Burdine Chronicles – April 2012

Dear Alumni and Friends,

There is ample evidence in this issue that our current faculty and graduate students as well as our alumni are forging remark- able records of important research and publication, outstanding teaching, and critical service to their departments and institutions. Research, teaching, and service are the three benchmarks by which academic institutions measure the per- formance of faculty. They are the bases of promotion, merit-based raises, post tenure review, and all the other occasions when we are asked to evaluate the work of our colleagues.

Conventional wisdom has it that publica- tion is what really matters in the final analysis; lip service alone being accorded teaching and service. My long perspective stretching from the boom years of the six- ties through the hard times of the seven- ties, the hard times of the eighties, the hard times of the nineties, and the harder times of the new century leads me to a number of observations on these issues.

The reward structure of academia changes over time as the economic and political context evolves. Those individuals fortu- nate enough to complete graduate school and enter the job market in the sixties were in a position to choose the schools they would move to and, at the first sign of unhappiness, pack their bags and move on. This was truly the golden age of academic life. That all began to change about 1973-74 (as luck would have it just when I entered the market) when the great postwar economic boom came to an end.

Those days are gone forever. In their place are shrinking job markets, increas- ing competition for scarce resources, and growing demands for more efficiency, accountability, and productivity, all to be accomplished by fewer doing more with less. In some places the value of research is under attack, traditional modes of classroom instruction are being contested, and administrative burdens are escalating at alarming rates. Everywhere it seems the prestige once accorded the professoriate is fading away.

Academia may be a hotbed of left liberal claptrap, as many critics claim (by my count our department leans left but in- cludes a significant minority of unabashed Republicans, libertarians, devout believ- ers, and a few that defy classification), but one thing that brings revolutionaries and reactionaries together is resistance to changes in the organization of academic life. This resistance slows change but does not prevent it in the long run. Universities like all institutions must adapt to changes in their environment or die.

Despite these unhappy developments, de- spite small or nonexistent merit increases, and mushrooming bureaucratic burdens, our department members continue to advance political science through their research, take pride in excellent teaching, and perform many uncompensated service duties out of sheer loyalty to the depart- ment and commitment to self government. It is heartening to see that so many of our alums are doing similar things in their departments; somehow managing to pro- duce first rate scholarship, award winning teaching, and commendable service under circumstances far less than ideal. Moreover, large numbers of prospective grad students queue up to prepare themselves to follow in your inspiring footsteps.

Whatever the complaints we might all have, college and university teaching, the life of the mind if I may, continues to attract persons of curiosity, imagination, and dedication. No matter that academic life has been described as an unending series of minor humiliations, it still affords its members unusual freedom to explore ideas and set their own agenda. It is worth remembering, as David Leal recently reminded our executive committee, the university is not exactly a coal mine.

— Gary P. Freeman