16.10.12

THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD.

Northern Illinois University president John Peters calls it a career.
The university has changed considerably since Peters took over in 2000. Under Peters, the university reached higher student enrollment numbers, peaking at 25,313 students in fall 2006. However, enrollment has dropped steadily since – fall 2012’s enrollment of 21,869 students is a 4.9 percent drop from the previous year.

State support to higher education has shrunk as well. In the outset of his speech, Peters highlighted the “bleak” landscape facing NIU and other public universities. The Illinois General Assembly has cut the university’s appropriations in six of the past 13 years, Peters said.

“And this year’s state funding was the same as what we received in 1995,” Peters said.
Circumstances have been difficult. The upside to having only two presidents in the past 26 years is there are fewer serial administrators bringing in their ideas and  dragooning, or enticing, faculty into endless rounds of planning and retreating and otherwise not concentrating on the primary objective.  That's not to say that the primary objectives are well thought out, or coherent.  In the university's announcement of the president's retirement plan is a statement of the current objective.  I'm not sure what "student-centered public research university" refers to.  Is it a dig at the state flagships for too many large lectures at which grant-getting research stars rack up enough student credit hours to pacify the legislature?  Or is it a way to place more burdens on a faculty that, thanks to the latest state appropriation, is likely to become smaller at the same time that headquarters plans to add enrollment?

Despite that, the latest state of the university address notes encouraging developments in the Honors program, in freshman recruitment, in academic proficiency among scholarship athletes, merit scholarships, and fund-raising.

The speech also invites faculty and staff to think about what it is they should be doing.
Our work lives similarly are filled with small obstacles that might be removed with a little ingenuity, initiative or elbow grease.

What stands in the way of becoming the best instructor you can be?

What barriers prevent you from doing the caliber of research you are capable of?

What impediments reduce efficiency and undermine our efforts to best meet the needs of our students?

So, today I am calling upon you to identify these obstacles.
I can state publicly what I will say privately, when this opportunity presents itself.

The principal impediment to achieving any of these goals is that I, and my colleagues, are over-tired, and tired of having to make do with less, year, after year, after year, state non-support or not.  The secondary problem, and it is a non-trivial problem, is the proliferation of projects that get introduced with great fanfare, and get a lot of good people involved, only to be scaled back or abandoned in a few years.

Admit good students in numbers that the faculty can work with.  Recruit good colleagues capable of talking with each other about their scholarship.  Fix the roof during the summer session, when there's less pressure on classrooms, rather than because the building inspector has condemned it.  And leave us be to do our work, rather than forever distracting us with initiatives and management fads and the latest high-sounding idea from so-called pedagogical theorists that never survive their first encounter with a classroom.  Maybe in two hundred years, or two thousand years, we got a few things right.

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