LSU Faculty Senate Publications

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Message from the President: The collective jury of humankind is still deliberating President Franklin Roosevelt’s affirmation that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear, after all, is something. There is plenty of it around the campus nowadays, most of it instigated by the prospect of budget cuts and job eliminations but some of it elicited by the endangerment of previous resources. Lurking in the corner of all but the most numb academic mind is the thought that commerce and its seductive appeal might undermine support and sympathy for the traditions of free inquiry that have animated universities for several centuries or the anxiety that this or that Provost or Chancellor might pull the plug on a favorite program or the worry that an aggrieved student might start a complaint or lawsuit—or worse. What is remarkable about the current epidemic of fear is that it lacks both a venue and a target. Few will confess a particular fear of the Chancellor or the Provost or the Commissioner or the President or anyone at all other than perhaps the governor, who is himself a perpetually absent figure. The experience of this newly epidemic fear tempts anyone to look upward on the command chain in a university system that clings to an organizational scheme reminiscent of a military academy. Unfortunately, the top officers at any one Louisiana institution cannot deliver the required answers or solutions precisely because there is no “top”within campus reach. Above the Chancellorloomsthe System President,the Regents,the Commissioner ofHigher Education (when that office is occupied), an array of legislative committees, the full legislature, and the governor, to name but a few. The “top” at LSU is barely half way up the ladder; it has measurable but not unlimited power and is historically deficient in the art of consolation, let alone problem-solving. “Fear itself,” to borrow FDR’s locution, might well be something closer to self. Although any “upper administration” always attracts a certain amount of criticism, it may well be that the majority of miseries, including fear, emerge much closer to the ground level. When railing against the excess layers of administration in Louisiana higher education, the most natural target is the upper echelon, yet most obstructions, damage, and intimidation occur at the bottom of the food chain. Among the dirty secrets of every institutions are the numerous tales of colleagues who have gotten on the wrong side of department chairs or who have otherwise been marked as pariahsin departments, with the result that their efforts, no matter how fervid, lead only to roadblocks, whether, say, being ranked perpetually third in applicant pools comprised of four candidates for awards requiring an endorsement by a Chair or being blocked from engaging in interdisciplinary efforts owing to trumpedup curricular needs or otherwise being kept in an under-the-glass-ceiling position. The emergence of modern universities and the birth of international cooperative research in national academies such as the early Royal Society were characterized by a mix of top-down patronage (such a royal charters or grants) and a reduction in ground-level barriers. The spirit of interdisciplinary virtuosity that rumbled through these early research combines may no longer be attainable, but wits as apt as those in Tiger Town can surely devise affiliation pools that allow for some mobility and that overleap disciplines that lack coherent or defensible borders. Allowing faculty to choose affiliations with a variety of groups on a short-term rather than a lifelong, departmental basis might be an excellent start. Getting rid of the greatest source of fear—that one might be forever under the thumb of one department—would allow for clearer thought concerning the many other troubles that confront the university as a whole and that stretch beyond the buildings that partition the quadrangle. With all good wishes, Kevin L. Cope, Faculty Senate President