A Letter to the Editor: September 24, 2012
By Luke Kahlich, Professor Emeritus of Dance
Considering my 32+ years in higher education, the recent issues at Penn State, many, many conversations with colleagues across the nation and a number of articles in the Chronicle of Higher education, I offer these thoughts. I do not seek to immortalize or idealize faculty, nor demonize administrators, for there is always the dark side in all of us, but rather to put forth the question of why in an educational environment, there seems to be less and less regard for faculty, or rather, that some who support the ideas/ideals of the administrators are rewarded, while others languish.
What kind of administrative strategy is based on ignoring ideas and people who share the welfare of the institution? While I have certainly had my share of conflicts with athletics concerning grades and attendance over the last decades, I also have wonderful memories regarding athletes who chose to take my discipline (dance) seriously and applied themselves, resulting in new knowledge of an already fine tuned body and spirit. They were a delight to work with. The recent horrors of the Penn State affair brought back memories, not with athletics, but of how faculty are too seldom respected and rewarded for accomplishments that may or may not fit an administrators personal preferences. While this does not rise to criminal charges as in Penn State, it did make me realize that faculty can be, and are often left out and/or abused with little or no recourse.
Such abuse leaves wonderful, talented, dedicated people in a demoralized state. Like the hidden agendas and abuse of power at Penn State, Trustees too often leave presidents, and presidents/provosts leave deans to act with impunity. I am not challenging what power these people have or don’t have, or even should have. I simply recall my parents telling me, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. And that is what I too often saw in academe’s halls of power. It too often seems too much trouble to support and recognize the faculty based on criteria other than personal preferences of the person in power; to really talk with (NOT TO) rather than simply ignore a faculty member and/or department’s concerns about their future and their needs.
As I look back at my life inside academe, as well as looking at it from a leadership role at a national organization, there are many things that come to mind, but none burn brighter than the continued movement of leadership in higher education toward what I once considered the “nasty corporate model.” But then I look at some recent models in the business world in which people are encouraged to be, and rewarded for being individuals, withand for work supporting the community. It seems to me that it is this balance that is less and less valued or rewarded in higher education. When a faculty member is rewarded by making the administrator above look good, rather than the administrator feeling some responsibility for helping the faculty member accomplish what they have dedicated themselves to study, it does not bode well for faculty. When merit is used by deans to reward what s/he personally likes while ignoring the work of other faculty, even if that faculty’s field recognizes and lauds and rewards it through publication, invitations and presentations, the system is rigged. These ideas are not only my own, but shared with my fellow faculty at Temple and across the United States. This is not a condemnation of Temple, but of the movement of the institution to join others in an environment in which upper administration and boards are more worried about PR and bigger and bigger things, populations and buildings, rather than human beings in the enterprise of teaching and learning (despite the constant rhetoric and buzz words bandied about).
A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “On Leaving Academe” hit many points that I had considered. But my experience was at Temple for 15 years. I am both an alumus and now an emeritus. I invested in a program that has enjoyed national and international recognition. While I could state many specific issues and instances, I do not wish to demean those that left me demoralized as I came to retirement. Others were there to support me, to travel the educational pathway, and to whom I am most grateful. I wish the institution well, but I also caution that recent experience was not positive. Being raised on a farm, I grew up knowing one must always look to the next day and year with energy and enthusiasm, working for a better time. With great gratitude to those students, staff, faculty and, yes, even some administrators, with whom I was able to share tears, laughter and learning, I let go of this part of my life. I look forward to following Temple and hope that the incoming President will move toward a more inclusive process that truly recognizes, honors and supports faculty in their individual as well as collective journeys, one that assumes that each faculty brings a unique perspective that seeks to move the institution forward, focused on the only reason the institution exists: the students. •