Many of us are on quests, either real or representative. Since my quest is real, I like the metaphor of journeying.

Going on a journey involves unexpected surprises, challenges, setbacks, and rewards. And I tend to think that any good journey is as much about the process as the destination.

Kind of like how the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy put it, almost exactly one-hundred years ago:


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

-Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)


A rabble rouser gets the boot | Column

Monte Bute


OCTOBER 20, 2021 6:04 AM

 Getty Images.

In a recent essay in The Atlantic, the historian Anne Applebaum called out cultural institutions like universities, newspapers, foundations, and museums as “The New Puritans.”

“Heeding public demands for rapid retribution, they sometimes impose the equivalent of lifetime scarlet letters on people who have not been accused of anything remotely resembling a crime. Instead of courts, they use secretive bureaucracies.”

Applebaum’s quotation aptly describes Metropolitan State University’s recent retaliatory behavior, censoring a professor emeritus by locking his campus email account. Further, the university’s president also censored the entire institution when she closed an email forum that was dedicated to free speech for university employees.

Both actions were reactions to a public campaign to preserve the university’s name. We had discovered that outside consultants and top administrators were considering changing the university’s moniker.

I sent a university-wide, “disrespectful” email to a vice-president of marketing, confronting her efforts to change the name of the university. I was brought up on charges and found “guilty.” My complainant remained anonymous; I was unable to confront my accuser before a visible and known bureaucratic judge.

“As a result of this investigation and the finding that you violated the policy through your use of email,” wrote the provost, “your privileges for your email address will be revoked immediately.” There is no appeal available . . .

Here’s the final nail in my campus coffin. I was scheduled to co-teach a graduate course as an adjunct in spring of 2022. The College of Liberal Arts dean sent an email to the program coordinator saying that she had removed me as an instructor for the course and purged me as an adjunct faculty member.

Their marketing plan was part of a nationwide corporatizing strategy to “rebrand” universities into more “marketable” entities, in relentless competition with other universities. Rebranding is often seen as the last resort of organizations in decline.

Metro State is the most successful of Minnesota State’s seven state universities and 30 community colleges at maintaining high enrollments in an era of declining populations seeking higher education. The university, its faculty and students continue to receive local, state, regional and national accolades. We are already doing quite well, thank you.

If it ain’t broke, why mess with success? Since its founding in 1971, Metro State has always been a maverick institution. Before it even opened its doors,  the chair of the prestigious Carnegie Commission on Higher Education was proclaiming the school as “perhaps the most innovative institution of higher education in the United States.” During its 50th anniversary year, let’s stick with a winning strategy – stay the course!

The university president also shut down the university-wide discussion forum, a virtual venue where every employee was free to exchange and debate ideas and opinions. She sent an all-campus email: “I’d like to share with you that I and the President’s Executive Cabinet have made the decision to discontinue access to the unmoderated email list, METRO-Discuss, effective Tuesday April 27. . . . This email list does more harm to individuals and campus culture that is warranted by any positive value we might identify from continuing this approach.”

Our campaign to save the institution’s name, Metropolitan State University, succeeded. During Convocation Week in August, the administration gave up its quest for a new name, announcing that the name of the university would not change.

Nevertheless, I remain frozen out of my university email account, and the METRO-Discuss venue is no more, buried in the bowels of an information and technology bureaucratic tomb.

What next? After 37 years of award-winning teaching and institutional stewardship, I finally retired last spring at age 76, so they cannot fire me. Wait, they just fired me as an adjunct instructor! Will my honorific title, professor emeritus, also be rescinded?

Rude, crude and savagely confrontational: These discourses are time-tested measures of any organization’s commitment to free speech.

Free speech is a fine thing, until it begins to threaten the bedrock foundation of an undemocratic academic bureaucracy. Then the authorities begin accusing critics of violating the opaque rules of a “Respectful Workplace” policy, finding them guilty, and punishing them. I admit the emails (including some of mine) sometimes impolitely questioned the president and her administration’s decision making. Additionally, individual administrators were bluntly challenged.

