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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Friday Fragments
June 5, 2014 - 9:30pm

Waubonsee Community College, in Illinois, has one of the more arresting images on its homepage that I’ve seen in a while.  (If you go to the homepage, it’s one of four pictures on a rotation in the featured spot.) It’s advertising a workshop designed to “teach women how to better communicate with men.”  But the picture shows an angry man pointing and shouting, and a woman looking confused and helpless.


So if a man is shouting and pointing aggressively at a woman, it’s her fault? She’s the problem?

Waubonsee,colleague to colleague, I’m not sure you’re sending the message you want to send.  Framing the subject as “how to communicate with men” is bad enough; adding misogyny through the imagery doesn’t help matters.  You might want to rethink that one. 


Rebecca Townsend sent me this one. Apparently, Generation X is America’s forgotten middle child.

That sounds about right.  We’re America’s Jan Brady.  (“Boomers, Boomers, Boomers!”)

As a smaller generation sandwiched between larger ones, Gen X didn’t get much of a cultural moment in the sun.  (If I remember correctly, it lasted about ten minutes in 1993.)  At this point, we’re in our “shut up and raise your kids” years, which doesn’t help. 

To my mind, the defining characteristic of Gen X is that it was the first generation in which middle-class parental divorce was normal.  Divorce now is more class-stratified than it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s; back then, it was ubiquitous.  I suspect that the relative lack of attachment to institutions in this cohort stems partly from that, as does its unapologetic focus on family life now. 

We’re at the age now where we need to step up.  Here’s hoping we get the chance...


This week, I had the chance to talk to a graduate class in community college administration.  (I won’t mention the location, for reasons that will become obvious.)  The students were mostly around my age or older, and many of them already held positions in community colleges; they’re looking to move up.

We discussed my book, and common issues, and differences among various state systems.  The moment that really struck me, though, was the response when I made a point about cultural change on campus, and the need to provide enough internal stability that people can focus on the tasks at hand.  (My Gen X roots may be showing there…)  Several students responded that yes, that would be nice, but they’ve undergone so many reorganizations that a sense of panic has become the sort of background noise on campus. 

It reminded me of my DeVry days.  For a while, the pace of change was so frantic that people actually lost track of which curriculum was running at a given time.  (That’s not an exaggeration.  At one point, three different versions of College Algebra were running simultaneously.)  When approaches, rules, and people change at random but close intervals, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand.  Basic self-preservation comes first.

In that context, talk of “leadership competencies” strikes me as beside the point.  If the leader changes too frequently, or external shocks come fast and furious, then the capabilities of this leader or that one don’t matter much.  Context matters.  To the extent that you can shape context, you enable the underlying capabilities to emerge.  But if you just can’t, I’m not sure what to tell you.


Wise and wordly readers, I need your help.  The Boy just turned 13, and he’s desperately looking for good fiction to read.  I’m thinking something sophisticated enough to hold his interest, but nothing too sexualized or dark.  Any suggestions?


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