Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Between Despair and the Hard Place

Some of our meetings lately have been about our plan for coming times, or, as the local Marxist in the office nearby says, the next five year plan, that's why we worked our rears off to get phuds.

We all have a task now, though the heaviest part falls to department chairs and program coordinators. Each department and program has to write a report that explains how we fit into the plan for coming times, how we're cost efficient, and what we're willing to give up if we have to. We're even encouraged to talk about what we would like to get if we give up something we have. It's a cheerful thing.

Over in the Underwater Basketweaving department, the person who teaches "Baskets by the Really Famous Anglo Male from 400 Years Ago" is only somewhat worried. After all, they wouldn't get rid of BRFAM400YA, right? Except that the plan for coming times is all about coming times and not at all about basketry from 400 years ago, even by that Really Famous Anglo Male. And while the headmaster and other higher administrators talk about going to sport events, I've never once heard them talk about going to a basketweaving demonstration or a show of old baskets woven underwater.

Do you think the football coach is writing this report, too? And is there ever any chance that football will get cut (except at the U of Chicago)?

But the Underwater Basketweaving department isn't just full of people who teach BRFAM400YA. There are also the folks who graduate only a couple people a year in Mathematical Underwater Basketweaving, and while everyone should know at least a little MUB in a Basketweaving department, we don't graduate many people in that major. And there's talk that part of the plan for coming times is focused on churning out larger numbers of majors. And MUB doesn't churn out majors at all; it nurtures them a few at a time. It's also hard to make a case for MUB with the part of the plan that talks about economic development; MUB, like BRFAM400YA isn't really focused on fostering economic development in the area. Critical thinking and analysis, yes, but direct economic development, not really.

The Interdisciplinary Program for Weaving of Color folks are also feeling edgy. They've been underfunded forever, and so have little to show in the way of "progress" as far as majors or economic development. The fact that they don't actually have an office or administrative staff support means that the Underwater Basketweaving chair will have to include them in that report, though he never weaves with color. He's sympathetic, but it's just not his thing; what he really cares about is reed preparation studies, and you know they need a new reed preparation lab, have needed one for years.

With budgets the way they have been for the last 10 years or so, NWU is in tough straits. Cuts have been made, and cuts will be made again; the question is where. Do we cut back on BRFAM400YA classes? Maybe cut an FTE or two? They won't fire the BRFAM400YA tenured faculty, but there will be no BRFAM400YA courses, so s/he will be teaching intro basketweaving techniques endlessly until s/he decides to "retire." Or let BRFAM400YA stay, since at least it deals with a white male from a dominant culture, and cut the Interdisciplinary Program?

At most of the meetings, men talk. Sometimes women ask questions about decision making and transparency, but the men have the answers. That's because they've been the ones designing the plan for coming times and the ways we'll implement the plan. The MUB and Interdisciplinary folks who don't have tenure yet? They don't even ask questions at the meetings, but they're jittery and stressed, and when you talk to them after meetings, they blurt out their concerns. But you have to talk to them individually, one human being to another.

I'm guessing the German faculty isn't feeling great about things either.

Do you think the offensive line coach worries about his job? (How many football majors are there again?)

And the word is that in the end, with all the reports handed in, decisions will be made. Hurrah for the passive voice! And we're to trust the good judgment of the people making those decisions, which, by the way, will happen over the summer.

Summer, glorious summer, double-edged summer.

Part of me respects the administrative folks. Most of them are smart and capable. But I really don't deep down trust them, and I don't feel much enfranchised through this process. On the other hand, I think they've already done better than at the famed U of Toledo, so I shouldn't complain.


  1. Oh yes, strategic assessment (or whatever your U calls it). We did that a couple of years ago at RBU. And then we got a new administration who threw it out and does what it wants. Sometimes, it feels like you're just being made to dance for their pleasure.

  2. I confess that I am endlessly entertained by your parallel academic universe. A reed preparation lab! :)