Why so many silent college faculty? Here’s one reason

2402200306_46c12818a6_o (1)By Robert Mann

I sometimes wonder why more faculty members at LSU and elsewhere don’t speak up about how their schools have been defunded over the past eight years. It frustrates me that teachers and students only marched on the Capitol once — and after it was almost too late to save anything — to express their outrage over how Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators had picked apart their institutions, running off hundreds of great faculty members and putting a college education out of the reach of thousands of families.

But after someone pointed out this Facebook comment to me, I’m reminded why so many are so timid.

Screenshot 2015-12-16 10.09.59

This guy is insignificant and ignorant and I truly worry about him about as much and as long as I’ll worry about the gnat buzzing around me as I write this.

But it reminds me that there are too many out there like him who see any comparison of the state’s treatment of academics versus athletics as treasonous. And they are willing to attack you viciously. If you dare to suggest our priorities are totally screwed up — no matter where the money comes from — you’ll be told that you’re basically worthless for working in the teaching profession.

The critics will tell you to leave Louisiana if you don’t like it — as if dissent in the United States is somehow treachery.

If you have tenure, like me, perhaps you won’t worry so much about speaking out. But if even if you do have tenure and maybe one day think you’d like to be an associate dean or some kind of administrator, you might keep quiet because you know you’ll be singled out for attacks like this. At the very least, you know the higher ups won’t care for this kind of talk. And it probably won’t make you attractive if you should ever decide to move to another school.

You may be warned, as I was by one prominent colleague on my faculty in 2013, that what I’m doing is hurting my school/department and that, actually, I’m nothing more than a coward hiding behind my tenure. You might be told, as this faculty member said to me, that I should keep quiet so that the LSU Board doesn’t come after our school.

In the end, you may be coerced to remain silent. Truth be told, it really is easier to stay quiet and keep your head down than to speak up and make people uncomfortable. You’ll have a much more pleasant life, I promise you. It’s not fun to be assailed. I get that and I understand it all too well.

And I understand there are a thousand other reasons why so many remain quiet. I know there are many young faculty members who don’t have tenure and there are staff members with even less job protection. They have families to feed and mortgages to pay. They simply cannot afford to jeopardize their careers and their futures by raising hell in a blog or in a letter to the editor.

I don’t blame them and I understand their fear. I do know that I woke up almost every morning for the past four or five years wondering if this might be the day when someone in the Jindal camp (or his allies on the LSU Board) finally found a way to get rid of me. I knew they wanted to.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Heck, I look back at some of what I’ve written over past couple of years and I disagree with it, myself.

What I do regret is that there are people who fundamentally believe the act of dissent is disloyalty.

There are many other examples of it. This guy is just one of the worst and most ignorant examples. He and those like him are also among the most dishonest.

Why’s that? Check and see how many times he or those like him have attacked professor Jeff Sadow at LSU-S for all his blog and column writing in support of Bobby Jindal (not to mention his relentless comment trolling on NOLA.com before he got his Advocate gig).

I’ll wait while you check.

Crickets, huh?

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26 Responses to Why so many silent college faculty? Here’s one reason

  1. Emily says:

    I am disappointed at the comments directed towards you, but not surprised. Valuing education has never been a strong suit or priority in this state. Which explains a lot about the circumstances in which Louisiana finds itself.
    Sadly, our citizens get more upset over losses in the football program than losses in the academic programs. Sure, the football program might be run like a business, but if all the alumni who contribute to the extra support for the football program (I don’t recall the name) gave similar amounts to their academic divisions, LSU would have a major endowment program.
    I don’t know all the intricacies of football, but I have never understood all of the fan upset and uproar over Les Miles. He has one of the leading win/ loss records, but despite this, some of the fans have been after his scalp from day one. Nevertheless, I doubt if any of these folks raised a peep while higher education and LSU in particular have been practically gutted. Therein lies the paradox of Louisiana education.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Stephen Winham says:

    Howard Arceneaux is a journalist who has been the publisher of a local business journal, among other things, and currently covers mostly sports for The Advocate’s St. Francisville Democrat weekly. As evidenced by this post, he is certainly not objective but, like everybody else, he is entitled to his own opinions. However, there is no excuse for his ignorance in this matter, including his assertion the money we spend on higher education is wasted and his personal attack on you and your opinions. Among the many staunch conservatives I encounter, the latter (name-calling/insults) is always the last volley when all else fails.

    I have always admired your courage and, as you point out, there are many reasons more of your colleagues don’t speak out. There are ways to get around pesky things like tenure and state law, as clearly demonstrated during the current state government administration.

