I think the piece in The Chronicle this week advocating that colleges hire vice presidents in charge of academic freedom was a bit of trolling, based on the slant of the examples used. But it lends itself to a really simple response.
The provost or VPAA is the vice president in charge of academic freedom. If the provost or VPAA doesn’t understand the concept or isn’t willing to fight for it, then they don’t belong in that role.
My brother sent me a link to this story in The Atlantic about the fall of Kodak and its impact on Rochester, N.Y. We grew up in the suburbs of Rochester.
It’s worth the read, even if you aren’t from Rochester and don’t care about photography. Kodak was the city’s largest employer when we were growing up. When I was a kid, most of my friends had at least one parent who worked there. I remember commercials for furniture stores and car dealers promising no payments until March; when I asked my dad what was so special about March, he said that was when Kodak bonuses came out. It was really a company town.
But Kodak dragged its feet as photography moved first to digital cameras and then to phones. It declared bankruptcy several years ago and is still struggling (at a much smaller size) to find a relevant niche.
Three major takeaways from the article, in case you don’t want to work your way through it:
First, George Eastman’s (the founder of Kodak) suicide note: “My work is done. Why wait?” It sounds like something out of Hemingway.
Second, the article refers to Rochester as a “legacy city.” That one stung a little. Apparently its GDP growth over the last two decades was close to zero. That’s rough.
Finally, one anecdote from Kodak’s heyday that sounded vaguely familiar to someone in public higher ed. Apparently at one point, a new technology came along that would have sped up one of the steps involved in making film. Kodak delayed its implementation for several years so that incumbent employees would retire first.
There comes a time in every dad’s life when his teenage daughter emerges from her room and asks him a question for which he never really prepared. It happened this week.
I was innocently working on the laptop, as is my wont, when she perched on the stairs and fired this at me, seemingly unprompted:
“Dad, what’s a Members Only jacket?”
I burst out laughing.
Apparently, she’d had a trivia contest in her class, and it was the one question she missed. They were shown what she called “a really ugly jacket” and asked to name it.
She mentioned that she won the contest, though, crediting me with having taught her all manner of useless information over the years. I’ll take it.