University Presidents Clueless About What a University Is

There’s currently a lot of bad news about the future of the state university system in which I teach. We’ve all got budget issues. This means, we’re told, that personell will need to be cut. This is evident in the “welcome back” letter we received at the start of the semester. Much of our crisis is due to the assault on education conducted by our governor, Tom Corbett. On top of that, we have a new chancellor of the system, former chancellor of the Florida state system. No one is optimistic.

Two of the other schools in our system, Clarion University and Edinboro University, have announced what they call “workforce plans” to close the budget gap. The rhetoric of these documents is interesting in its own right, especially the way the university presidents who drafted them position the university as a victim, as if the very ideology which defunds education at the state level is not the same ideology (mobilized by the university administration) that sees humanities programs as expendable, superfluous, or undesirable from the perspective of the student-consumer and their future employers. You can read the Clarion workforce plan HERE and the Edinboro workforce plan HERE.

What’s evident in both of these documents–and this is the disheartening part–is that the university presidents of Edinboro and Clarion have no interest in understanding the nature of a university or preserving the integrity of the university. They’re obviously willing to sell out in order to address the budget crisis. These are the same type of individuals who go on and on about “leadership,” but when it comes time to step up and lead they spew empty cliches and take the most obvious, uncreative steps toward a “solution.” That’s not leadership; that’s mechanical cost-benefit analysis.

What’s also evident is that these presidents believe that the university should be whatever (a) students and (b) employers want it to be. In other words, the market-driven demands that issue through both of these populations are allowed to determine what the university should be. When this happens, there is only one possible outcome: the university will become a training facility for future workers, laborers in whatever sector happens to supply the jobs. Of course, we want our students to find jobs after college. But that doesn’t mean that the university can sacrifice its educational integrity without undermining its very status as a university. Which is to say, as soon as the university takes itself to be a workforce training facility, it has ceased to be an educational institution and should relinquish that title and all of the benefits that come with it, financial and otherwise.

What I’m hoping tonight is that our university president, at her “state of the university” address tomorrow, doesn’t indicate that she, too, has a workforce plan up her sleeve. I’m hoping that she understands what a university is, and that she realizes that a university can’t be whatever she wants it to be.


About plasticbodies

Contemporary philosopher.
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