Sunday, July 27, 2008
My Sunday Feeling
The big news around these parts lately concerns the clandestine attempt by the Board of Trustees at the University of Central Arkansas to give its President, Lu Hardin, a $300,000 bonus. To make a long story short, the Board voted to do this in executive session so that the payment to Hardin would not be reflected in the minutes. Why they felt compelled to do this is anybody's guess. The proffered reason is that the Board wanted to reward Lu for a job well done and didn't want him looking elsewhere for employment.
Of course another bandied about theory is that it occurred to somebody, probably Hardin, that it didn't look good for him to be getting a big honking raise when the faculty was not getting one. Anyway, word leaked out and the press pounced. Hardin, in a bit of parsing that even Bill Clinton would admire, initially denied that the bonus amounted to a "raise" simply because the payment was agreed to when he signed his contract upon his appointment years ago.
No matter. He and the Board were exposed. And all hell broke loose. The Arkansas News Bureau's John Brummett explains it all here. He also takes the opportunity to take UCA for holding itself out in its advertising as "The Center of Learning" about which I want to elaborate upon today.
In the first place, you must think exceedingly highly of yourself as an educational institution to refer to yourself as "The Center of Learning." UCA ain't exactly Oxford. However, they did produce a Rhodes Scholar and he is currently reading the law there. I know this because they put the kid is one of their "TCOL" spots ( Come to UCA! Become a Rhodes Scholar!). Hell, Notre Dame doesn't even refer to itself in such grandiose terms and they think they are Harvard with rosary beads. Hendrix College, my Alma Mater, toils quietly on the other side of Conway, turning out doctors, lawyers and Methodist preachers as it has done for decades while referring to itself as, well, Hendrix College.
Grandiose bullshit aside-and that's the worst kind of bullshit-it occurred to me as I read John's column that referring to yourself as TCOL is not quite as complimentary as it sounds at first blush. "Learning" connotes a certain elementary acquisition of knowledge whereas "Higher Education" pertains to a more in depth and technical field of study. For example, I learned to read as a child. I read history and philosophy in college. Also, for the last couple of years I have had the privilege of being around folks who are hearing impaired. So I have "learned" a little sign language.
Get the distinction?
This had to have occurred to somebody at UCA when they concocted this ad campaign. My guess is that, despite the fact that they are really into themselves over there, referring to themselves as " The Center of Knowledge" was really a bit much seeing as how such a suggested title would cause the likes of a Princeton to blush. And UCA ain't Princeton either.
Listen, Lu Hardin is an allright kind of guy who by all accounts has done a bang-up job over there. He made a mistake. He gave back the money. He apologized to the faculty and to the Board. He praised the Board member who blew the whistle for having done the right thing. He seems genuinely remorseful. As far as I am concerned that should be the end of it.
In his column Brummett makes a valid point that this is the kind of thing that can happen when people forget that the institutions they serve are bigger than they are. And that we are all just temporary employees in the great scope of things.
True enough. In his amusing little book "On Bullshit," Princeton Professor Harry G. Frankfurt made another observation that is equally apt. He says that the bullshitter really does not believe himself to be lying even though his bullshit may not stand up to scrutiny. The corollary to this would be that the bullshitter tends to get into trouble when he starts believing his bullshit. Or as the old saying goes, "The con artist never believes in the con."
This "Center of Learning" stuff is bullshit. It would be bullshit if Stanford were putting it out. The larger point is that trouble like what went down last week is what can happen when you start believing your bullshit.