January 14, 2013
In reference to Professor Rau’s letter (Jan. 3) “LSU needs an academic at top,” I respectfully submit a few observations about the state of academic administration. In principle, I support Rau’s main contention. However, we must pause and rethink the complicated issues.
Let’s stop romanticizing “academic freedom,” “autonomy” and the related BS. Our universities don’t exist in a vacuum. Perhaps they never did. Academics should confront the hard realties and reorient their self-righteous attitudes. No other organization pays a quarter-million-dollar salary for teaching a seminar. Yes, I know the politics of workload assignments, merit raises, endowments, research and structural realignments.
The Golden Age of self-governance and autonomy became a victim of its own success when political realties demanded greater public accountability and transparency. Universities cannot and should not remain communities’ holy cows.
A vertically “hierarchized” top-down system — like LSU — is no less “dictatorial” than the Governor’s Office. We get the government we deserve. Also, incompetence and corruption are not alien to the academic world. In fact the whole dichotomy of “academic” and “administrative” sectors is false and misleading.
We need an administration that supports and promotes primarily academic excellence and students’ well-being. Sure, a major university has to be an engine of societal progress measured in terms of both qualitative and quantitative outcomes. However, this will not be achieved under a parasitic bureaucracy that lacks courage, attributes and vision. Carpetbaggers come and go. Crisis and opportunities persist and coexist.
Academic leadership is the dynamic art of seizing the opportunity to serve, educate and enlighten people in an otherwise regressive culture. Innovation, incentives and inquiry will help achieve something to rebuild a broken system.
dean emeritus (social work) LSU