December 2012 Archives

"Nothing good ever happens."

(The Ol' Bloviator, responding to a query about his worldview on or about the occasion of his fifth birthday.)

 The above pronouncement probably comes as no surprise to the faithful followers of this site, who have suffered long and often through the OB's determined efforts to point out the dark cloud within every lining and have every glass that isn't full officially declared "half empty." Thus it will shock no one that the OB predicts here and now that, should the Mayan assumption that the world will end on the Friday before Christmas (which wouldn't surprise him a bit, of course) proves unfounded,  it means only that an even more painful and horrifying fate awaits us. Ms. OB finds it more than a little creepy that her husband's forlorn foretellings are so frequently borne out, but he knows better than to consider himself some kind of savant. Owing to his decidedly dark brown take on life, he simply realizes that the pessimist always has a clear edge in any prophesying contest.

            It ain't as though the OB is at all happy about being right when it would be better for all concerned if he weren't. In fact, he's stood outside on the darkest and stormiest nights shaking his fist in outright defiance of what he sees as the overwhelming odds of impending disaster and demanding, perhaps even begging, to be proven wrong. While he can't say for certain that this has never happened, he can say that his recollections of such outcomes are scattered and all too few.

            Even when the OB's just indulging in what he thinks is just a little hyperbole to blow off steam about how bad things already are, he often becomes an unwitting prophet. For example, he had his tongue tucked snugly into his cheek when he predicted that the next step in the evisceration of public higher education  would be an administrator actually requesting further cuts in a budget already hacked down to bone and sinew. Sure enough, apparently channeling Kevin Bacon's "Thank you, Sir! May I have another?" response to being paddled in "Animal House," University of Georgia System Chancellor Hank Huckaby recently assured a group of freshmen legislators that there would be no pushback from him when (Why waste our time with "if"?) the next round of budget cuts comes around: "Will we whine? I don't know anybody in this room that likes a whiner." (Note: "That" should have been "who," but the English dept. lost all of its Pronoun Police several cuts ago, so who's left to care, much less correct him?)

            Huckaby did allow that he was not exactly "happy" about the cuts, but rather than declare that  he was pretty hacked off about his budget being hacked on so much, he assured the legislative hackers-to-be that  "whatever level of funding you give us, we're going to do our darnedest [sic] to spend it wisely." (Having spent the last forty years at perpetually underfunded universities, the OB has ranted here and elsewhere a number of times to the effect that managing to do more with less in these circumstances virtually guarantees that you will soon be required to do even more with even less. Generally speaking, this can't be accomplished without demanding increasingly strenuous exertions from faculty and staff.

            As a matter of fact, in the current fiscal, political, and (anti-) intellectual climate, public universities are not unlike the cotton mills and garment factories operating in the South during the first half of the twentieth century. Required to exact more production from fewer workers on a reduced payroll, mill managers simply adopted the "stretch-out" system that required each employee to meet a production quota in order to qualify for full (but by no means exorbitant) pay on every shift. Even as a youngster, the OB was struck by the prevalence of "nervous breakdowns," depression, migraines, and flat-out exhaustion he witnessed among the women who worked under this system in local garment plants.

The OB is not claiming here that many, if any, of his faculty peers have as yet been pushed to anywhere near this point. But several consecutive years of salary stagnation (not to mention some, thus far, at least, temporary reductions) have definitely put the OB's colleagues, especially those of junior rank, way behind the inflation eight ball, even as each new plundering of the budget brings further rumblings about increasing teaching loads with nary even a hint of relaxing publication standards for tenure and promotion. Now here comes ol' Chancellor Hank telling the budget vultures (Hawks wouldn't bother themselves with so picked-over and pathetic a carcass as we now present.) that in the interest of, in the reporter's words, "stretching" our funding, we will be doing a better job of utilizing our "classroom buildings and laboratories." No honest observer could deny that we could up our game in this respect, but despite the Chancellor's insistence that "everybody can't take a class between 9 and 2 o'clock," judging by the generally anemic enrollment in classes outside that time frame, it would appear that practically everybody does. Although the Huckster is probably stretching it a bit to say that classrooms and laboratories are "basically vacant" on Fridays, he definitely has a point. Still, while it could surely be reduced, the obvious disparity at UGA between enrollments in Tuesday-Thursday and Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes is endemic to the semester system on practically any large campus in America. The desire to be in the classroom only two days a week as opposed to three burns no more intensely in the heart of the professor, after all, than in the heart of the student.

Beyond that issue, however, Huckaby's reported interest in offering classes on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons bespeaks a bureaucratic, "all-it-takes-is-a-memo" mindset of the first order. Some non-traditional students might find such a schedule appealing, but imposing it out of the blue and simply by edict might amount to pushing an already demoralized and marginalized faculty a fiat too far. Personally, the OB will believe this seven-day "stretchout" schedule is going to happen when the objects flying overhead start emitting "oinks" (and hopefully nothing else), but it is not the substance of such a proposal so much as the unmistakably "corporate boardroom" mentality behind it that suggests how badly degraded is our sense of the value of those charged with fostering intellectual development and interaction among our young people.  

            The Ol' Bloviator does not mean to suggest that the plight of faculty at public colleges and universities in this country is by any means as severe as that of the multitude of poor folks who have been out of work so long that they have lost track of when they were laid off. Nor, as of yet at least, are he and his kind under the kind of direct frontal assault now directed against employed workers who once believed that they had punched their  tickets to the middle class only to find themselves struggling to fend off brazen attempts to strip them of any economic and political leverage they might once have enjoyed. Meanwhile, the already enormous and still swelling disparity between compensation for corporate execs and  that for the folks on the forklifts and assembly lines simply reeks of a self-serving conviction among the higher-ups who get to do the deciding that increases in profits and productivity are overwhelmingly a reflection of their managerial genius rather the diligence and exertion of their workers.

Lest this be seen as somewhat remote from what's happening on campus, check out the figures showing that nationwide between 1993 and 2009 the number of administrators on university payrolls increased by a whopping 60 percent, a growth rate at least ten times that for tenure-track faculty appointments. A pretty fair estimate would be that very few if any within this 60 percent are paid less than 130-150 percent of the average senior professor's salary. Thus it is that over roughly the same period, spending on administration at 198 of our leading universities rose almost twice as fast as spending on research and teaching.  "Austerity," it seems, is more austere for some than for others.

Certainly, the proletariatization of the professoriate is not without parallel elsewhere in society. Check out the dead-ended outcomes awaiting so many recent law school grads, who, like many of their counterparts in academe, are also suffering from being on the wrong side of the law of supply and demand. For that matter, the OB doesn't find it too much of a stretch to suggest that a similar fate may befall a number of those who have recently sworn fealty to Hippocrates.

Given the unspeakable horrors we have witnessed in recent days, the familiar seasonal good cheer is already in exceedingly short supply. Although the OB is hardly equipped to counter this malaise on a grand scale, he realizes that it is time to suspend his bellyachin' for a while and at least undertake to brighten the little corner where he is. To that end, he begs to share once again what has become a sign of the season, not to mention his egregious taste, in these parts. This visual greeting comes courtesy of his longsuffering 1994 GMC Sierra, which, were it capable, would join him and the equally longsuffering Ms. OB in wishing you the best possible holiday season and especially the renewal of hope and inspiration that is inherent to its meaning and spirit.


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This page is an archive of entries from December 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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