A Letter About Jane

Letter About Jane,
December 25, 1989

Background for the letter:

In June, 1989, I moved
from Minneapolis, MN to Santa Cruz (in time for the October 89 Loma Prieta
Earthquake). On December 23, I was served a letter from the oncampus faculty
housing officer, notifying me of my eviction, to occur on December 31,
1989, unless I gave up my cat Jane. Jane and I have been together since
she was 16 weeks old (February 1985). The letter below is my first counterattack,
kicking off a battle that went on for over a year until „we won.“ Officer
workers in the Humanities Division rallied around our cause, even making
Jane her own student ID card. I will tell another story a little later
related to this one, which is a very instructive parable illustrating the
functions of fantasy within the daily banalities of power. When I finally
was granted the right to keep Jane at the apartment (during the entire
time she never left me), the entire structure of the pet policy for the
faculty housing had to be redevised, and to this day it is still referred

Earl Jackson, Jr.

145 Hagar Court

Santa Cruz, California 95064

December 19, 1989

Chancellor Robert B. Stevens

Chancellor’s Office

McHenry Library

University of California

Santa Cruz, California 95064

Dear Chancellor Stevens:

This is my first year teaching here as an assistant professor of Japanese
Literature, and it has been a very rewarding experience. I am writing now,
however, to bring to your attention what I consider an inequity in the
housing policies of Hagar Court. During my interview last year, when the
faculty were listing the features of the campus and the university I could
be offered, Hagar Court was among them, as attractive and inexpensive housing
for new faculty. I immediately informed them that I had a cat, Jane, who
has lived with me for nearly six years (since she was three months old)
and with whom I could not part. I was informed that Hagar Court had a no
pets policy, but several faculty members – including at least one member
of the search committee – assured me that this was „not enforced“ and that
there were „plenty of cats in Hagar Court over the years.“ When I arrived
I found that there were indeed several cats here.

On December 15, I received a letter from Ms. Elise Levinson to the effect
that she had discovered my cat during a maintainance inspection on December
8, and that I had to „make other arrangements for [my] pet or move from
Hagar Court by December 31, 1989.“ When I attempted to discuss this matter
with Ms. Levinson, she remained completely inflexible, but did agree that
I had a right to appeal and to raise the question of this policy on a higher
level , and in fact suggested that I write to you. Even if it were financially
feasable for me to find a new place to live (which it is not) I would have
had less than ten days to do so, as on December 25, I leave for the Modern
Language Association Convention in Washington, D. C., where I am presenting
two papers.

This situation has taken valuable time away from my work, and threatens
to continue to rob me of this time. The significantly higher rents and
security deposits (averaging $800/month and $1,000, respectively) would
make it impossible for me to go to France this summer for research at the
Lacan Psychoanalytic Seminar in order to finish my book. Because I do not
drive, the commutes to campus would also be an added burden. I understand
Professor Takashi Fujitani, who found another apartment in response to
a similiar letter from Ms. Levinson, has already experienced considerable
loss of time and concentration from his own research – not to mention the
unplanned for expense – all the result of the Housing Office’s demand to
remove a cat that had already lived here a year with no incidents or complaints.

I understand the arguments for a „no cat“ policy – however I would like
to list them with my counterarguments. Apparently the policy in Hagar Court
was originally adopted in compliance with a general „no pets“ ordinance
on the campus at large. Since the establishment of Dickens Way housing,
however, this ordinance is no longer enforcable. There are many cats freely
roaming the Hagar Court area (four of whom I know by name, and are actually
quite friendly), who reside at Dickens Way. Because these cats (and even
dogs) are already here – actually frequenting the Hagar Court area too
– the original reason for banning cats from the Hagar Court apartments
seems to be a perfunctory adherence to a part of campus history that no
longer pertains to the present situation. Furthermore, by granting the
legitimacy of Dickens Way cats while denying the same status to Hagar Court
cats, a class division is established between owners and renters that is
in direct contradiction to the philosophy of the University as a whole.
In other words, the housing office acknowledges the rights of those who
can afford to buy a house (often married, two- income families), their
right to determine the nature and constitution of their family, while denying
the same right to those who rent.

