Tuesday, June 02, 2009

fear and loathing: academic year 2008-09

I'll get to the fear and loathing momentarily. For the sake of continuity, I'd like to remark on the occasion for this bit of reportage.

I think I can, at this point, declare a provisional end to the academic year. The provisions are as follows: (1) I have yet to file final grades, (2) I have a handful of papers and other assignments still pending, but mainly from students I don't expect to hear from.

I started the academic year in my usual fashion. I went to the general faculty meeting, where the campus president announced that Clearwire had given us big bucks, and the university was flush, though looking ahead to uncertain times because of the state budget deadlock (one of these assertions was true, another was more true than anyone imagined at the time, and the third was in most respects divorced from reality).

That week, I sent the academic senate my legislative agenda for the year. I don't think most of the academic senate reps do this, but I do. This year my agenda was to revise the lecturer range elevation policy, to establish a faculty award for contributions to university governance, and to broaden lecturer eligibility to serve on university committees. The range elevation issue took all year to resolve, and that fairly unfortunately because of the compromises I had to make (and even so, it hasn't been signed by the president yet). The faculty and administration approved the faculty governance award, and the committee stuff is all pending. Mixed results, after a year of struggle on all that.

By November, the budget deficit that the president announced was gone in September had somehow re-emerged. Suddenly, the jobs of dozens of faculty were at risk because of an urgent need to eliminate a $5 million deficit (or something like that - reports varied). Over a couple weeks, we activated a fierce resistance to budget cuts that would slash lecturer jobs for Spring of 2009. It looked like we won.

Meanwhile, I was handling a grievance that I ultimately lost for no good reason I can discern, and which I've since been more or less told I handled improperly - even though I followed what I thought the advice I was getting said to do.

The following month I heard from a lecturer who was having a conflict with a student, that escalated into a spurious complaint against the lecturer and an administrative investigation. The investigation turned out to be inappropriately handled, so I tried to pull in the reigns as much as I could on it, with a lot of help from my friends. The interview came and went with no real consequence, perhaps in a small way as a result of our effort. It looked like we won.

Then the budget issue came back, with a vengeance. All Spring I was embroiled in the effort to organize and strategize resistance. The end result was that the full force of the cuts is going to be realized anyway. The lecturer we helped is likely to be out of work next year.

As that was coming to its hideous fruition, my students were starting to submit final papers and projects. Normally this is a somewhat painful process - students misconstrue assignments, or don't do as well as they expect, or their lives blow up on them... But in the context of the end of this particular academic year, it's all hitting me like more tumult, angst, distress and trouble, and in the end, I feel like I've run out of resources to deal with it productively. I'm no use to anyone at this point.

It feels like I've been in conflict with someone, in some way, every moment I've spent on campus, all year. From the moment I wandered into the general faculty meeting, taking notes in my usual suspicious/paranoid fashion on the official administration line on the state of the university, to the last instant I spent today, in an otherwise perfectly ordinary and amiable meeting - constant, incessant conflict.

I'd be tempted to compare it to a play by Mamet or Pinter, but my pal Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer is coming to visit in a couple weeks, and he hates those guys, so instead, I've chosen to misappropriate Hunter Thompson's line instead.

Thompson gets the last word tonight. In a 1990 interview with William Keen, Thompson replied to the inevitable question about the drug use depicted in his work with inevitable cagey avoidance and cruel insight. His finely tuned sense of rage has helped me through a lot of hard times, as has, I'm fairly ashamed to admit, his heroic fatalism. I quoted this in a paper on the decadence of the professions of journalism and academia, presented at a conference a couple years ago.

Drugs enhance or strengthen my perceptions and reactions, for good or ill. They’ve given me the resilience to withstand repeated shocks to my innocence gland. The brutal reality of politics alone would probably be intolerable without drugs. They’ve given me the strength to deal with those shocking realities guaranteed to shatter anyone’s beliefs in the higher idealistic shibboleths of our time and the “American Century.” Anyone who covers his beat for twenty years – and my beat is “The Death of the American Dream” – needs every goddamned crutch he can find.
As a journalist, I somehow managed to break most of the rules and still succeed. It’s a hard thing for most of today’s journeymen journalists to understand, but only because they can’t do it. The smart ones understood immediately. (Kingdom of Fear, 187)

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