Saturday, April 16, 2011

Her Time to Shine

Very different coverage of the Chancellor's ceremony from WSILwhich leads with the protest, and highlights the union side of the story, and the Southern, which covers both protest and ceremony on the front page of its print edition, but gives the ceremony a bigger picture and uses the big type to deliver the rather pollyannic headline I've given this post.

Not having gone inside Shryock myself, I was most curious about the atmosphere there.  The WSIL video and one picture in the Southern make one thing clear: the turnout was light.

Now I don't know how one should judge attendance at such a thing (any more than that for the protest outside), but the set-up for the ceremony--one was supposed to secure a ticket ahead of time to secure a seat, though tickets were free--seems to have been predicated on the notion that the place would be filled.  But unless there were lots of people hiding in the back rows, the installation could have been held in a  classroom in Lawson.  Speaking of pictures, Cheng looks shell-shocked in most of the WSIL video, as the story went on about her troubles with the union; someone needs to tell her that she needs to look more regal, or at least less downbeaten, when the cameras are going.

The voice-over said, oddly, that one reason Cheng waited this long to be "installed" was because "she wanted to be sure she lasted that long".  Now let's not exaggerate: since SIUC named our last woman Chancellor, Jo Ann Argersinger, in 1998, the average Chancellor has lasted a bit more than two years.  At that rate, Chancellor Cheng has well over a year to go. Still, best to start shining.

The Chancellor's remarks are now
up on her website.  If my nine year old gives me a few moments respite any time soon, I may post sage reflections on her remarks, but I can't resist one quick observation: no quotations (save for a closing reference to a poem by Allison Joseph, read at the ceremony, that itself quoted an old saying in slightly altered form: "reach should always exceed grasp").  Perhaps someone in the Chancellor's office has been surfing this blog. You out there, Dr. Cheng? We'll know for sure if the next time you see our Chancellor on WSIL, she's looking less dumbstruck, even if she's feeling dumbstruck.

So there are certain advantages to blogging from home in the obligatory pajamas, where how one looks is one's own business.  But of course I'm not making $350k, now, either, am I?  I just did the math and figured out that Chancellor Cheng's 6 furlough days would amount to about 36 furlough days for me, in dollar terms--over seven weeks of work. Picture me dumbstruck. No wonder she wanted to take off only four days.  But you just wait, Chancellor Cheng, until sales of
Deo volente t-shirts start taking off. Then we'll see who's pulling in the big money. 

Finally, speaking of quotations, the union flier distributed outside Shryock made considerable use of "There is No Excellence Without Labor". Whoever came up with that idea must have thought he was plenty clever. 

Installation Supplementary Program


  1. "Perhaps someone in the Chancellor's office has been surfing this blog. You out there, Dr. Cheng?"

    Even if Dr. Cheng isn't reading this blog, she agrees with this blog on at least one thing.

    Her remarks say, "SIU is a proud member of a ranked group of research universities with a special mission – that of creating new knowledge and sharing this with our students and our communities."

  2. True enough. As a matter of fact I found fairly little to object to in the Chancellor's speech, but also rather little that was inspired or inspirational. I found her closing, in which she tried to tie together "our dual mission of access and research", a fine way to begin a conversation about how to think about an open-access research university. I'm not sure, though, how quite to connect the dots between all this talk about 'excellence' and all the talk about accessibility and increasing graduation rates. She says, rightly, that we ought not lower standards while meeting our current challenges--great: let's hold her to that. But what she failed to articulate is how our research university excellence can serve the wide student body we aim to serve (and will need to serve more 'productively' in years to come, according to the bean counters). Of course this is hard stuff. Most research universities don't aim to serve nearly as wide a range of students as we do. They don't accept students with the kinds of academic weaknesses we do, and most of their students tend not to suffer from the economic, familial, and health-related challenges that make it so difficult for many of our students to even make it to class, much less to prepare for class.

    Now a humanist like yours truly is going to want things from a speech like this that an accountant is going to be unlikely to provide (or even want to provide). And vice versa. But one of the main excuses for holding this ceremony was to provide the Chancellor an occasion to "share her vision" for this university. Judged by that rather high standard, her speech falls short.


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