    It is ironic that so many people attack not just teachers, but all public servants without regard to what they are doing and the value of those services, and it is ironic that these ad hominem attacks promote the very mediocrity they attack.

    Treating any human being as if s/he is worthless encourages him/her fulfill that expectation. If a teacher or public employee is brnaded lazy, indifferent, and incompetent no matter what s/he actually does, what is the likely result? If I promote the belief our higher education system is mediocre and a waste of money what might I expect?

    I would ask Mr. Arceneaux to think, just a little, about this. I’m thankful you are able to rise above it and that you don’t give up.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Chere Coen says:

    I’m so thankful for everything you do. Keep speaking the truth! Cheré Coen, LSU journalism class of 1983

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. refchef says:

    I’ve always thought that you were an excellent example of a Journalism faculty member — you actually are a working journalist. You write editorials; you report on the news of the day. You set an example for LSU J-School students (yes, I’m THAT old…). In the process, you stand up for your school/employer and dare The Man to take you out. The J-School should put up a plaque in your honor.

    That being said… Sending people to Jeff Sadow’s sad excuse for a blog is really feeding a flame that should be tamped out. Who cares how many (or few) times the irascible Mr. Arceneaux trolls Sadow? Every time somebody clicks through, Sadow gets a thrill and a boost to his raison d’etre. sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

    • rtmannjr says:

      Thanks. Much appreciated. I didn’t really want to refer to him or send people to his the Sadow blog but thought it was a good example of the kind of grief that people get when they speak out, even if it’s not the official kind of repression or intimidation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. M. Weston says:

    I worked at LSU for over 8 years until I left in September 2013 because I could no longer stomach the way the elected officials in the state were treating higher education and those in the state who needed the support through health and hospitals after the years of Jindal’s budget cuts and immoral ways and lies as governor. Fear is the main reason anyone becomes immobilized whether it is from fear of job loss or health loss or loss of the basic needs of a human like shelter and food. I TRULY HOPE that the next governor can mobilize the legislator to stand up and do what the state needs to do to combat the excess poverty, shore up the unfunded accrued liabilities in the pension plans, provide health care for the most at risk families and individuals, provide a statewide system of mental health resources, overhaul the harm done to secondary education and teachers and many other things that it takes to create a great state or community. People who are led by corporate greed and self profit will never understand why one chooses to work in higher education or chooses a career of public service. Bob, I commend you for taking a risk and being the voice for those whose fears keep them muted. Keep on doing what you are doing and know there are many who support your efforts.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. James Freeman says:

    Howard Arceneaux not only compromises his own credibility as a journalist with these kinds of social-media rants but also that of his employer, The Advocate. And that’s before we get to the intemperate and abusive nature of his posts.

    That he has been free to do this repeatedly on Facebook in full public view calls into question the professionalism of the Advocate. Arceneaux’s professionalism — or, more accurately, utter lack thereof — has been established quite well by now

    Frankly, this kind of social-media misbehavior would have gotten him summarily fired at many (if not most) metropolitan dailies. But I guess that’s Louisiana for you. And people wonder why everything’s a mess.

    It would seem that the only thing that’s intolerable in Louisiana is to state that bad behavior (and its bad institutional and civic outcomes) is intolerable.

    Keep up the good work as long as you can, as Sisyphean as it might be.

    Like

    • rtmannjr says:

      Yeah, the guy got so abusive with me a few years ago that I blocked him from communicating with me on Facebook. I honestly don’t think many people take him seriously. He’s discredited himself with quite a few people who have contacted me over the years and all said, basically, “What did you do to piss off Howard Arceneaux?” I almost wonder about the guy’s mental health. He seems unhinged.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. martybankson says:

    He misses the point that is not only the job but the duty of the academic to point out injustice and corruption when and where he sees it. The idea being that we learn by questioning, not by toeing the establishment line. The fact is that most public universities do not have self-sustaining athletic departments and must be subsidized by tuitions or other public funds. If the self-sustaining juggernauts like LSU are being “run like business,” the NFL, NBA, MLB need to step up and a pay their share, as they are the beneficiaries of the recruiting and training of young, top flight athletes now paid for by the public.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Fredster says:

    I wonder if Mr. Arceneaux understands this part:

    Robert Mann holds the Manship Chair in Journalism

    Correct me if I’m wrong Bob but I would think that’s an endowed chair meaning the Manship family or someone attached to them gave the money to create that position. Is that right? If so, then you hold a position that was created (and paid for?) by someone other than LSU.

