Thursday, April 13, 2017

The More Things Change

I ran into a colleague in the "research room" (which is what our room with a microwave, coffee maker, water pot, refrigerator, sink, and seating is labelled, it being illegal to call anything on state property a "break room" apparently), a colleague who's retiring at the end of the semester.  And, as we do when waiting for water to boil, coffee to drip, and so on, we chatted.  I asked him how he was looking forward to retirement, and he said that while he's loved his job, there are changes, some for the better, some for the worse, but the detrimental ones are bothering him more than the positive ones these days.

So we started talking about some changes.

There are structural changes which make it seem more possible to give a wider group of people opportunities to go to college, but now those changes seem to be eroding.  So, here, he said, when he first came, the students were pretty much all white, middle class.  They're still mostly white, but now not mostly middle class.  We still have a long ways to go to serve the racially diverse population around NWU, but we're doing better at serving a more economically diverse population.  (You may think of the great North Woods as a land of unmitigated whiteness, but if you look, you'll realize there's more diversity in the area than you might think.  For one thing, there are more Native Americans in the area, but we're not serving them well here at NWU.  There are also more Latin@ folks than you might think, but we're not serving them hardly at all.  And there are more refugees and immigrants, often second generation now, too. 

Technology is a mixed bag.  It's great to be able to get texts, to access them in class, to not have to use a microfilm/microfiche reader, to be able to get texts PDFed from afar, to be able to look up some factoid quickly.  On the other hand, it's frustrating when students don't buy literary (or no doubt other) texts, but try to read them on their phones.  And it's even more frustrating when students pay more attention to their phone than to the human beings in class with them.

(What are most students doing on their phones?  Playing games?  Twitter?  Snapchat or something?)

I started here pretty much in the year my colleague feels was the beginning of local structural changes hurting students, so to me, those changes are sort of normalized for me as a faculty member.  I was totally unaware of them at most of the schools where I was a student (except for the years I was at a community college and regional university; the regional university hadn't bought books for the library in years in the lit field.  When we really needed something, the advice was to go to either the big public R1 15 miles east, or the smaller private R1 30 or so miles south.  Fortunately, both would let people read in their libraries, though we couldn't borrow books, of course.)

For colleagues who've come more recently, there've been drastic recent budget issues, but we're all weirdly adjusting to them as the new normal.

What have you found changing over your career in academics (or whatever)?  More positive or negative?  Mixed?


  1. The changes going on at HU have been vast, even in the six years since I've been here. But before that, HU was a tiny SLAC with virtually no sports teams, and run by nuns. Now, it's almost entirely run by lay people. We have huge sports teams. We have a new med school. We have bigger enrollments and are more selective in accepting people. There are lots of good things going on, like more money for professional development. But then, there's also a real research creep that makes it really hard to do our 4/4 teaching jobs well. (Or our research well, for that matter.)

    The people who have been here for a long time think that all the changes have erased the character of the college they once loved working at and that the community has become less interested in the life of the mind and more interested in money. So while there have been infrastructural improvements aplenty, and a better student body, there has also been a shift in mentality that doesn't sit well with the people closer to retirement. Personally, I think some of these changes are great (hey, I got funding to go to the UK to sit in the theater and watch plays!), but then, some of these changes are scary (people not getting tenured because they resist the administration's M.O.). Things usually feel pretty insecure around here. Maybe it's my long-term adjuncting that makes me able to cope better with it. But then, sometimes I'm only BARELY coping.

    Who knows? But high ed has changed a hell of a lot since the 1970s, which is when many of my colleagues were undergrads. At this point, I feel like the message in higher ed is "adapt or die." I'm ambivalent...

  2. Huh, I never thought about it but we call that room a workroom. It also has office supplies and the copier.