Wednesday, May 15, 2013

institutional memory

Our Fair University's president just resigned, after a perfectly dreadful semester of one public relations blunder after another. She had swept into office on a wave of high hopes among the faculty – here at last we had a president who was an actual academic, rather than a political appointee, someone who knew something about how a university worked & might be able to make things better. She found herself immediately caught up in a succession of budgetary apocalypses (thank you, Governor Rick Scott).

Matters weren't helped for those of us on the shop floor by the fact that in short order she fired most of the standing administrators (those who knew what they were doing) & replaced them with hand-picked yes-people. The run up to last semester's accreditation ordeal was a painful exercise in anal-retentive bean-counting, arbitrary & draconian decisions, & astonishingly increased paperwork. This past semester brought all the administration's shortcomings into the open. There were a series of of "crises" – public relations crises, not "real" events – each of which the president fumbled: a faculty member's blog posts, propounding ludicrous conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook shootings, got picked up by the media & went viral; another faculty member's "consciousness-raising" class exercise ("Stomp On Jesus") became a right-wing cause célèbre; the administration sold stadium naming rights to a private prison company, & then was astonished that students & faculty protested; the president clipped a protesting student with her Lexus in the parking lot, drove off in a huff & later demanded the student apologize to her.

I had been expecting this resignation announcement for weeks, but I'm not surprised she waited until after the Spring semester had ended to formally hand it in. I wish her the best in her "return" to the faculty (not that she's ever actually had the experience of teaching here). Once again, the Peter Principle is demonstrated.
At the end of this year, I will have been at Our Fair U for eighteen years. Wow. I've lost count of short-term interim presidents, but during my time here we've had three long-standing, permanent appointees: the Napoleon-complex architect, who sought to heighten his unfortunately wee stature thru risers in his dress shoes and an impressive white quiff, & whose money-laundered $42,000 parting gift was a red Corvette (what taste!); the former Lieutenant Governor with the Howdy Doody smile, wholly innocent of higher education, whose incoming gesture was to announce that he'd like to make unannounced visits to our classrooms (yes, he used to be a high school principal) because he'd really like to learn what went on in college classes; and the recently resigned academic with the U Mass PhD in botany, & with the impressive academic credentials (posts at LSU, USF, and Cleveland State).

Of the three, it's safe to say that the last has been by far the worst. Go figure.

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