In an Oct. 5 opinion essay in The Miami Student, David Morgan voiced his dismay at the generally silent student body, tacitly approving of the state of the university. We were two among them. Happy? Certainly not. Outspoken? Only as those who know us well will attest, in private. Then we read Morgan’s essay.
The idea that “the university belongs to its students and no one else” is woefully uncritical. Without mentioning those holding great stakes in the university as well as those who keep it running, like the staff and Ohio’s taxpayers, it is ludicrous to assume that a university exists solely for the “collegiate experience” of the students who attend it. Universities were never intended for this. “The most basic function” of universities is and ought to be to provide a haven for like-minded scholars to work and to collaborate for the ideal of increasing cultural archives of knowledge to make available an education, not an experience. If you want an experience, book a room at a resort and earn your B.A. online. You’ll find it less expensive and far more accommodating. We’re here to learn.
We agree the Armstrong Student Center “is happening” and that it will no doubt be a shining landmark of that “experience” of which we all seem to be so fond. The question of its necessity is moot. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary and beyond the student support, there should be something disquieting about a university accepting donations for a student center when it can’t seem to find the resources to keep its library open 24 hours. “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” We can get a slice of pizza and a place to sober up at 3 a.m., but we can’t get a copy of Foucault or Aristotle for papers we’re writing. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
The anti-intellectualism underlying Morgan’s equation of productivity with revenue is, quite frankly, appalling. Less appalling and more farcical is his flippant call for readers to “do their homework” when he has clearly misrepresented or, more likely, misunderstood the sources he cites. Morgan’s calculations of how much the English department is spending for faculty on research leaves are far off the mark, indicating the weak grasp of the concept common among students. In the case of those on Assigned Research Appointments (ARA), the use of the term “leave” is misleading, as these professors continue to mentor students, serve on committees and fill administrative roles. They are hardly shirking their duties and skipping town as Morgan seems to believe. Indeed, professors on ARA are required to remain at Miami and must receive special permission for any activity that would take them away from their research. This is not a vacation. Morgan elides ARAs with Faculty Improvement Leaves (FIL). Professors on yearlong FIL do not, as Morgan believes, receive full salary or benefits from the university and usually supplement their reduced salary with funding from outside the university. Some are funded entirely by external grants, the case with at least one of the professors who Morgan wrongly cites as drawing full pay. Research leaves are competitive and are only awarded for serious research projects. When faculty go on leave, the university often saves money.
The notion that “nothing was produced” during these periods of ARA is myopic. Productivity cannot be measured solely by the publication of full-length books, which can take years to publish. Journal articles, reviews and conference papers are all productive. Even if ARA was the Charybdis of university finances devouring money with no appreciable output, it would still be vital. If our professors never took time to do intensive reading and research, not only would the prestige of the university plummet along with the number of publications produced and conferences held, but the students would suffer as well, as those professors would be forced to teach us only what they had an opportunity to learn in graduate school semester after semester. It would be very difficult for us, as President Hodge quite rightly urged in his Oct. 7 address “to look at our curriculum through the lens of research” if we are limiting the research opportunities available to our faculty.
Morgan’s indictment of the university’s smaller programs and departments is also ill-founded. The majoring student to tenured faculty ratio on which his argument rests is a misleading measure of productivity. Some of these small programs offer large, very popular courses that fulfill Miami Plan requirements. While there may only be 30 classics majors, there are currently 134 students enrolled in classical mythology. There are 99 students enrolled in American religious encounters through the department of comparative religion, which has only 21 majors. The idea that professors only teach students in their own departments is ludicrous. Asserting departments and programs should be eliminated on the basis of a major to faculty ratio is entirely antithetical to the liberal education policy that has for so long been central to this institution.
Despite his affectation of sympathy in not wanting to be “overly hostile toward the faculty,” some of whom will “probably lose their jobs,” Morgan’s contempt rings loud and clear. This is not simply contempt for the faculty he calls lazy or the departments he sees as wasteful, but goes much deeper. This is contempt for the idea of liberal education, for broader views and new ideas, for what this university really ought to be.