Faculty Senate Newsletter, May 2011
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Message from President: Contradictions are easy to find. One need only listen to the prattle at the state capitol about workforce development and then look at the support for any step along the K–20 educational pilgrimage to find stark contrasts. It is simple enough to survey any campus, compare the actions against the capacities and against the habits of assorted administrators, and come to the conclusion that confusion, if not hypocrisy, rules the academic world. That recognition, along with the proverbial twenty-five cents, will get you the stirring stick for a far pricier coffee. The question that might be asked, going into the summer period of research and reflection, is “what can individual faculty members do to make academic life better”? All of this is to suggest that faculty colleagues are also susceptible to certain contradictions and conundrums that impair their ability to act, the overcoming of which can indeed increase the ability to make changes. One reason for the rise of administration and its intermittent usurpation of faculty prerogatives is a belief among faculty members that professionals will benefit more from cultivating acquaintances within their own disciplines and hoping for new opportunities in the nationwide market than from attending to business at the home base, where opportunities seems so few. Statistics, alas, seldom bear out such judgments. Fewer than ten percent of tenured faculty ever move from their tenure-granting institutions. The sad truth is that, with regard to the “metrics,” the most good for the most colleagues results from contributing to the home campus and by working with legislators than by advancing in a specialty. Research is certainly important, but it is naive to believe the media-relations line that everyone will make LSU better by pumping up research volume (with the secret goal of becoming sufficiently marketable so as to look elsewhere and jump from Flagship). Another odd habit to which all of us acquiesce is the love of departments. Departments possess very little policymaking power and often ensure that colleagues in smaller specialty areas will never blossom on the great field of educational debate. They attempt to force abundant talents through small funnels, with predictable results and with cooling effects. Academic departments induce a false consciousness, emerging from all those old hypothalamic impulses to protect territory, that leads colleagues to strengthen the fences that enclose them. As I suggested in my last “welcome” message, many faculty members would be best served not by garrisoning a department but by negotiating with this, that, or the other Dean for a chance to teach or research outside the home department or college or even, for a time, at another Louisiana campus. Despite being encrusted by the hoarfrost of experience, academic professionals are often too hot to pursue ideals. After several years in faculty governance and after having visited dozens of campuses, I can affirm that no initiative has ever achieved unedited implementation or attained anything near its intended form. If anything, we have too high a level of morality in the professional ranks and a genteel reluctance to do battle with the sometimes slightly dirty weapons that fill the political arsenal. Perhaps the best key to attaining a feeling of success is to make a list of allowable compromises even at the same time that an idealized proposal or position paper is being developed. Happy summer to all—allowing, of course, that there may be occasional compromises with respect to happiness, but that, even when adjustment occurs, there is little that a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake can’t put into perspective!