Document Type

Article

Publication Date

10-2016

Abstract

Message from President: When November opens the calendrical gateway to the holidays, Thanksgiving, the holiday nominally devoted to appreciation, draws attention to the question of gratitude. Faculty members live, move, and have their being in the sphere of gratitude. These talented people, whose aptitudes would qualify them for a thousand high-paying careers, set aside lucrative opportunities in order to celebrate the bounty of knowledge. Even during the most depressing moments of an academic career—even despite excessive workloads, deteriorating facilities, and budget shortfalls—faculty members quietly applaud, through their service, the implicit generosity of a universe that not only makes itself interpretable, but allows its denizens to enjoy and appreciate the process of discovery. What Thanksgiving also reveals is the chief challenge to Louisiana colleges and universities: the deep-set, systemic ingratitude that surrounds and ultimately undermines the higher education project. Many colleagues would like to simplify the feeling of inadequate appreciation that they routinely experience by blaming it all on the administration: by taking the hard-line labor activist view that callous managers merely exploit faculty members. Administrations, however, are also victims—albeit well— aid victims—of a far more subtle if far more extensive substratum of ingratitude that also accounts for such phenomena as the declining infrastructure of our state (a state which was running first in the deterioration derby even before Donald Trump made decay a campaign theme). First if most elusive among the species of ingratitude is the suspicion of outside influences that comes from a long run on the wrong side of history. The last stop for unjustly evicted Acadians, a slaveholding state on the losing side of the civil war, and a venue where initiatives to declare the capitol city a zone friendly to all persons routinely fail, Louisiana has a centuries-long tradition of resenting improvement efforts that either come from or link to the outside world. The vast majority of professorial faculty in Louisiana either hail from or have passed considerable time in other lands; additionally, with respect to the distribution of education in America, they are deep into the disdained “one percent.” In virtue of their education and experience, faculty members count as foreigners. Louisiana’s history has created a disposition not to appreciate, but to fear, resent, or disdain extraneously originated improvers. Next, the overall poverty—or, rather, astoundingly unequal distribution of income—in Louisiana has set up an almost obsessive zeal for vocational education or “workforce development,” which, in turn, casts into suspicion time-consuming curricula such as those in the liberal arts, thereby diminishing appreciation for studies that seem to slow up the rush toward prosperity. Third, students, under pressure from all the foregoing and mesmerized by the notion that they are “customers” or “clients” (despite being heavily state-funded in even the best universities), have little motivation to thank those to whom they should be apprentices. Yes, some students excel and yes, some come back after years to show gratitude, but those remain few in number in comparison to the thousands who come and go. The cult of funded research, additionally, has redirected such gratitude as remains away from university personnel and off to donors and granting agencies. And then there is the appreciation-poor Governor, who has shown little interest in the advice or expertise of dozens of faculty members who worked for his election. Administrations, under the influence of these and many other social, economic, and even raw emotional influences, must perform the harder act of balancing between the gracefulness that comes with the life of the mind and a culture-suffusing ingratitude that has been churning for centuries. Executive search firms require them to write long application letters about their gratitude to their faculty colleagues and campus communities at the same time that they are also writing long letters to donors, thanking those givers for providing money that those same donors have sequestered to themselves through their influence on tax policy. Because no one can seem authentically sincere to everyone all of the time, administrations get caught in a loop of mixed gratitude and ingratitude. Followers of the sun’s path know that Thanksgiving occurs within a few weeks of the darkest time of the year, and that for a reason. The glum state of affairs relating to gratitude should make for an enlightening Thanksgiving recess conversation topic—and, perhaps, for some solutions. Perhaps the recognition that university management cannot be grateful even if it wants to be will encourage some to consider organizing labor actions.

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