Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-2011

Abstract

Message from President: With the arrival of the Advent season comes the temptation to make lists. Universities and their assorted faculty, political, and professional leaders rejoice in lists, whether the ranking lists published by US News and World Report or Kiplinger’s or the eruditionflaunting lists more commonly known as curriculum vitae or the lists of problems with so many aspects of academic life that everyone carries in the ever-running journal of his or her mind. Among the most salient lists are those enumerating the parties responsible for the decay of education in Louisiana. Compiling a list of those who have contributed to the wretchedness of our present condition leads to a diverting reciprocal blame-game in which faculty blame nefarious administrators, administrators jot down refractory faculty, and everyone blames either the legislature or the governor. Such lists provide an anodyne to the saccharine predictions about bright futures that emanate from central university offices across the country, but, at least in the case of Louisiana, they distract attention from the more fundamental causes that drive the aforementioned parties to act less than optimally. Not only Louisiana State University, not only the LSU System, but all the institutions in the state partake of greatness in their various and sundry and sometimes eccentric ways. Few institutions are without a cadre of remarkable persons who have undergone the combined fiery baptisms of hiring committees, economic pressure on the academy, inadequately socialized students, and shoddy facilities. Many if not all universities produce top-quality research while doing such other great exploits as their resources allow. Many political and administrative figures, whether the low-key Senator Nevers at the Capitol or the jolly Chancellor Nunez over at LSUE, make earnest if sometimes stumbling efforts to do the right thing. However wicked some of the personnel associated with education and its politics may be, the core of the trouble with Louisiana education is a lack of confidence. Starting at the top, it is lack of confidence that makes political bosses shy away from oil-related taxes, fearful that industrial magnates might take their support elsewhere when, in fact, those plutocrats would have a good deal even on far more demanding terms than are in force today. The top political leaders have so shaky an idea of Louisiana’s merits that they cannot see the strength of their negotiating positions. Further down the line, lack of confidence leads the gubernatorial appointees in the assorted education bureaus around the state to imagine that developing a workforce of night managers at chemical plants is the upper limit of our achievement. Around the campuses, underestimating the confidence of the voting public in their beloved schools induces local university chieftains to take a kid-glove approach to the legislature even when a good old educationally enhanced whack might win more respect. In dayto-day campus life, lack of confidence appears in a thousand guises. It can be detected in the frantic editing of university promotional videos, which communicate the fear that inspecting a scene for more than three seconds might lead to criticism. Lack of confidence appears in the retrogressive costumes of the LSU Golden Girls, perversely nostalgic costumes positing that 1970s Las Vegas was probably the last place that one could look for protection from an imaginary group of kind old daddies. Confidence shortages underlie the reluctance to include controversial or dissenting letters or other material in alumni publications—something included in the media distributions of every confident campus. A sad confidence shortage can be unearthed in the extraordinarily safe character of the program of the Union Theater. The confidence shortage can even be tasted in the high level of baby-reassuring sugar in LSU vending machines. In sum, the lack of confidence can be found everywhere, even in the deceptively calm but in fact nervously tentative if utterly neutral color palette of LSU interiors. The Faculty Senate Monthly Newsletter might be described as the ultimate nerve pill in the quivering world of Louisiana higher education. But it is not the only vehicle by which everyone in the university communities of our great state can be encouraged to think tough and to replace that glass jaw with a bit of Kevlar. All that is necessary to change the culture of anxiety that has given rise to our present circumstance is to ask, “have you hugged your dissident today?”—and mean it.

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