Letters for January 18, 2001

A daughter’s response

Re “Last Words” by Steven T. Jones (SN&R, Dec. 21):

Thank you so much for airing somewhat ugly and deeply painful issues in your article about my mother. The issues surrounding suicide are complex and painful, and fault should clearly be assigned to the individual who makes a decision to die. But knowing that the workplace stress Mom endured during her years in the Davis Chancellor’s Club contributed to her feelings of worthlessness and despair, I’m glad you told this story.

My mother’s death is by no means the fault of the UC system, but the contribution of bullying, harassment and outright intimidation that she endured were reprehensible. Her articulate and reasonable voice, in my mind, was ignored by everyone in her management chain, all the way to Chancellor Vanderhoeff. No matter the personal outcome to her, UC Davis and the UC [system] as a whole need to seriously consider their employment and labor practices.

There are many things that are difficult about surviving a suicide. Many people live difficult lives and somehow find the resources to keep living. It’s hard to imagine someone we love not choosing to stay with us because of the intense pain she feels. And, like other suicide survivors, I have to know that my Mom is responsible for her own decisions. That in itself made it difficult for me to decide to come forward and tell this story. But I saw what she tried to survive and I could not help her at the time, and her last act showed a clear intent to make a statement. Maybe this is a way to help others like her before it’s too late.

You printed a suicide prevention hotline, but I would also like to remind people that suicide survivors need to deal with their grief, anger, shock and hurt. There are many organizations that are available to help. My children were able to participate in the Children’s Bereavement Art Group (916) 733-1780, a nonprofit organization run by the Mercy and Sutter hospices. This five-month program helped Colby and Drake examine their own complex emotions resulting from the loss of a favorite grandmother, and also to understand little by little that this is not their fault.

Dorothy Landry

A university’s response

Re “Last Words” by Steven T. Jones (SN&R, Dec. 21):

It’s difficult for university officials to engage in a discussion of the allegations reported in the story regarding Donna McDaniel’s death, given our obligation to protect privacy rights.

Please don’t interpret this limitation on our ability to comment as evidence of a lack of concern. Donna’s death is a cause of great sadness for a campus community that has committed itself to sustaining the values of family while fulfilling its obligations as a major institution of higher learning. Words are inadequate to convey our collective and profound sense of loss at her passing.

Death, particularly suicide, is difficult to comprehend. As the article’s editor’s note conveys, the “taking of one’s life is a complex behavior that is the result of a combination of catalytic factors, and the workplace was only one.”

That contextual acknowledgment is very important. Nonetheless, the issue of workload, identified in the article, is an issue of great concern to the campus’ senior leaders. Several good-faith efforts to bolster staffing and streamline workload are underway. While some immediate relief has been realized in key areas, it will realistically take additional time, resources and teamwork to see the results we are committed to achieving. In the interim, we continue to encourage staff and supervisors to set reasonable boundaries for their work, to take advantage of the many counseling and training services we provide, and to be mindful of worrisome signs of stress in themselves and in colleagues.

Our staff contributes substantially to UC Davis’ success. We recognize their invaluable contribution and our obligation to provide them with a healthy and supportive work environment. We are working in good faith to honor that commitment.

Dennis Shimek
Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources
University of California, Davis

Words well chosen

Re “Last Words” by Steven T. Jones (SN&R, Dec.21):

Donna McDaniel’s voice was finally heard through the skill, beauty and compassion of Steven T. Jones’ extraordinary writing. I could feel the pain and outrage that Ms. McDaniel experienced through Jones’ intuitive account of her life and suicide. I hope it gave her family a bit of consolation for their tragic loss. Jones’ writing was like a gift from a stranger.

Rosella Lane

Sticking it out

Re “Last Words” by Steven T. Jones (SN&R, Dec. 21):

The article about the death of UC Davis employee Donna McDaniel was heavily weighted toward one point of view. Many thousands of staff still believe UC Davis is a good place to work.

I am a Management Services officer with 25 years of experience at UC Davis. Like many of my peers, I worked my way up through the ranks, largely due to the free development classes offered staff. I am currently chair of ADMAN, the Administrative Managers Group mentioned in the article.

Several weeks before McDaniel’s death, my group met with the Chancellor, Provost, and Vice Chancellor of Administration to point out the problems we observed with staffing and workload, and to ask them to find an immediate resolution for the short term, with a promise of long-term solutions.

Their response was quick and decisive even before Donna McDaniel’s death. Chancellor Vanderhoef spoke publicly at his brown bag discussion immediately after, promising to do everything he could to resolve the problems we’d brought to his attention. He distributed his discretionary funds, reserved for emergencies, to solve the immediate staffing problems we’d noted. Key positions were filled as we requested, and Provost Grey solicited suggestions from our group on how to streamline business processes. Our suggestions were reviewed and the majority of them acted upon. For others, we were given alternatives or sound reasons why our ideas wouldn’t work. I don’t see how they could have done more, given the resources. Staffing and workload problems are not the fault of UC Davis administration, but of state funding shortfalls. University of California is still recovering from California’s economic recession of the early 1990s. Only recently has the university begun to see a significant increase in state funding to address the compounding problem of many years of inadequate staff resources.

It is unfortunate that the SN&R suggested the university is to blame for McDaniel’s suicide. The campus community was saddened by the news of her death and expressed sympathy to her family. A majority of our staff believes in the university’s mission of teaching, research and public service and will stick it out for better times.

Rick Markgraf

Rethinking U.S.'s role

Re “Divest from Israel Now” by Elias Rashmawi (SN&R Guest Comment, Dec.14):

I share Mr. Rahmawi’s concern about the United States’ 50-year policy of almost carte blanche support of Israel against the Palestinians. This is a struggle so tragic because it pits right against right. War is inevitable anytime possession of land by one people is challenged by another. Maurice Bernard, “Non-emotional Peace Please” (SN&R Letters, Dec. 14), should thank God that no powerful group has laid a biblical, or other rationale, claim to his land or even a piece of it. He would become very emotional indeed.

Dale H. Hypse

These are not positive role models

Re “Science Fiction Double Feature” by Becca Costello (SN&R 15 Minutes, Jan. 4):

Oh brother, News & Review has got to tell about the drugs, cheap booze, sodomy and sadism at Face’s that Christians like me are missing out on.

These Rocky Horror fans who have sex orgies to the “Time Warp” theme song never think about what if by sudden chance, their time here on earth is over. They live as if they are immortal, but death sadly comes much sooner for them than those who take their mortal existence seriously. So many of Rocky Horror fans are into sinful practices that revere death, when in fact death for them will be the end with no afterlife. If these people only got excited about the eternal life that Jesus gives, their lives would be entirely different from the empty ones they are presently leading.

In the meantime, how about doing articles on Generation X and Y’ers whose joy of life does not come from drug and alcohol parties, but from their faith in God and helping others in their communities. You would find out that there are plenty of awesome young people here in Sacramento who just say “no” to glorifying pornography like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Michelle Kunert

Costello replies: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a fictional theatrical performance. The roles played by the actors do not reflect their real lives. There was no mention of drinking, drugs, sadism, sodomy or orgies in the article. These practices were implied by Ms. Kunert, as is the implication that participation in the RHPS is mutually exclusive to a belief in God or community service. The Under Sedation cast raised $300 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation last month and collected food for the Sacramento Food Bank at their December performances. Good people come in all kinds of packages.