Friday, March 25, 2005

Interesting Times

In terms of the storied curse, “may you live in interesting times,” these are interesting times. The Chronicle reported today that the American Association for Higher Education is disbanding for lack of member support. This, on the heels of the dissolution of FIPSE. The Senate voted to reauthorize the Perkins grant program, but didn’t get around to actually allocating any MONEY for it, so senators can claim to have been supporters of the program without actually paying for it. At my college, our president reported this week that our allocation from the state will be flat again this year, with likely cuts for the next several years.

All of that said, the mood among faculty and managers on campus seems to be “hang on.” I’ve noticed a disturbing willingness to postpone decisions, to hold one’s breath, cross one’s fingers, squint real tight, click heels together, and wish it all away.

It looks to me very much like the calm before a storm. Nobody wants to own up to making any of the changes that obviously need to be made, so they’re waiting for circumstances to force their hand. Maybe we can squeeze out one more year of (fill in the blank). Maybe a few more unreplaced retirements will buy us some more time.

Paradoxically, the very need for change becomes an obstacle to it. We can’t take risks now! Money for new initiatives would come at the expense of continuing operations, which are already running lean, so let’s not chance it. Better to just hang on...

From the faculty who are just one or two years away from retirement, I can understand it. But from everyone else, it’s baffling. The tip of the fiscal iceberg is clearly visible, we’re heading right for it, but nobody wants to bother the captain.

Necessity is a mother, as the saying goes. It’s time to put it all on the table: tuition structures, the components of a college degree, faculty tenure, summer vacations, everything. Take a look at Duke’s “professors of the practice,” at college lobbying, and at building/construction priorities.

Hegel wrote that freedom is the insight into necessity. Waiting to be buffeted by external forces is not freedom, or even peace. It’s just suicide.

Sorry to be so airy today; I usually try to focus on specifics. This week the specifics just piled up faster than I could keep track.