Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-2011

Abstract

Message from President: In my last “welcome” column, I addressed the question of Louisiana universities after the economic crisis, suggesting a variety of adjustments that would increase morale and promote economic justice in institutions that reward fashion and momentary stellar performances more often than they recognize adventurous dissent or long-term projects. Although not inexhaustible, the topic of higher education after our present calamities merits a bit more consideration, especially with regard to structural changes that might advance our institution even in the midst of economic distress. Having commenced its career as the cultural equivalent of a fortification, LSU has always had, if not a stiff, then a stiffening administration. It puts the starch into anyone who wants to unbutton a collar. My experience over the last few years has been that many members of the administration are persons of exceptionally good will and even idealism but are stymied, confused, or otherwise unprepared to deal with, let alone revise, the operational as well as structural blockades that confront the well-meaning manager. The top-down, command-line structure of Louisiana higher education is surely one of the “stiffening” agents, but there are many ways that individual campuses can create more options for those whose talents are not served by enclosure in extant “silos,” whether departmental or college-level or fiscal or of any other sort. One challenge will be the revision of evaluation procedures so as to allow subordinates greater latitude in the expression of dissenting opinions. The number of persons punished for unpopular opinions in Louisiana may be exaggerated, yet it is unrealistic to imagine that, over the long term, the present evaluation scheme, which stresses responsiveness to commands and fulfillment of specified duties and which hinges on assessments by supervisors and superiors, will encourage daring thinking. Might we not add an evaluation item to the annual assessment of associate deans asking how many times they ardently disagreed with or corrected their superiors? Another, larger possibility might be the redirection of Deans’ power. In recent months, we have heard much about the pertinence of Deans to the on-the-ground management and stimulation of institutions, yet we have seen little decentralization of the power that, since the 1990s, has been congealing in Academic Affairs offices across the country. Nor have we seen the development of mechanisms that allow faculty to empower their Deans as they fight for their respective constituencies against a state government that would like to fix all authority in a single “superboard.” One strategy might be to de-couple both faculty members and Deans from their subject matter and allow the alleged “market” to operate. If a Dean in an Engineering School needs humanists to help enlighten his largely foreign student body about western culture, why not allow that Dean to bid for the services of a humanities faculty member for a period of time? If a chemist would like to better secondary education, why not allow him or her to apply for a short stay in the School of Education? Loosening up the discipline-locked affiliations around Louisiana campuses would add the flexibility that administrations always seek, would introduce markets in disciplines where there are none, and would encourage middle-management persons such as Deans to strike out in bold new ways.

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