In plays, we learn a lot in opening speeches. Sometimes we get commentary from "bit" players filling us in on the main action; sometimes we get a chance to see a main character in action.
Opening speeches are important in academics, too. I've been to several in the past week or so, from our Top Dog, the Dean, and various chairs of committees I'm serving on. Opening speeches set the agenda for the future, usually for the year, but sometimes beyond. The Philosophy Factory has a GREAT post rating the speeches she heard! Check it out.
During my first years as a facutly member, I was so busy trying to figure out what I was doing, trying to manage my teaching, my learning, my advising, that I had difficulty seeing beyond my own nose. I'd sit through the first of the year speeches, wondering why I was listening to this stuff.
Within a year or two, I began to see a bit more, and began to learn how things fit together, especially departmentally, and through various committees. Now, I'm beginning to get a stronger sense of my place in the larger community, and I know why I'm listening to the opening speeches. I get more out of them. I'm beginning to get a sense of the nuances (I'm not especially quick, no doubt), the ways the Top Dog slings certain lingo, the way the Dean raises an eyebrow at certain questions.
At the same time, though, I've come to realize that we're always in crisis mode, either we're in the middle of something horrible, or we're anticipating something doubly horrible. At the least, we're always either worrying about upcoming accredidation or departmental evaluations, or in the process of doing them.
That makes the opening speeches both repetitive and urgent. And sometimes, really irritating. This week, I've listened to the Top Dog explain that he has four goals, the first of which is basically to strategically develop goals. Uh huh.
And I listened to the Dean talk about how often we've listened to deans talk about new strategies or whatever at opening meetings, and then never hear about those strategies or whatever again. This time, he promised, he'd be held accountable, and we'd hear about the new issues again.
I'm convinced that every opening speech talks about student centeredness, new plans, budget problems, and how much more we need to do to stay in the race, though it's not always clear what the race is, competition with other schools or actually educating people, producing new knowledge, and serving out community.
We also introduced and reintroduced new colleagues in various positions, recognized some awards, and so forth. And as I sat there, beginning to get the nuances of the opening speeches, I wondered how my new colleagues were feeling. Overwhelmed? Worried? Getting it? Or not?
I wonder how I'll feel in a few more years listening to basically the same speeches again and again.
The state of the university is hopeful this year, it seems. Maybe the state's coming out of the economic dumps and we'll reverse our budget trends. We have new colleagues who show great promise. And once again, we have a load of new students!