LSU Faculty Senate Publications

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Message from President: “Diversity” is one of those words that can carry diverse meanings. As one story in this issue of the Newsletter reports, LSU A&M’s diversity office is making a salutary move by the introduction, in its annual report, of numerous colorful icons representing the many diversities that the world has to offer. That modern, dispersed diversity contrasts with the more centripetal sort that attracted attention earlier in Louisiana’s history, when higher education institutions sought primarily and specifically to remedy past injustices through outreach to African-American student and faculty cadres. The flexibility of the term “diversity” comes in handy when evaluating both the composition of and the actions of higher education management boards in Louisiana. The most recent example of extravagant homogeneity in these boards would be the abrupt, surprise decision by the LSU System Board of Supervisors to consolidate the offices of System President and flagship campus Chancellor, but there have been many other examples of apparently spontaneous uniformity, whether the quick and allegedly unanimous dilution of tenure guarantees by the University of Louisiana System management board or the exigency declaration by the Southern Supervisors. It is easy enough to critique these boards for their various and obvious if differently arranged racial and gender imbalances. It may be more urgent to note, however, the many other types of diversity that suffer amidst supervisor monoculture. For one, there is the question of age diversity, with youth and middle age being relegated to one very naive student member of each of the boards. For two, there is the issue of ideological diversity, with so many members of the current boards being appointed by one regime. Third in the list is vocational diversity, with most board members emerging from one or two walks of life. Extension of the idea of vocational diversity yields the forgotten fourth species of diversity, what might be called “estates diversity,” after the medieval idea of the three estates (the governors, the clergy, and the laborers). Louisiana boards are woefully short on those who specialize in charity or cultural work, those who belong to the estate with moral rather than financial equity. All the foregoing diversity shortages contribute to the lack of the fifth species of diversity, the geographical. Different sorts of people are found in different places, but the narrow mold from which Supervisors are cast tends to limit the range of habitat in which they are found. Louisiana is an old-fashioned place; history is highly gravitational. Our supervisors, trustees, regents, and other decision-makers behave the way they do because they are re-enacting, often unawares, the ideal of the privileged gentleman that rose into currency way back in the Renaissance. Authors of those bygone days suggested that a gentleman ought to know enough to evidence social fluency but not so much as to seem to have worked. In the upside-down world of trusteeship and its fraternal twin administration, too extensive a knowledge of anything indicates grubbiness. Being an expert means being a working person, even a faculty member, rather than a member of the genteel caste, which need do nothing in particular. Today, abstract job descriptions for the highest level of academic administration all but preclude any particular competence, focusing instead on generalities such as leadership demeanor or “deep commitments” (to x, y, or z). The cult of a gentleman who can string an arrow but not hit a target or who can banter but not say anything is alive and well among the airy ranks of management boards. Attempts by system boards to upend the structure of higher education are, at best, premature. Boards should first begin to think about themselves, what they do, how they function, and what it means to be a “supervisor.” After all, “supervise” means to watch over, which means both to pay attention and to care. That elevated and elevating posture is one that the various place-holders in higher education need to practice.