Institutional administration

50 questions about higher education (essay)

I’ve worked in higher education for 23 years, 4 months and 6 days. If you add college and grad school to the mix, I’ve been associated with universities for (let’s see... carry the five... plus two… equals) a long time.

So I’ve had plenty of opportunities to ponder our peculiar industry and consider why things are the way they are.

People always ask me that very question. Really -- they just come up to me at parties, shrug their shoulders and say, “Why?” I try not to think it’s some kind of existential query or it’s because I’m wearing a plaid jacket with a striped shirt and a polka dot tie. I might develop a complex or something.

No, I think we simply have more questions than answers. To wit:

  1. Why does our year end in June (or July, for some) when the rest of the world thinks in terms of, you know, January to December?
  1. Why, when we’re considering change of any sort, is the most frequently uttered phrase, “Because we’ve always done it that way”?
  1. Why, when communicating externally, do we use jargon and buzzwords only we understand?
  1. Why do we aim to obfuscate and befuddle in the Orwellian tradition?
  1. Why do some believe academic freedom extends beyond the normal boundaries of free speech and, for that matter, decorum?
  1. Why do we assume academic freedom doesn’t exist absent tenure?
  1. Why do we think the public understands tuition discounting and won’t have sticker shock?
  1. Why do birds suddenly appear…?
  1. Why don’t TV crews follow athletes from the field to the library after Saturday night’s big game to show that academic ability and athletic prowess can live in true harmony?
  1. Why does every campus community in America complain about parking as if it’s their own private hell?
  1. Why don’t we conclude that if it takes 10 months to fill an important administrative vacancy and the place doesn’t fold in the meantime, then perhaps we could do without it?
  1. Why are there no classes on Fridays?
  1. Why are there classes at 8 a.m.?
  1. Why does the Big 12 have 10 members?
  1. Why does the Big Ten have 14?
  1. Why does the Atlantic Coast Conference think the coast extends to South Bend, Ind.?
  1. Why does the Big East consider Chicago east?
  1. Why are résumés 2 pages and vitae 30?
  1. Why do no decisions get made and no work gets done during the six weeks known as “the holidays”?
  1. Why are we no longer permitted to utter the word “Christmas”?
  1. Why do we hire experienced experts whose first order of business is to hire consultants?
  1. Why do fools fall in love?
  1. Why can’t I find SEC hockey on ESPNU?
  1. Why do adjuncts adjunct under such conditions?
  1. Why does the media pay so much attention to universities that collectively enroll less than 1 percent of our nation’s students?
  1. Why don’t they pay more attention to systemic issues such as those adjuncts?
  1. Why do students never read the syllabus until something goes wrong?
  1. Why do employees never read the employee manual until something goes wrong?
  1. Why do all mission statements sound the same and yet say nothing?
  1. Why aren’t there more bowling scholarships?
  1. Why do we still value seat time over competencies?
  1. Why do we conflate administrative experience with ability?
  1. Why do we need 22 assistant directors of admissions?
  1. Why is an appendix more valuable to a book than to a human body?
  1. Why can’t we be friends?
  1. Why do textbooks cost more than my first car?
  1. Why do textbooks depreciate faster than cars?
  1. Why do people post what they had for lunch on Facebook?
  1. Why do we respond?
  1. Why isn’t college baseball more popular?
  1. Why do we continue blaming rising costs on external regulations?
  1. Why do we need climbing walls?
  1. Why do we celebrate snow days like we’re in middle school?
  1. Why don’t we have more snow days?
  1. Why are the paved pathways across the quad never the shortest route?
  1. Why don’t we do it in the road?
  1. Why do people confuse deciding with doing?
  1. Why do we fuss with the various Latin declensions of “alumni” when it’s easier to say “graduates”?
  1. Why do we all say we recognize charismatic leadership when we see it but can’t seem to define charisma?
  1. Why ask why?

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

Editorial Tags: 

Imperial College London investigates role of pressure in death of academic

Smart Title: 

Imperial College London will review policies after death of scholar who is believed to have felt his job was at risk due to failed grant applications.

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