The bureaucracy has won, for now. I am yoked with a lifetime scarlet letter within my beloved university. However, as the Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei put it, “Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine’. . . . The people will always have the last word — even if someone has a weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”

At my retirement party in May, my friends and colleagues resolutely whispered in unison; they gave me a plaque with this epithet: “The Great Gadfly.”

Editor’s note: Given the chance to respond to Bute’s allegations, a Metro State University spokesperson sent the Reformer a statement: “As part of research for university branding project there was a survey regarding the name and other attributes of the university. There was a lively campus debate about Metro State’s name, with many differing opinions expressed. The result of the process is that the university will keep its full legal name, and as we’ve done in the past, refer to ourselves as Metro State University. The assertion that there was any retaliation directed at Mr. Bute is not accurate.”


Some claim that “Monte Bute” is a stage name. That is one of the few things I have not concocted. Having been stigmatized as an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, I’ve spent a lifetime giving my spoiled identity a do-over. Truth is that each of us has an existential freedom to script ourselves and our storyline—or to haphazardly allow others to do it for us.

Charles Lemert writes of the “mysterious power of social structures.” Far more than most of us care to admit, those powers define who we are and shape the contours of our lives. Too many of us live in a simulated reality analogous to the movie “The Matrix.”

Much of the time, this socially constructed reality seems immutable. It assigns us, for good or ill, identities and social roles. All too often, we accept without question those identities and play the roles we are dealt. A sociological aphorism to keep in mind: Either we “take” roles or we “make” roles. In other words, we have a fate or we have a destiny.

“Monte Bute,” a character I conjured up back in the day, seldom follows the screenplay. Whether it is the scripts of prisons and mental hospitals or political organizations and universities, he insists on improvising his lines and actions. This does not mean he does not run amok; he does so routinely, sometimes paying a god-awful price. Occasionally he even tilts at windmills. Nevertheless, he remains resolutely resilient and as stubbornly swashbuckling as a naïve Don Quixote, ever looking for the next adventure.

I approach death and dying just like all other movies I’ve been in—ignore the script and improvise like hell! If there is any such a thing, I will be eternally grateful to family, friends, students, and colleagues for having shared the stage. Your nurturing presence during the past eleven years has empowered me to play my most challenging and fulfilling role. While we are nearing the end this film, I am sure I’ll fashion a denouement that will surprise even Monte . . .


COMMUNITY VOICESCommunity Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives.

COVID-19 is a cruel reminder of the human condition

By Monte Bute | 05/12/2020

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, “because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Welcome to the United States.

first principle of the American creed is that world is redeemable. We
believe that we are exempt from the constraints of the human condition. I
disagree. As Albert Camus suggests: We are Sisyphus.

their faith, ideology or party, most Americans are utopians. Since the Puritans
washed ashore and John Winthrop foresaw “a city upon a hill,” the American
experiment has been a perfectionist project, an exceptional escape from nature
and history. No matter if you believe in free markets, a welfare state,
democratic socialism or anarchism, your agenda is grounded upon an unshakable
faith in human perfectibility and the inevitability of creating a heaven on

Awash in cognitive dissonance

so often, a calamity of such magnitude occurs that it shakes the foundations of
our taken-for-granted reality. COVID-19 is such a moment. The United States is
awash in cognitive dissonance: Our illusion is that America is redeemable, that
the Promised Land is just around the corner; the truth is that we are embedded
in nature and history, tossed about by their unpredictable vicissitudes.

Monte Bute

Monte Bute

“The world is a hellish place,” said singer-songwriter Tom

In all
societies, power struggles between groups are ubiquitous and perennial. The
powerful are predators who prey upon the vulnerable — they always have, and
they always will. In all environments, natural and human-made calamities are
ubiquitous and perennial. No amount of Shangri-La prophylactics will shield us
from injustice and cruelty, from death and destruction.

acknowledge this is not a brief for quietism; by no means does unblinkered
realism absolve us from acting against suffering, cruelty, and injustice.
Nevertheless, we are Sisyphus, forever condemned to push the rock of
righteousness up the mountain, only to see it roll back down, perpetually. The
world is not redeemable.

what if we have it all wrong? What if redemption is not a “forever after”
thing? Perhaps it is more like extended epiphanies, interludes in which we
transcend our mundane lives.

