Field of Science

New Provost charging forward into the past.

Yes folks, our great institution of higher learning located here in the maize and soybean desert of Lincoln land has hired itself a new provost. Well, actually no provost is actually new, virtually all are used, administrators who occupied slightly subordinate positions at bigger institutions, or who occupied the same position at a smaller institution, both looking to move up, but in different ways. Each promises to bring new and better ideas, modes of operation, and innovative practices to your institution, retreads of ideas somebody else had at their former institutions. And for some strange genetic reason, these administrators are compelled by the Peter Principle to seek ever higher positions until their true level of incompetence is reached. So I welcome our new provost with no great enthusiasm, which is not personal at all, but a general cynicism born of experience.

Provost Plodder has introduced a “new” policy that will return us to the teacher’s college mentality we have for so long attempted to out grow. Faculty positions are one of the largest resources the provost has to dole out. Provost Plodder has announced that staffing decisions will be based upon number of majors, credit hour generation, student demand, and job demand in Lincoln land. Wow, such innovation really takes your breath away. Of course bean counting in Lincoln land is common enough, but usually it’s done in bushels.

This means Provost Plodder takes our primary charge as a state-supported institution seriously. Our venerable institution is supposed to train workers for the employers of Lincoln land. Yes, that’s right, train, not educate. Sit. Roll over. Fetch. And just for Lincoln land too; it’s no good providing an education to a tax paying citizen if they move to Iowa or Ohio. Next the 60% of our alumni who live out of state will probably be asked to retroactively pay out of state tuition. And it’s our fault entirely because we educated them and instead of training them. Maybe I didn’t mention the Provost’s first name, Parochial.

Yes, folks Provost Parochial Plodder made no mention of scholarship, makes no exceptions for departments with graduate programs versus those without, and takes no qualitative aspects into account. Why what if some bright, creative student, a native of Lincoln land, wants to study botany? Well, those students who have an interest in low enrollment, low demand, no jobs in Lincoln land programs are just crap out of luck. And besides they should seek job training, not an education. There’s always a demand for de-tasselers and bean walkers, if properly trained.

Years ago the state of Ohio applied Provost PP’s system to state liquor stores after they found out that 20% of their stock made up 85% of their sales. Bud Light and Seagram’s 7 drinkers didn’t even notice the change. PPP will bolster those programs that currently have the most people, fill the most seats, are most popular, those pandering purveyors of the ordinary, and of course, that’s only what's popular in Lincoln land. If you like something a bit unpopular like maybe philosophy or religion, or a nice chianti with faba beans, well, too bad. And you might even wonder how your kids would grow up if you let them decide what to eat the way our provost decides what to support. Letting student preferences determine academic programming makes just as much sense.

Now I do not argue that numbers are unimportant, but scholarly programs that engage students in scholarship and do so with the aid of graduate programs are without question quality programs where students can become so educated that they can seek careers anywhere. Such programs are high quality, but they are not going to be the biggest producers of credit hours or the most popular. Provost PP’s policy ends up robbing peter to pay paul, removing quality to bolster quantity. And this is why the bad old days may return. It reminds me of President Doofus all those years ago when I was hired. “We’re a teachers college so you should teach, and teachers are in demand. It’s that simple.” And so was he. Our institution was the K-mart of education under his guidance. And guess which college had a flashing blue light on top?

The faculty finally got tired of this go nowhere, do nothing administration, and we responded to his state of the university address in detail, in full harmony. And to our amazement he resigned. Dang! If we knew he'd fold like a cheap suitcase, we'd have gone after him sooner. But in recent years our institution has voiced a new image, one quite antithetic to Provost Plodder’s policy. Quality does count, and not just in teaching.

Provost Plodder is threatening 15 years of academic progress by demoting the most important decisions a university can make to an exercise in bean counting. Oh, did I mention PPP’s academic background was in education? Did I have to? Where else do such innovations come from? So these will not be happy days for programs that have labored to provide our institution with something of a scholarly reputation, quality academic programs, and highly qualified students. Now we’ll be staffing those high volume, popular, we-can-train-you-for-a-job programs, and our university will be little more than a glorified community college. Maybe we can install a drive-up window. But the best and brightest students of Lincoln land would do well to consider universities in neighboring states, unless they too have recently hired a provost from Kneebitska. The next state is not too far to drive for a really good education or bottle of wine. You won’t be getting one around here.

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