Friday, May 10, 2013


Upon returning from today's brunch for the Colgate Class of 2013, I find I cannot in good conscience refrain from expressing my extreme disappointment with the event and in particular the two speakers for the senior class. If their speeches are supposed to be what it is that a Colgate education produces, I am thoroughly ashamed of the institution and regret my part in it. Their behavior was juvenile, vulgar, and embarrassing to all those of us who thought we were celebrating the coming of age of respectable adults. Both X and Y made it clear in their speeches that the most important parts of their Colgate experiences were those that involved drunken (and illegal) revelry. X even indicated that having Campus Safety shut down his party and being put on probation in his first semester were fond memories well above any he might have of a class discussion or intellectual achievement. I kept waiting for the part of the story that would indicate reflection on a sense of having grown from the experience, but there was none. Y meanwhile, got her laughs that did not refer to "nights we don't remember" and "the freshman fifteen" by mocking at least four people by name: two members of her entering class, an employee at the Coop and another downtown. I was unaware that humiliating other people - particularly those not present or with far less social capital- was still considered a rite of passage. Is this the level of maturity and character that is expected in a formal celebration of Colgate achievement? Is this what those of us who were invited with Torch Medals were supposed to be proud of?

The only acts of character I saw the class of 2013 demonstrate were the donation to financial aid and the acknowledgement of Dean Taylor's commitment to a more healthy and respectful community. Neither act was in keeping with the attitude of the rest of the event. I can't have been the only one who winced when X said that first semester was a particularly "good time" for freshmen males -- a reference I sincerely hope was only to drinking. I imagine Dean Taylor could provide some statistics on how good a time freshmen females often have in their first few weeks on campus.

Furthermore, while I recognize that it is perhaps in keeping with Colgate's "branding" to have its guest speaker celebrate financial success without reference to any efforts to improve society beyond "giving back to Colgate," the complete lack of reference whatsoever to anything that could be considered intellectual or even moral growth by the students and alumnus of Colgate was heart-breaking. (No, pointing out that even the tragedy of 9/11 could lead to something as positive as a marriage and child is not particularly inspiring or spiritually deep.) The speaker also referred to how entry to a particular industry was based on nepotism, and despite not having family of his own in it, he was able to speak to a top industry official through the intervention of someone who did. I may have missed the reference to his friend being from Colgate, but presumably this was to emphasize the usefulness of the “Colgate connection.” I had hoped a Colgate graduate would at the very least reflect on the problems associated with the fact that the highest echelons of financial and political opportunities are indeed largely closed to those without powerful patrons; in this case it seemed that Colgate grads were simply told to be glad that their association with the University gives them this access.

Even such laudable a goal as raising money for college scholarships was presented through samples of shampoo placed next to the champagne flutes. The card on the tables explaining the grooming products helpfully pointed out that while these were free, we soon would be able to buy them; it was basically an advertisement disguised as some sort of “gift.” While students may have become "consumers" in the ledgers of the University somewhere, I hope we do not need to enshrine the crass commercialism that even the most irredeemably middle class among us find tacky.

If I were not aware of the many Colgate students and faculty who believe that success is measured by more than a tax bracket and courage by more than risking a comfortable income in order to "provide an excellent product and service" to a luxury industry, I would have left the Senior Brunch today convinced that every negative stereotype of Colgate as the place for the well-heeled country-club set to send their children to drink for four years was accurate. If that were the only example of Colgate I saw, I would never encourage anyone to send their child here.

We are better than this – our students are better than this. I cannot fathom why an event this important did not demonstrate it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

D.A.C. R.I.P.

by Robert Garland

I’m sure it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that what we voted for at the last Faculty Meeting – rather too expeditiously for my liking – was the abolition of the Dean’s Advisory Council as we have come to know and love that esteemed body.  The fate of the D.A.C. wasn’t, of course, on the agenda of that meeting. And perhaps its demise will go largely unmourned. But there is no escaping the fact that the decision to strip it of its primary and essential function of determining who and who should not be awarded continuous lifetime tenure at Colgate University has the consequence of reducing it to an essentially pro forma body, viz. corpse, of little significance.  The objection to it in its present instantiation is, of course, that it is an appointed committee that does not represent the will of the faculty. It’s true that it is appointed, but its members are appointed after nomination by and consultation with as many faculty within the division as wish to nominate and be consulted, or at least that has always been my experience, and that, as Robert Frost once memorably stated, made all the difference. Will I end up voting for someone in another division to be on the new P. and T. solely because I can put a face to a name? So how should we in the weeks ahead appropriately and efficiently do the homework that used to be the laborious and time-consuming task of the Dean in identifying the best candidates for the job?

As a past serving member of the D.A.C., I obviously have a vested interest in touting the virtues of the old system. I hate to sound self-serving but I am intensely proud to have served on that committee, which taught me so much about the university, about my colleagues, and about myself. I can truthfully state that no body, whether elected or appointed or indeed lighted upon by sortition (the Athenian way!) could have tried harder to ‘do the right thing’. And the fact of the matter is that it is often impossible to do the right thing when individual careers and lives are pitted against the long term welfare and reputation of the university. Under any imaginable system mistakes will be made. Casting one’s vote on whether to award tenure is like playing God while looking down the wrong end of the telescope with an acute case of astigmatism. Is there perchance an unspoken consensus that we should be tenuring a larger percentage of the faculty than we are at present and that somehow the new system with its much-touted transparency will bring that about? I hope not though I fear yes. I take pride (again) in Colgate being the place it is today. The new system will certainly bring about more delays, more lawsuits, and more enduring rancor.

But enough of my own rancorous observations. We’ve taken the decision to set out on that new road and we’re set off and it’s that new road that I want to talk about finally here. As it currently exists, the D.A.C. has virtually no control over the purse strings of the university. It does not protect the curriculum. It is solely because the Division Directors are empowered with the heavy charge of determining who and who will not do be given a job for life at Colgate that they sit on the D.A.C. with a modest degree of clout, both vis-à-vis the Dean and vis-à-vis their colleagues in their divisions. And they need clout because they are the faculty’s buffer, participating in university administration at a high level. while remaining indisputably teaching members of that faculty. Though their votes on tenure decisions don’t or rather didn’t translate into real power, it gave them a degree of oversight in their divisions that made the job eminently worthwhile. It made them accountable as administrators, and at times, too, when the situation called for it, it made them outspoken.

In short I am concerned about the effects of the new system for the governance system of the university. Far from enhancing the faculty’s representativeness at the highest level, I am concerned that we may have collectively undermined it. In sum, I urge the faculty to be alert to the implications of their vote. As a born contrarian who takes a long view of history, I look forward keenly to being proven completely wrong.