Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Poshard, the meal ticket, and diversity

President Poshard was on WSIU again on Monday.  I'll cover his interview in a couple of posts--though it wasn't terribly newsworthy, it did raise some issues that I will bloviate about.  Here I start at the end, with his peroration.  The next post will cover more journalistic nuts and bolts: what he said about spending on the logo & marketing, enrollment, etc.

After the break, I'll print what Poshard said when asked what his message was for new students.  If you remember, I hammered him last time for treating a college education solely as a meal ticket.  He said a bit more this time, but I'm not sure he helped his/our case any.

Relax, study hard, have a little fun, okay, but remember, this is the meal ticket, these four or five years of your life are going to determine whether doors are going to open to you in the future or they are going to close to you in the future.  In purely economical terms, getting a bachelors here is going to increase your income lifetime by, probably, half a million to one million dollars, okay, so that should make a difference.  More than that, getting a degree here, in our system, SIU, is going to expose you to other points of view, to other religions, other ethnic groups, you know, learn from this. America is becoming a more diverse country every day, and when you come out of here you need to understand this diversity, appreciate that diversity, the rest of your life.  You're going to live next to it, you're going to work next to it the rest of your life.  Make it a strength; don't become an impediment to those around you.  Use your time around here to build and to grow: don't cause somebody else to not grow.  And so I think if you keep that in mind you'll have a great experience at SIU.  
This comes at the very end of the podcast, so you can check my transcript for accuracy if you'd like.

We begin again with the meal ticket,  He then goes on to face a problem I didn't realize was particularly acute around here. He appears to be addressing students unfamiliar and uncomfortable with diversity, who are frightened enough by the diversity on campus that they may make it harder for others to learn. Does he think that racial tension on campus is that bad?  Perhaps I'm naive, but I hadn't sensed that to be one of our most pressing problems. At any rate,  he encourages such uncomfortable folks (and no doubt there are a good number of them on campus) to try to make diversity a strength rather than a weakness.

I suppose this argument is fine as far as it goes, but calling upon one set of students to be tolerant of others on campus, because they will need to tolerate unfamiliar folk in the new America, isn't a terribly ambitious goal.  He does call upon students to understand and appreciate that diversity, and to grow, but doesn't really articulate what that would mean. His sketch of the future suggests that students will live and work "next to it" for the rest of their lives--that they will need to continue tolerating different people throughout their lives. But toleration seems to be the extent of his vision--at least as far as he managed to articulate it here. I am not against toleration, of course--but I would hope that we could aim for more.

What's missing, centrally, is any sense of an academic or intellectual mission, where that mission as something beyond gaining a meal ticket and acquiring enough tolerance to punch the meal ticket after standing in line with people of different religions and ethnicities. He does not attempt to suggest that one's own "point of view" could be broadened by a college experience, that one could gain the analytical skills and the experience of other cultures, peoples, philosophies, or what have you, that would allow one to articulate, question, and deepen one's own point of view.  That one could "understand" other people in such a way is to do more than tolerate them--perhaps, even, to view them as not only others, some "it" one must live and work next to, but part of a "we".  I don't want to go down the "melting pot" cul de sac here, but to my mind the liberal arts are liberal in large part because they liberate us from our more parochial concerns, helping us to transcend the differences in religion, ethnicity, and race that we began with.

You may well articulate this academic mission differently and better than I have (my way is decidedly old-fashioned).  And while one can't expect someone on the radio to say everything one would like him to say in a closing statement (experto crede), I suspect most faculty readers would have to agree that President Poshard, after years on the job, has still not learned how to hit this slow pitch, thrown right down the middle of the plate, out of the infield.


  1. You may post this in a forthcoming entry but I was struck by the response to the question about performance funding (before the 8 minute mark). When asked about its effect on students, he indicated that it could mean fewer classes as ineffective or inefficient courses in the core are dropped. Whatever one thinks of performance based funding, I don't think that it is a good idea to publicly say it's more paperwork and it's going to adversely affect students. I think the host was looking for something like "it is designed to improve accountability and push the university to reevaluate itself to ensure that it is doing the best it can." It is a bit more positive.

  2. "though it wasn't terribly newsworthy, it did raise some issues that I will BLOVIATE about. "

    Bloviate (from dictionary.com)--To speak or write at length in a pompous or boastful manner

    Yep...you got that right.

  3. Thanks for pointing out what bloviate means.

  4. Based on your account, it sounds like what any other college administrator blurts out when they have nothing to say:

    1. College degree is the "ticket to the American dream" (our politicians--both parties--preach the same thing).

    2. Diversity: just more of the same. It's a meaningless term. Recall when a young white man was viciously mugged by black assailants and Poshard rushed to say "We value diversity. We welcome the African American community, blah, blah." WTF does a mugging have to do with diversity?? The crime was lost in the diversity shuffle. He could have addressed one concern about our campus: safety. He could have said we will not tolerate violent crimes on campus and will work with local police in areas surround the campus. Instead, it was about diversity. Oy vey.

    Did he talk about letting student rule the classroom, as they apparently do down at Valdosta State? See my next response. Really chilling. I work with FIRE and the weekly reports from around the country show that university lawyers are running amok and turning college into law and due-process free zones.

  5. IF YOU DON'T PAMPER STUDENTS, YOU ARE FIRE: From Insider Higher Ed -- http://goo.gl/6dU1p

    The problem is with the university lawyers and with college presidents who truckle to behavior that NO ONE in the real world would condone (surfing in class, listening to music, chatting, etc.). On the basis of this case, nearly everyone I know could be fired. We would all let the students ask what they want to do that day. They would disagree and we could just turn our math, science and history courses into study halls. Then graduate them all, the USA is #1 in college graduates and Idiocracy has arrived. Or "Lord of the Flies." Take your pick.

    Dystopian, Orwellian, and downright loopy. That's college today. Still waiting for a college administrator to stand up to this nonsense. He or she would get applause. God knows why they live in such fear of "doing the right thing."

    I'll be blogging on this soon and that too is often grounds for dismissal. God bless America (in the deep sigh sense of that term)....


  6. Many locals who have gained upward mobility thanks to SIUC regard the place as "our university." They bring prejudices with them. I was horrified some weeks ago to hear a secretary say that parents did now want to send their children to a university where they would meet people from other places and other cultures. As a "local boy who has made good", Poshard knows this type of attitude and he is appealing to local prejudice. Unfortunately, it is antithetical to the mission of a university but one doubts whether administration recognizes that any more.

  7. 6:31, you must be right that Poshard is trying to address a local prejudice he knows at first hand. I take it, though, that he is trying to lead people to overcome this prejudice, at least to the point of getting them to enroll at SIUC, rather than trying to pander to it. It's just that he's not doing so in a terribly sensitive or informed way, because he doesn't, as far as I can tell, see anything beyond tolerance, which ought to be more of a lowest common denominator.


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