3.3.16

DO THINGS DECENTLY AND IN ORDER.

State legislators might well push university governing boards to exceed their authority.  William Bradley, a graduate of the University of Missouri, before its football team, its president, and its board of curators beclowned themselves, explains why caving in to the legislature establishes a bad precedent.
If politicians are now allowed to dictate an institution’s personnel decisions, what is to stop them from abusing this power even further? Will scientists researching climate change be safe in such an environment? How about a religious studies professor whose scholarship isn’t dogmatic enough for some politician’s tastes? Can the theater department still perform Lysistrata, or is Aristophanes’ antiwar sentiment and frank discussions of carnal matters unsuitable for the commissars of the new political correctness? God help the political scientists, the sociologists and the artists if we decide to allow politicians this kind of power to meddle in academic affairs.
Or, to extend the argument, if there's Hayek or Sowell on somebody's reading list, or a faculty member serving as county chairman for the Republicans.  Procedural protections exist for a reason.
Had the board been confident that Melissa Click was truly unfit to teach at the University of Missouri, it could have stepped back and let the faculty members and administrators in charge of Click’s case do their job and come to that conclusion on their own. Shared governance may be slow, but it is effective, despite what proponents of “disruption” and critics of the professoriate tend to believe. If Click needed to go, then that would be the appropriate way to get rid of her. That the board could not wait for others in the campus community to come to the same conclusion it had come to suggests that the board is not as confident in its assessment as its members have publicly said they are.
Boards do not function solely as rubber-stamps, and there are ways for a board member to communicate to a department head, dean, provost, or friend on a college or university promotion board (depending on what the by-laws stipulate about where a divided vote is meaningful) that a particular tenure case is going to put the university in a bad light.

It's in Mr Bradley's continuation, however, that you see the way in which higher education has broken the social contract with the polity that sustains it.
When I started graduate school, I thought that being a university professor would be the coolest job in the world. And in some ways, it was and still is. I mean, you get paid to read and write and think. You get to work with idealistic young people excited to make a difference in the world. You get to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s awesome.

Unfortunately, though, there are forces in our culture that resent academics, and intellectual pursuits in general. We hear it in the voices of governors who insist that college is about the acquisition of job skills and that a pursuit of anything artistic or literary is a luxury that young people can’t afford and don’t really need. We read it in “trollish” online comments that say that people who have dedicated their lives to teaching and research live in “ivory towers,” untouched by the concerns of the “real world.” We witness it when a presidential candidate sneers about the discussions going on over brie and chardonnay in the faculty lounge.
The smug in which gentry liberals, including the alleged brie and chardonnay set in the faculty lounge (in 35 years in higher education, I don't recall ever setting foot in one, but I mostly enjoyed the gig all the same, for similar reasons), marinate, is real.  The expense-preference behavior of administrators, who on paper report to the trustees, is real.  The recondite and incomprehensible scholarship, particularly in disciplines artistic and literary, is real.  The practical degrees that have value, no matter where the student matriculates, are real.

By all means, insist that trustees do things decently and in order, and defend the work of the university.  Is it too much to ask, though, that the people who do the work of the university also do that work decently and in order?

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