    Oh and about that other professor…when he was commenting on nola.com I used to love to go to the rate-my-professor website and add in a link to that. Like this:

    http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=568898

    Liked by 2 people

  9. jechoisir says:

    You go, Bob.

    When I left graduate school in another state to teach at a university in Louisiana, starting salaries for assistant professors in Louisiana universities were higher than those in any other southern state. And promotions came more quickly. Those conditions, I believe, were the legacy of Governor John McKeithen.

    Yet even in that atmosphere, I was appalled at the cynical politics of the particular university at which I taught. Through a quirk of association I was privy to a number of administrative conversations, and it became clear to me early that most were about “going along with” the president, the board, the governor and all the brothers-in-law. Dissent was unpatriotic. These guys—and they were all men—sat around and laughed at faculty members who were devoted to research or serious learning. Such folks were peons, innocents who did not understand they existed only so administrators might carry on the business and croneyism of the place. Learning was the butt of jokes in that crowd. Had I been employed as a courier for the mafia, I could not have encountered a more cynical bunch of higher-ups. Or a more obsequious faculty.

    So I knew what I was doing when, several years later, I questioned the department chairman’s printed notice that a new state regulation required faculty to be in their offices from 8AM until 5PM, except for an hour’s lunch break. We all knew it was aimed mainly at those with “terminal degrees,” who were engaged in research, and who thus constituted, in the words of the chairman, a “cabal,” though to what nefarious purposes was unclear. And it was aimed at me in particular, for I had been in the chairman’s promising student back when he had seemed to care about books and learning, and he had encouraged the dean to bring me back to the school to teach. We had been friends. But that was before he learned I took teaching and learning seriously and before I had the temerity to take a maternity leave (Teaching, he told me, was like a Church vocation) and before I had formed professional and personal friendships with new faculty members whom he believed to be “cabalists.” The man was paranoid, but he had been given power. I had left work early one day to take my ailing child to the doctor, and a flunky had called me at home, reminding me of the regulation about office hours, even giving it a number, and telling me I must return to campus immediately. I fully expected her to add that I should wear my green freshman beanie from the early sixties.

    I had been in that department long enough to understand the situation. And I knew enough about national accrediting institutions to assume the “regulation” was phoney. So the next day, I hired an education attorney to research the mythical regulation and to reply in writing, sending copies to the chairman and the dean of faculty, who, I was sure, knew nothing of the in-house shenanigans. I knew, however, top administration did not want to interfere with the chairman’s turf if they could at all help it. The man had “the goods” on them. He’d gotten a pal on the state board to persuade the board not to fire the president for using as a private residence a lake house built and maintained by state funds. That board member took great pride in never having set foot in a college classroom, and he found common personal ground with my friend the chairman, a man who lacked the doctoral degree but would later be appointed department chairman for his good deed. I was under no illusions about the pleasantness that resulted from rousing a nest of prodigal hornets.

    Yet I found myself unable to tolerate the idea that university faculty members, people who were supposed to be devoted to learning and passing along the best of the past to rising generations, were to be treated and regarded like uneducated factory workers. My friends in the department were angry, of course, but when I asked them why they had not questioned an obviously false edict, they said, “It will pass. He’s crazy. He’ll find something else to occupy him in time.” They were right, of course. But for me, it was about professional honor and the value of learning. I did not think I could teach at a university that so devalued learning if I simply acceded. I had tenure, but so did a number of my friends by then. I understood their fears. I knew they were justified. But I didn’t understand their lack of self-respect as teachers or individuals. How could one teach Milton’s “Areopagitica” and remain silent about such abuses?

    In time and with a change in leadership, many things changed at that university. But the thing that I think remains even now in most universities in our state is a base assumption about their very raison d’etre. The cynicism I detected as a young teacher somehow lingers. In the end, Milton’s words about freedom of speech, John Henry Newman’s thoughts about the purpose of education, or Locke’s ideas about the origins of government don’t matter a whole lot. Don’t use them to appeal to the soul of university presidents, who have learned too well ideas are not worth fighting for here in the Bayou State. And I sense that feeling among students, at LSU even more than at other universities of the state. When I ask local people about their experience there, for instance, they always talk about football. I have yet to encounter an alum, either young or old, who says, “I learned to think for myself at that school!” Kids are not dumb.

    Maybe this cynicism that I detect comes from our public colleges and universities having come into their own during the administration of Huey Long. It’s true that Long wanted both a top-flight English department and a winning football team at LSU, and he seemed to have left academicians to their own devices. And yet he treated university presidents exactly the way they so often treated their faculty and the way he treated everyone else. Here, in this state, we had no long incubation period when learning was about acquiring the means to live a humane life, about defining and acting upon the Good, a time when students argued about the relative merits of Plato’s and Aristotle’s worldviews. Perhaps at older, private schools politics is about ideas and here politics is about pure power, money, and who rules the state. I am a native of this state who chose to return to it to live and teach, but there is something fundamentally wrong about the way we conceive of education.

