Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-2011

Abstract

Message from President: Once upon a time, assumptions were events that happened in monasteries, convents, and, occasionally, martyr scenes. In later, more corrupt times, assumptions transpired in mortgage broker offices. Nowadays, in our slickly cynical period, the literal meaning of the term—the taking up [of whatever happens to be in the vicinity]—has returned with a vengeance as academe allows itself to draw in a steady stream of unexamined postulates. At the upper end of the assumption hierarchy are the nostrums promulgated by the ever coming-and-going political figures who allegedly lead higher education from Regents’ offices, legislative chambers, and occasionally the men’s room of the City Club. Owing to the regrettable human tendency to follow whomever looks even slightly like a leader, such assumptions quickly become commonplace. Such assumptions currently include the notion that higher educational systems are best when they are homogenous (for example, when all regional institutions belong to one system or all junior colleges belong to one system); the contrasting, indeed contradictory assumption that educational policy ought to reflect local opinion (per Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell’s “listening tour”); the shibboleth that higher education should develop a workforce rather than a judging, intelligent citizenry; the insinuation that universities with widely different missions are pitted against one another rather than against a hostile government; the belief that students want to attend college close to home or even at home via online education (in the bad old days, that approach was called “keepin’ ‘em down on the farm”); the affirmation that there are such things as “regional universities” when, in fact, most of those regional schools are stuffed with international students hailing from homes further away than the homes of the local kids who populate research universities; and the visionary hope that massive waves of students will transfer from community colleges to four year institutions, flooding the ambitious universities with tuition-paying (or TOPS-absorbing) students while ensuring the solvency of two-years institutions in places where the “high” in “higher education” may not reach above a cypress knee. Faculty are by no means innocent of assumption making. Rank-and-file professordom is full of unexamined axioms. These include a superstitious belief that small discussion classes are, all other factors being equal, better than large, theatrical, socially cohesive lecture experiences; that it is always wise to defend or at least take shelter in one’s home department rather than deal with the interlocking whole of the university; that some species of grant or some varieties of publication are better than others, even if no one can explain why; that every person in a department ought to do committee work or that committees in which two or three colleagues could accomplish a task require eight to ten members; that faculty meetings are a good way to find out what colleagues think (rather than a venue in which the discontented members of the shy majority simply stuff their opinions rather than risk looking uncool); that the administration is always up to no good; and that conforming behavior will lead to survival if not prosperity in the academy. Whatever a university might be, there is little doubt that at least its official function should include the recognition if not the rethinking of the assumptions by which colleagues participate in their oppression. Why not practice liberation by choosing a sunny day, stepping out into the quadrangle or the nearest public place, and robustly announcing something irreverent— maybe something like “I don’t think that the multidisciplinary hiring initiative accomplished much of anything”? Or maybe “no matter what we hear about some universities being ranked higher than others, I am convinced that there is some colleague in some department at the University of Louisiana at Monroe who is a whole lot smarter than 90% of the people in my college”?

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