Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-2014

Abstract

Message from President: With the arrival of summer, colleagues in universities hither and yon will be headed somewhere else for part or all of the recess period. Providing refreshment, permitting research, and perhaps making the heart grow fonder for the home turf, these summertime itinerant intervals have long provided academic personnel with an emotional compensation that occasionally substitutes for the big economic gap in a nine-month salary. Zoroastrians everywhere suspect that good inevitably contrasts with counterpointing evil, and so it is that not every somewhere else is a full of fun, frolic, and fulfilment. Somewhere else might well be declared the official motto of Louisiana higher education. One reason that progress proves so difficult for Louisiana’s systems and campuses is that, no matter what the issue, the party or power responsible for making the decision is inevitably somewhere else. Macroscopically, the system heads, campuses presidents and chancellors, and management board members who provide such easy targets for the complaints of chagrined faculty members are usually supervised but authorities somewhere else, whether in the governor’s office, at the legislature, or in the mediocre town clubs haunted by donors. Louisiana’s itinerant governor is himself almost always somewhere else. Closer to home, those involved in campus governance seldom know where to direct their questions or requests. At big schools, provosts fear usurping the authority of system heads who are lodged over in some other building’ system heads, conversely, fear meddling with the campuses and thereby undercutting provosts or annoying campusloyal boosters. At small schools, campus leaders think continually about what will happen if a mistake is reported back to the meanies in the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge, who, in turn, want to leave the blame back on the campuses—in sum, somewhere else. The rush to go somewhere else is not a prerogative only of those at the top of the administrative ladder (where going somewhere else potentially involves a dangerous leap and a painful drop, with or without a golden parachute). Throughout their careers, academic professionals are relentlessly warned that they must contribute to progress of some sort, a term suggesting the need to go somewhere other than the present location. This commitment to endless, often unexpectedly circular progress engenders a variety of superstitions ranging from the hope that candidates for position who hail from somewhere else will be better or at least less venal than those in the present location to the notion that a journal published further away, whether in Cambridge or New York, must be better than one published in Lake Charles, Monroe, or Shreveport. The result of the drive to go somewhere else, whether to a new job or on a consulting junket, is the neglect and hence erosion of faculty authority at home, where, the numbers tell us, over ninety percent of posttenure faculty members spend their entire careers. What is most curious is that the lust for whatever is somewhere else derives from social structures that mirror one of the most stable, stationery forms in nature, the pyramid. With the ascendancy of the newly imagined discipline of “higher education leadership” has come a stronger-than-ever commitment to highly pyramidal chains of command in which authority is as far away as possible from particular competencies. With the cult of “leadership” has come a surge of followership, there being far more subordinates than alphadogs in any organization. In leadership-driven institutions, followers habitually look somewhere else for decisions, thus ending the drive to reform and thus, paradoxically, ensuring that no one will ever go somewhere else, at least with regard to innovation. The public critique of higher education which has led to such devastating consequences for Louisiana institutions may well represent a less-than-conscious reaction to the “somewhere elsedness” of higher education institutions. When action always occurs somewhere else, local people suspect that their money serves alien purposes. The solution? Increase the local academic presence in administrative offices while instituting countervailing policies that restrain the tyrannical behavior of the local grandees who have run more than a few local campuses as if they were dictatorships. Perhaps someone on summer vacation will discover that utopian configuration somewhere else!

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