    That ignoramus whose remarks you quoted and who you claim actually writes for some publication is but evidence of whatever it is that is wrong. He is Tiny Duffy in Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men.” Unfortunately, as you observe, he is not singular. And I assume he must have graduated from one of our universities.

    I encourage you to use your platform to encourage Louisianans to re-examine the purposes of higher education, to remind faculty members that ideas have consequences and that ideals are worthless if they are not worth defending. Somebody needs to tell them their profession is noble, and it won’t be a state board member.

    You just hang tight, Mr. Mann!

    Like

  10. jechoisir says:

    I went back and read Mr. Arceneaux’ comments after reading he had once been advisor to the “Reveille.” He’s factually wrong about one thing, at least. I dissent from the opinions expressed in your blog pretty often. And yet if my computer is accurate, that dissent gets published.

    But perhaps the most depressing part of his formless rant is its assumption that academics should “pay” for itself monetarily. Like football supposedly pays for itself. Football is the measure of the university for this individual, not academics—a complete reversal of priorities, seen in a number of Louisianans.

    Now how can a philosophy course in logic “pay” in this manner? or an American history course, a math or literature course? Nor should the basic humanities, sciences, and mathematics be expected to pay off in such a manner. Their payoff is an educated populace, graduates who can identify logical fallacies, whose visions of the world have been broadened through encounters with great books and ideas, who are lifted above the mudhole in which the ignorant are condemned to live and who have become independent, responsible people with at least an inkling of the good, the true, and the beautiful. In other words, education is about education, and can be measured only by the quality of its graduates’ minds and lives and the world they create. There are states in the South where university presidents would take Mr. Arceneaux to task.

    Like

    • rtmannjr says:

      Thanks making those very good points. And also for noting that I don’t squelch dissent in the comments section. I think the only things I’ve ever deleted were comments that contained profanity. I’m pretty loose about all that. Dissent doesn’t bother me. Most of all, thanks for honoring me by reading my stuff, even if we don’t always agree.

      Like

  11. Excellent post. It’s a shame that some people think that work level in education can be gauged by the amount of time spent inside a classroom. I typically find those hours to be among the least stressful of the day. It’s the time spent in preparation, working with students outside of class, administrative duties, and the countless committees and meetings where time disappears. It’s a different physical labor than working on a berry farm, but it takes it toll with other stressors. It’s different when one takes their graduate degrees to work in the private sector because often in that private sector I always seemed more able to distinguish when I was working versus being off. My opinion is that many professors put in longer hours for less salary by working in education versus the private sector.

    I’m glad that you acknowledged the difference between being tenured versus tenure track and non tenure track as it relates to possible repercussions in speaking out. While not specifically written, the acknowledgment of the potential perils of staff illustrates that you respect the plight of adjuncts as well.

    While those of you back home have had it especially rough as result of Bobby’s quests, the same problems you highlight exist in other states and institutions with different missions than a research university.

    Some will disagree but I think the workloads of someone teaching a 2/2 load at a research university is comparable to that of someone with a 5/5 load at a community college. The same hats of teaching, research, and service are worn, but their order of importance is merely shuffled. There are many good people working at each and at institutions that have more of a combination of missions. It really doesn’t matter where a fence might be because the grass on the other side usually appears greener, but once the distance is closed it’s more similar than different.

    I seem to agree with you more often than not, but the reason I respect your opinion is because you take the time to convey how that opinion came to be. Neither dissent nor agreement is attractive to me without knowing the source. Acknowledging different perspectives is something that few seem able to do and appreciating that a different perspective can provide some validity to an opposing opinion is rarer.

    Years ago you did take the time to answer some questions from me when I was the equivalent to a serf as a graduate student. Of course you would not remember because you were merely doing what an educator and concerned citizen does, but you still helped even though I already had the contacts you suggested back then.

    Professor hold your head high and keep speaking out in the manner that you do. It is appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on LAB Louisiana Boy and commented:

    Excellent post by Professor Mann. While he naturally focuses upon Louisiana and attacks made at him, the same misunderstandings about the workloads of faculty and the problems of speaking out and one’s career in higher education apply to every institution with which I have been associated. I do need to make a point though that some schools are significantly better than others in accepting and forcing consequences upon some dissenting or even merely questioning voice.

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