LSU Faculty Senate Publications

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Message from President: This season of political campaigns, in which every candidate tries to be universally nice to everyone while also mounting a universal attack against all enemies, brings to mind the strange link between niceness and authoritarianism. In Louisiana, a state with a royalist heritage (whether the French or the Spanish monarchies) and a state in which a preoccupation with etiquette and sociability blunts the painful recognition of a long history of disappointments, losses, failures, exclusions, and disasters, the linkage between sugary sweetness and acidic repression affects almost everything, whether the reluctance to speak out against social ills such as habitual littering or the replacement of academic authority with the caprices of authoritarian administrators. The recent faculty dismissal case at LSU, which centered on a confrontation between a user of impolite language and a nervous administration that had not yet escaped the taint of its installation through an illegitimate search, underlines the association between good manners and absolutist governance. One lamentable aspect of the manners-manhandling dialectic is the polite perpetuation of assorted counter-productive cultural myths, myths that tend to justify inadequate performance and to block efforts at improvement. A review of tourist literature emerging from the Lieutenant Governor’s office and similar tourist bureaus will reveal numerous instances of the trumping of truth by polite genuflections. Louisiana culture is declared “unique” without noting that every state makes such an assertion—that nothing is less unique than claiming to be unique; Louisiana people are credited with the love of family and with friendliness without admitting that they are also clannish, cliquish, and exclusionary with regard to outside influences; Louisiana cuisine is hailed without noting that its last great heyday occurred during the 1980s halcyon days of Paul Prudhomme and that waiters and waitresses in Louisiana restaurants are usually ill-trained, wellmeaning but clumsy (and underpaid) college students; road maps show an array of wondrous attractions without mentioning that, owing to poor public hygiene, the biggest adventure (especially in a university) is a visit to a public restroom. Louisiana academe has more than its share of polite myths that, in the absence of seemingly impolite criticism, perpetuate a toxic mixture of niceness, dictatorship, and incompetence. In a desperate attempt to pump up enrollment numbers during a period of declining college-age populations, Louisiana universities have insulated an assortment of “student-centered” offerings from public criticism (who dares to ask whether the student success centers on every campus, staffed as they are by nice and usually competent people, merely mask the failure of the public education system and allow tyrannical legislators to keep doing what they have always done?). Who has the courage to hurt feelings by lamenting the lack of critical thinking in student newspapers? Which administrator will expose the charlatan tendencies of an authoritarian Louisiana family dynasty that, on one higher education management board, is represented by a Supervisor who runs a chain of chiropractic clinics? This problem reaches the core of academic leadership. For decades, top-level administrators at campuses throughout Louisiana have dodged bold criticism of political figures for fear that perceived impoliteness will trigger sanctions (or even dismissal). Sir Francis Bacon reminds us, in his famous essay, that truth is elusive. Whatever truth might be, it is nevertheless universally acknowledged to be a tough taskmaster. Truth seldom comes appareled in the robes of politeness. It is time for higher education leaders to show their fangs and to bite back against those hostile to higher education rather than hide those sharp little canines behind the perpetual smile of a job candidate.