Defenders of the Hagar Court policy may argue that the rule for rental
units is to protect the ability of the Housing Office to rent the apartments
to subsequent tenants with allergies to cats. Many apartment houses I have
either lived in or have visited in cities ranging from Cambridge to Tokyo,
have allowed cats – and these were commerical enterprises decidedly more
interested in profit than Hagar Court. It is simply a fact that proper
maintainance between the cat-owning tenant and the next tenant (carpet
cleaning, perhaps steam-cleaning – certainly not an excessive procedure)
will remove any traces of cat hair under ordinary circumstances (1-2 cats,
and providing the apartment was kept moderately clean in general). In my
own case, even the allergy argument does not apply. Jane is a Devon Rex,
a mutant breed (fewer than 100 in the world) that has tight, curly hair
– virtually non-shedding. But the breed’s real distinction is its complete
lack of guard hair and the dander that the guard hair produces – rendering
them literally hypoallergenic.

Devon Rex’s are owned by people with pronounced cat allegeries and even
asthmatics. This can be documented in any of the literature on the Devon
Rex (which I can produce if necessary), and even demonstrated in my daily
life here. My nextdoor neighbor, friend, and colleague, Linda Lomperis
has a severe allergy to cats. Nevertheless in her frequent visits, she
has experienced no discomfort – even with Jane sitting next to her. In
fact, Jane is the only cat Linda has ever been able to pet. The other evening
Linda came to dinner, after which we worked together on my computer. Jane
was with us the entire time – approximately four hours – and this produced
no symptoms in Linda whatsoever (this is only the most recent of any number
of examples).

To return to the difference between Dickens Way and Hagar Court: the
defenders of the Hagar Court policy may argue that because of the turnover
in renters, the problem of the possible allergies of subsquent renters
will be one frequently faced, whereas once the Dickens Way home is bought,
the buyer becomes the responsible party for the condition of that home.
This is only partially true. For one thing, Hagar Court residents can stay
up to three years (with the possibility of an extension in some cases).
I understand the number of people who do stay two or more years is quite
high. Furthermore, the purchase of a Dickens Way house is not comparable
to the purchase of a non-campus house. When a resident of a Dickens Way
house decides to sell, she or he must sell it back to the university, and
it again becomes the responsibility of the Housing Office to find a suitable
buyer. In this situation, given the absolute freedom to have any number
of animals in a Dickens Way property, the Housing Office would indeed be
faced with the same problem of allergic would-be buyers. Given the vacilliations
in the typical academic career, the likelihood that all Dickens Way tenants
will remain there in perpetuity is not very great.

I am not arguing against the rights of those who suffer from allergies.
I am only suggesting that the rights of all tenants and potential tenants
of Hagar Court should be factored into a reasoned and reasonable policy.
According to a recent survey, at least 63% of adult households in the United
States include either a cat or a dog, or both. While I do not have figures
at present, I imagine the percentage of people with pronounced allergies
is not as high (common sense would tell us that if it were as high, there
would not be 63% of the population with pets). I do not understand the
logic of basing a blanket housing policy on the rights of an imagined or
projected population that in reality cannot equal the size of the pet owning
population – particularly in view of the fact that concrete measures can
be taken (steam-cleaning) to protect that population in any event. I could
even see a further compromise feasible: set aside a specific number of
Hagar Court apartments as „no cat“ residences, according to a formula based
on the real percentage of allergy-sufferers against a probability factor
of the number of future tenants who would fall in that category. This could
easily be done by ascertaining who among the current residents are allergic
– and their apartments could be the first so designated (in fact, mine
could also qualify after my departure, because of Jane’s hypoallergenic
heritage). The Cat Federation America, S.O.C.K. (Save Our Cats and Kittens),
the vetinary department of the University of Pennsylvania, the Morris Foundation,
among other organizations, would all be happy to provide the Housing Office
with explicit instructions on how to prepare an apartment which had previously
housed cats, for a new allergic tenant.

