What Lies Ahead

Take another look at the photo. It was originally posted to Reddit, and its topic was the dog, sitting patiently on a bench in what, I believe, was described as an animal shelter. Sure, the dog is sweet, but what really captured me in the photograph was the setting: that bench, the glass partitions, the easy-to-clean tile floor, the cinder block walls that someone has tried to camouflage with some military-gray wainscoting as well as the slip of paper that no one could be bothered to pick up and the glimpse one catches of institutional lobby furniture suggested to me a kind of emergence of a common institutionality.

What is the consistency of that common institutionality? There is, of course, the ever-present rationalization that we are doing what we are supposed to do because the numbers all add up. No one asks larger questions, about meaning and quality, because to do so would be to call attention to oneself. You have a limited set of options: give in and go along, invest and get promoted, or retreat into whatever private world keeps you sane when you have had contact with the institutional world.

Whoa, I surprised myself with just how fast all of that tumbled out. And I wondered: is it just the current moment, the current circumstance? I work at a regional public university which has given up even trying to be better: our dean recently told a fellow faculty member that quantity of publications count, not quality. When asked about getting back some of the 20 to 25 percent in wages we have lost over the past 8 years, his response was simply “Talk to the legislature.” But he isn’t alone in not caring. A number of faculty have begun not to care, and so hallways that were once vibrant with conversation are now deserted. Office doors that were once open are now closed. People used to at least rally around getting and keeping the building clean, which has been a regular struggle for the last decade, but now no one even complains about the stairway handrails that you dare not touch or the dirt accumulating in corners of the computer classrooms. Like that piece of paper lying under the bench in the photo above, it just doesn’t matter enough to anyone anymore.

I hope this is just Louisiana, and not some larger set of trends. I gather from colleagues elsewhere that things have begun to turn around, but here, here I don’t know if they ever will. The budget for higher education might get better, but I’m afraid the organizational changes that have occurred during this period may not be so easily reversed.

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