Written by Loren Logsdon
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 00:00
I have often thought that the undue concern for status among faculty and administration undermines the purposes of an institution of higher learning. No matter how much one tries to be reasonable about status, one cannot avoid it at a state university. I suppose concern about status is true of all institutions of higher learning, but I found it more so at Western than at Eureka, where the small community sees faculty as human beings first and not just names with letters of the alphabet after them. Also campus politics at Eureka are not mean spirited as they are at a state university because faculty have more of a sense of common cause at a small liberal arts college. At a state university the large numbers of faculty in various departments cause politics to become vicious and brutal, and status can be manifested in an unbelievable elitism.
Sometimes the concern about status at Western was harmless and even humorous. In my first year at Western, the department chairman had a big informal party so that new faculty could meet the permanent ones. One of the most highly respected professors went up to a first year instructor (an instructor is a person without the doctorate), extended his hand in friendship, and said, “Welcome, I’m Jack Jesse.” Highly status conscious, the young instructor replied, “I’m Mr. McDonald.”
The president of the university held a reception for the faculty every fall. The first fall I was at Western, I told my wife Mary that I didn’t want to go. But she had heard a rumor that the president’s secretary took roll of the faculty who attended. Mary and I are always early at these events, never fashionably late, so when we arrived, there were few people in the room. Mary importuned me to go up to the president and introduce myself since he was standing alone at the time.
I introduced myself, and we chatted for five minutes or so, and I thought he seemed an affable, friendly person. Then one of his deans came up to us, and the president said, gesturing at me, “As I was telling Clugston here.” For several years at Western, my colleagues called me “Clugston.”
Another example involved my wife, who worked as a nurse at the University Health Center. At that time new faculty had to pass a physical examination, and they could get one at the health center. Not knowing the man’s academic credentials, Mary simply called his name to come forward. He fired back at her in a rather crispy tone of voice, “That’s Dr. Johnson.”
A state university operates with a very pronounced hierarchy of status, with the highest being the president, then the vice presidents and the provost, then the deans, and then the department chairmen. People in these positions are considered the campus elite, the social crème de la crème. One of my friends who was a low level administrator (and also a fishing buddy) jokingly divided administrators into three categories: High Dummies, Middle Dummies, and Low Dummies. He considered himself a Low Dummy.
The size of the university gave the administrators a distance from the faculty. Unless the faculty were political opportunists seeking to gain some personal advantage or favor, we could go for weeks and maybe months without seeing the president, provost, or deans.
I recall a humorous incident when I was waiting outside a restaurant for Mary to join me. The president and his wife drove into the parking lot. As they approached me, the president said to his wife, “Dear, have you ever met Dr. Neutens?”
I said hastily, “I’m not Dr. Neutens.”
The president’s wife said, “I know who you are.”
I suspect that she didn’t know me from Adam’s off ox, but I let her get away with it. What good does it do to embarrass someone over a trivial matter?
It helps if one has a sense of humor in the academic world because things happen in academe that people in the outside world simply would not believe. For instance, who would believe that we have a Committee on Committees?
There are concerns about degree status that are overly elitist and certainly hurtful. Since I taught for two years at Western as an instructor, I was aware of what a fellow instructor said about faculty. “There are the Big People and the Little People.” That notion of division was confirmed when I informed my chairman that I was going back to grad school to earn the doctorate. He replied in all seriousness, “Does your wife miss the social life of the Ph.D.?”
“Not really. It’s the earning power of the Ph.D. that we miss,” I said truthfully.
[Author’s Note: The editors have suggested that since I have divided my career between teaching at a state university and a small liberal arts college that I could write about some of the differences between the two. For the record, I taught 24 years at Western Illinois University and 27 going on 28 at Eureka College. I have many fond memories from my work at each school, but there are some differences, and one is the excessive concern for degree status at a state university.]
[To be contiinued.]
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 13:39