I realize in bringing Jane here, I consciously violated a rule of the
contract. I would like to reiterate, however, that I did so on the direct
and repeated suggestion of the faculty – both from the Literature Board
and other boards. I do not state this to disavow my responsibility for
my action, but to illuminate further ramifications of the Hagar Court policy.
When I was considering the UCSC offer, I received three other offers and
a rather aggressive retention offer from theUniversity of Minnesota, which
included the assurance of tenure in 89-90. Because of the housing costs
in California, the Board very understandably used Hagar Court as one of
the „perks“ to attract me here. Obviously, this was not the only reason
I decided to accept the offer here, and I am very happy to be here. Both
students and faculty have surpassed my expections of a warm, congenial
and stimulating environment. The larger question this anecdote raises,
however, is the means by which the University will make itself fully competitive
in attracting new and energetic scholars – a question that becomes more
complex given the rising demand for humanities Ph.d’s and the expansion
of the University. There have been recent discussion in the Executive Committee
of the Literature Board about precisely this issue, and the role that Hagar
Court plays in the development of recruitment strategies has also come
up in these discussions. I would submit that the disallowance of cats from
Hagar Court effectively neutralizes its attraction to many of the candidates
– and I draw this conclusion from conversations with many people – not
just my own experience, or the experience of Professor Fujitani.

Finally, I would like to reflect briefly on the human element at the
core of this problem. In Minnesota I worked with a group who lobbied to
have „no pets“ policies revoked from senior citizens‘ apartment houses.
It has been irrefutably demonstrated that senior citizens living alone
who have pets generally live longer and have more self esteem than those
who are not allowed them. Loving contact with animals has also proven a
valuable therapy to children suffering from various forms of abuse and
neglect. In this „postmodern“ age, I think that most of us can empathize
with the isolation and alienation that these disenfranchised people suffer
– and can also find vital sources of companionship and affirmation in our
pets. The initial resistance to changing the pet policy in senior citizen
apartments was staggering. However, through concerted effort and consistent
presentation of the facts, there has been great success on many levels
– even in some cases municipal and state-legislated guidelines supporting
such a change. If this can be done, it seems inconceivable that the Housing
Office at Hagar Court must remain so intransigent.

It strikes me as ironically schizophrenic that since its inception UCSC
has distinguished itself as „countercultural“ – contesting in its very
structure the institutions we live under, and that I teach students to
question hegemonic conceptions of gender, class and race – only to come
home to an injunction against my cat, which, when I offer the counterarguments
listed above, is met with angry statements such as „but it has always been
this way“ and „it’s a rule – there is no argument.“

In many ways, this situation comes down to the great feminist insight
that „the personal is the political.“ As I write this, Jane is asleep on
my shoulders, as she is often when I write. Jane has been my constant companion
and friend since she was a baby. In the six years we have been together,
we have been through many things together – the writing of my dissertation
(asleep or awake and purring on my shoulders throughout the night), the
end of two long-term relationships, the death of my mother, the leaving
of my friends and life in Minnesota and culture shock in California, the
birth of Jane’s only litter (well planned and welcome) – after they were
born she insisted on putting each baby under my chin; every time I put
them back in the box, she immediately trotted them out and placed them
on me again, until I gave up, and learned to sleep motionlessly, with the
mother and her newborn babies tight against me. (All the kittens received
very good homes, and Jane has been spayed for many years.) Ms. Levinson’s
letter presumes that I can erase this history or assess Jane’s importance
to me in terms of „convenience.“ I take teaching very seriously, and consider
to be a vocation that demands my whole person. If I could consider giving
up Jane or even thinking of her in terms of „convenience,“ I would question
my qualifications to be a teacher. On this level, too, the Hagar Court
policy seems to contradict the reasons I was hired.

In short – I will not apologize for my love for my cat. I believe I
have made my position clear, and have suggested reasons and ways in which
the present policy could and should be rethought. At the university that
pioneered the abandonment of grades, I cannot believe that the pet policy
of Hagar Court is beyond interrogation.

Thank you for your kind attention.


Earl Jackson, Jr.

Assistant Professor

Studies in Literature

More Stories about Love



Earl Jackson, Jr.