Redemptive moments

sure, communities do not experience forever-after redemptions; nevertheless,
they do have redemptive episodes. Throughout history, exemplary communities
have stood up against pestilences, disasters, and social catastrophes like war,
human slavery, ethnic cleansing, and climate change. Regrettably, too often
these redemptive communities have faced unresponsive dominant communities and
nation states. In this time of COVID-19, our essential workers are redemptive
communities, inspiring the rest of us to listen to our better angels, ignoring
the shrill voices of our demons.

During this plague, the selfless acts of courage rise to a heroic level when speaking of health care workers, first responders, transit workers, and workers in essential industries. At a more prosaic level, we must not overlook a contagion of kindness, the millions of small acts of care and compassion that emerge like blades of spring grass. Amidst all the death and destruction, this too is a redemptive moment in American history.

Still, Camus closes “The Plague” with a cautionary note:

the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final
victory. It could be only the record of what had to be done, and what would
assuredly would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror
and relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who,
while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their
utmost to be healers.”

world remains a hellish place. It cries out for our attention. We must create
what Martin Luther King Jr. called “beloved communities” who answer those pleas
by pushing the rock of righteousness toward the peak, acting against suffering,
cruelty, and injustice. I am one with Camus: “The struggle itself toward the
heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must
imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Bute teaches sociology and social science at Metropolitan State University in
St. Paul.

As someone who has written many op-ed articles for newspapers and magazine, the sage advice in this column will improve your chances for getting published.

This is a 22-minute documentary by Vice reporter Elle Reeve. She embedded herself within the storm troopers who descended upon Charlottesville. This will provide you a gut-wrenching, experiential understanding of the White nationalists who endanger us all.

​Karl Marx once wrote, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

If you will permit me a bit of literary license, Charlottesville was a tragedy; President Trump’s reprehensible responses to that event were a farce.

Nothing that President Trump has done since the Inauguration has so exposed that he has a cancer of the soul, something he is inflecting upon our nation. That he sits in the same White House that was once occupied by Abraham Lincoln is an indelible stain that we shall never expunge.

Even if the American people eventually remove Trump from office, we will never again be the same. As William Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ​

Here is what a leading neo-Nazi website had to say about the woman THEY killed yesterday in Charlottesville. These forces of evil are the walking dead, souless mutants, seeking death and destruction wherever they roam.

Some of you occasionally read my posts about our constitutional crisis. Most of you just randomly spot something of mine when you are scrolling through a thread of posts from your friends. If you appreciate some of what you have seen from me, check in on my FB page once or twice a day and scroll through to see what I’ve posted that day.
Since his inauguration, I’ve turned my FB page into “A Virtual Trump Teach-in.” I spend several hours a day finding 5 to 10 news, commentary and analytic articles, plus cartoons. They are often from sources you may not regularly access. I try to post materials for well-informed citizens who are resisting All-things Trump.

This is an excerpt from something that he once wrote for the New York Times.

“You might consider them romantics, fighting in a doomed cause for something greater than their self-interest. And even though men like Mr. Berg would identify with a cause, Communism, that inflicted far more misery than it ever alleviated—and rendered human dignity subservient to the state—I have always harbored admiration for their courage and sacrifice in Spain.

“I have felt that way since I was boy of 12, reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in my father’s study. It is my favorite novel, and its hero, Robert Jordan, the Midwestern teacher who fought and died in Spain, became my favorite literary hero. In the novel, Jordan had begun to see the cause as futile. He was cynical about its leadership, and distrustful of the Soviet cadres who tried to suborn it.

“But in the final scene of the book, a wounded Jordan chooses to die to save the poor Spanish souls he fought beside and for. And Jordan’s cause wasn’t a clash of ideologies any longer, but a noble sacrifice for love.

‘“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for,’ Jordan thinks as he waits to die, ‘and I hate very much to leave it.’ But he did leave it. Willingly.”