not seen a campus-wide acknowledgment of this loss by our president.

Marty Martin has overlooked this to our detriment. In my time at Drake, I have not seen Martin attend a single performance put on by our department, not even when the performance went on to win awards and sold out. While I’m sure a large part is that I’m merely unaware of the responsibilities and time commitments of being a university president, there are times when I think an on-campus presence matters. Martin wasn’t in the room when our department was rocked to its core by the loss of JG, and while he had no obligation to be, following the lack of acknowledgement, it hurts. 

President Martin, I want to know the last time you walked through the second floor of FAC. Has it been within the last few weeks? Because there is a noticeable shift in the energy up there. There is a hole in our community that we are rallying together to heal but it’s a slow-going process. 

There are few people who so deeply loved the arts as John Graham did. He saw layers and levels that only his years of experience could allow. He poured all of himself into his work until he physically couldn’t and I think that dedication and sacrifice deserve more respect and attention than it has been provided. 

There isn’t a fair grounds for comparison when it comes to honoring the dead but there is something to be said for honoring the bereaved. A whole department is grappling with this loss, trying our best to navigate the chasm left in JG’s stride, and you have not made an attempt to help that. 

Our department and college staff have beautifully handled this loss and have provided us with as many resources as possible. Do not interpret this as a critique of the university as a whole. This is simply a way for me to ask you a question: Does dedication not speak more than bank deposits?


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