Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-2012

Abstract

Message from President: The relentless flow of bad news from the state capitol leads educators around the state to assume that they can do nothing to remedy the problems beleaguering Louisiana’s college campuses. In large measure, this despair is warranted, in part because lawmakers lack the incipient and sometimes superstitious respect for learning that keeps universities in large states up-and-running during even the hardest times. There are, however, a variety of steps that campuses can take to solve problems on the home turf and with that lay the groundwork not only for a quick recovery but also for better, happier, and more efficient institutions. The number-one on-campus problem in Louisiana is old-fashioned organizational charts that sluice too many reporting lines to too few people and that thereby tempt search firms or search committees to select power-brokers rather than academic professionals as leaders. At LSU, for example, the consolidation of power in a combined Provost and Executive Vice-Chancellor that has occurred over the course of the last four Provosts has produced little in the way of academic success and much in the way of obsessive caution and pervasive intimidation. Versions of this problem plague many if not all campuses in this state. In the short term, campuses need to devolve (rather than talk about devolving) power back to Deans, colleges, and faculties, but they also should open up more lines of reporting and subdivide portfolios so that frustrated or harassed leaders can get a fair hearing and so that loyalty cults are disrupted. The present, funnel-shaped organizational chart produces an environment somewhere between the Kremlin and a kindergarten classroom, where otherwise freethinking leaders in middle management are expected to sing happy songs about consenting to everything, as if the “Soviet Man” of cold-war legend had bought a ticket to PeeWee Herman’s circus. Nearly every campus now has its fundraising apparatus, foundation, or booster operation; many have multiple fundraising arms (foundations, athletic foundations, alumni foundations). In most institutions, privatized fundraising operations are receding from public scrutiny and becoming nearly paranoid with regard to authority over their resources. Given the lowprofile approach of Louisiana’s academic fundraisers, it is perhaps not surprising that no one has called for the use of oncampus rainy-day funds to aid with the bailout that state one-time money and “rainy day” resources could affect. Foundations, for example, could use some of their massive resources to buy out professor’s contracts or otherwise sweeten retirement deals, thereby painlessly downsizing the universities until the available population warrants expansion. Some foundations might be able to deliver a direct bailout to help their institutions during what most recognize as a rare economic event. While regaining control of their fundraisers, faculty might also begin insisting that institutions back away from the revenuesharing arrangements in athletic leagues. Owing to an irrational aversion to risk, LSU, for example, participates in a system in which sports revenues are annually redistributed among SEC member schools. As a result, millions of dollars that arise from the good management of LSU’s sports program end up funding not academics, but sports facilities at Starkville and even Nashville. Faculty members at smaller schools can keep on asking why it is that Louisiana spends nearly forty million dollars annually to sustain athletic programs—de facto, football teams—that produce little more than injuries. The possessiveness that keeps foundation resources out of the current financing debate also expresses itself in an unwillingness to consider whether the idea of a “comprehensive university” continues to be viable. Perversely amusingly, almost every school in this state, no matter how small, makes some sort of claim to comprehensiveness, demonstrating the emptiness of that concept. If administrators are unwilling to do so, faculty members may start a debate about whether comprehensiveness, growth, and multitudinousness of offerings are really synonymous. One reason that we have so much competition and so much bad feeling even within systems is that campus leadership remains tribal and local, thinking in terms of what is offered at the home base rather than how students move through and around the curricula in the state. The call for comprehensiveness is, in any case, always very selective; few, for example, are mounting a push to teach naval architecture at every institution. Administrations in Louisiana are very old-fashioned in their thinking. The various honors and designations that preoccupy the current ruling class—membership in the AAU, U S News and World Report rankings, Carnegie classifications—are largely inventions of the Raquel Welch and Sean Connery generation. More often than not, they serve only to humiliate good researchers rather than to advance anything at all. A Chancellor or President or Provost who would strike out in a new direction would attract widespread applause, for the tiring rush after these meaningless ratings suggests nothing so much as the senior Adam West making a leap into a forty-year-old Batmobile. Faculty members need to speak up in search committee meetings and fight back against efforts by executive search firms to promote excessively profiled candidates. At the core of the problem is the declining academic credibility of administrations—the Philistinism of the bureau. An interesting exercise would be the nationwide review of administrator credentials with the goal of ascertaining the percentage of major executives who graduated from historic seats of learning or who have established significant publication and research records. The lack of cultural credibility is one reason that more than a few of Louisiana’s educational leaders lack the easygoing wit and personal charm to represent the higher educational project to our citizenry. Accomplishing that clever and urbane representations is also something that faculty members can do.

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