10.2.19

A MISPLACED MISSION.

I thought I could introduce this post as what comes up during football's equivalent of the hot stove league, but apparently there's something called Alliance of American Football to continue the competitions well into spring training.

That might divert attention from the latest attempts to rationalize competition in college football, where, once again, the Mid-American Conference, or some parts of it, are on not-so-secret probation.

There is no relegation in college sports, which means that the also-ran teams in a power conference (and the logic of a zero-sum tournament is that there will be also-rans) can be enabled to continue their losing ways, or perhaps can recruit and change their losing ways.
A team like 2-10 Arkansas, for instance, receives the same allocated monies (~$43M/season) from the conference and the Playoff committee as would SEC Champion Alabama, while most MAC schools struggle to run their entire athletic programs with maybe half that money, as most MAC schools average around $20M for a budget... assuming they’re not running at a deficit.
Running at a deficit, or running on student fees and a little help from the development office, is business as usual in the Mid-American, and no athletic director entrusted with a Mid-American program is going to want to give up football, because there are just enough Saturdays in September for Mid-American teams to clean house at guarantee games.  "[W]hen Northern Illinois, or any other Mid-American team, does better against a common opponent than a Big Ten team does, the people in Knute Rockne's backyard who want to keep offering football, even on a school night, will suggest there is enough success given the constraints so as to not abandon the enterprise."

I'd feel better about the Mid-American programs working on visibility in football, as Hustle Belt columnists Kenneth Bailey and James H. Jiminez write, if the "made it" mentality applied elsewhere around the conference universities.
As long as schools look upon the FBS as the symbol of having “made it”, they won’t be making the tough decisions in the immediate future. However, given the pressures on the schools for other reasons, they may have to decide the FBS is no longer worth the effort, especially if Power Five conferences don’t see the benefit of having their Group of Five peers in the room.
That is: we can hold our own with Minnesota or Nebraska or Maryland or Alabama or Purdue or Northwestern on the field.  Let's see if we can do that in the journals, in the placement of our students, in the awards garnered by our faculty.

Sorry, no.  "A faculty and shared-governance working group has created new drafts of the university mission, vision and values statements, and now invites members of the university community to comment on their work."

Why?  Because.
Holly Nicholson, co-chair of the NIU Mission Review and Revision Working Group, said administrators felt an update to the existing statements was needed.

She said the team has been discussing proposals with various faculty and staff and have considered many different outlooks for the update.

“It’s a great opportunity for NIU to differentiate ourselves,” Nicholson said. “We dove deep into what makes NIU special and how we can set ourselves apart from other universities, as well as using our mission, vision and values to inform all our strategic planning going forward.”
The last time the administrators imposed this burden on faculty was ... all of seven years ago, and all we have to show for it is a lousy pennant.


Oh, there's a bit more here, but if you go looking for how well the actual measured up to the hoped for, you might have a better chance of finding the Holy Grail in the Oak Island Money PitI tendered my resignation two years into that vision and mission.  " It occurs to me, though, that having the departments properly staffed so that students are able to complete their schedules without having to deal with irregular offerings either of foundational courses or key electives, might pay off in retention and completion to orders of magnitude greater than more money in student affairs."

Apparently not.  It's more important, apparently, to carefully distinguish mission from vision from values.  I kid you not.  "One of the first challenges for the working group was differentiating between mission, vision and values."

I'd feel better if these geniuses actually came up with something constructive.

Sorry, no.

Here's the mission to be debated in University Council, that is, if there is any shared governance left.  "NIU strives to be an agent for social progress and personal growth in service to our broader community."

Anodyne statements that might include contemporary virtue-signalling language strike me as the antithesis of either progress or growth.  There are enough promising young people enrolled that "service to our broader community" transcends "would you like fries with that?"  Can't they do better?

Now the vision.  "NIU empowers students through excellent instruction and engaged learning experiences to prepare them for meaningful lives and careers. We create knowledge and engage in artistry that will benefit the region, state, nation and world."

At least in football, there are hopes of beating Power Five opponents, qualifying for bowl games, and, occasionally, winning one.  The academic aspirations are, again, anodyne, and there's nothing about participating in the intellectual conversation on the same terms as the state flagships and the Ivies.  Beating them in sports, sure.  Having your articles on their reading lists, crickets.  Placing your graduates in their graduate programs?  It's been done.

The values?  Inclusion and respect, curiosity and creativity, ethics and integrity, service and stewardship.  They left out "thrifty, brave, clean, reverent."  I'm snarking, but again, I'm seeing an effort that's more about having the right phrases for the approval of accrediting agencies than about "becoming the university of choice" or "strengthening the majors" or any of the other things that continue to be the reason for U.S. News to sell those guides.

Perhaps I should not be surprised.
When any social arrangement is a construction, it can be deconstructed, and the sub-plot that ought to make readers angriest is the one in which serial administrators serially bring in their own retinues of assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants to replace the strategic plans and mission statements of the previous administrators, after much work by the previous assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants that distracted the faculty from doing what faculty ought be doing, namely having original thoughts and challenging students and each other with those thoughts. (But, Professor Ginsberg argues, there are ample opportunities for administrators to play on faculty sympathies with underdogs by framing some of the usurpations as in the service of diversity or equity or inclusion or access. Why more observers haven't caught on that academic prestige rests in part on bad writing not getting published, or bad dissertations not being defended, or weak students not graduating, or -- keeping March Madness in mind -- bad teams getting a play-in game at best escapes me.)
The Vision 2020 is two university presidents ago.  In another six or seven years, there is likely to be another round of administrative imperialism and academic destruction, all to keep the language of the vision and mission consistent with what everybody else is doing.  Even if what everybody else is doing isn't working.

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