The ‘Final” countdown

Hannah Boucher does a pre-graduation photo shoot under the watchful eye of Dr. Henry Hardin Cherry with her personal photographer Alex Stanley.

Among Western Kentucky University’s numerous committees that make “recommendations” to the power that is, comes the “Calendar Committee.”

Until a few years back, I did not know the committee existed. But its existence came up during a Faculty Senate meeting as part of an issue related to the university academic year calendar, the issue now long forgotten by me.

The calendar underwent some changes regarding spring term commencement under the “new” (now five years?) administration and more changes following the unsettling “COVID” years. The most notable changes: two days of “commencing,” a two-day fete that conflicts with the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend and with one of the commencement events taking place during final exam week.

This confluence of conflicting priorities seems to me most odd and expensive for parents, guardians, family and friends who get shackled with extra costs for hotel rooms, meals, missing work, missing the races and the like.

But I suspect most parents have become used to all the “add ons” that come with sending a kid to WKU. I also suspect that someone “recommended” this year’s commencement plan to the Calendar Committee to help it make its recommendations.

Nevertheless, commencement remains a special time, and it is all about students.

Several weeks back, I was making my loop around the outer rim of campus in my unending battle to lose weight. As I passed the bookstore and approached the Downing Student Union back entrance, the antics of two students got my attention.

They had just retrieved their caps and gowns and were shooting a video selfie of them leaping in the air in full academic regalia.

After five takes, they remained unsatisfied with the result.

I approached them with another photo idea. They posed next to the faux students pictured on the wall of DSU.

A young lass named McLain, a secondary education graduate, asked my name, and we bonded over our Scottish roots. She also mentioned that she and her friend went to high school together, but they did not get along back then, she said.

“She was, you know, one of ‘them’” McLain said, emphasizing “them” with air quotes.

“No, I wasn’t,” her friend said pretty unconvincingly.

 Now they have become best mates.

As they headed off, McClain said about her cap and gown, “I am going to wear this every day until graduation.”

“I am going to wear it to bed,” her friend said, and off they went, laughing and hugging.

A few weeks later during the last week of classes, my loop led me to stumble upon Hannah Boucher, a graduating accounting major, who shared with me her plans to attend graduate school at WKU.

Her personal photographer and marketing major Alex Stanley said that as a sophomore, a few years remain for her before she graduates. I moved on. They continued the shoot.

For teachers, graduation comes with mixed emotions. It comes with a lot of moving on.

Some of the best students leave. Some great faculty members, friends and colleagues leave.

I often discuss with colleagues the life of a teacher, and one of the things that I have been told about teaching at any level — and I have taught at every level from fourth grade through four-year college — is an adage.

Teachers say: “We spend 10 percent of our time serving the really good students and 90 percent serving the not so good ones. What if we turned that around? How great would the really good students become?”

I have two issues with turning that around.

First, maybe there is no scientific basis for those percentages. And if there is, some of those who start out in the 90 percent transform into the 10 percent.

After two weeks in graduate school at the University of Illinois pursuing a journalism degree, my adviser called me to his office. Based on two assignments for his lecture class on among other things the “liberal Weltanschauung” — hard enough to pronounce, much less type on a manual typewriter — he arrived at the conclusion that I was a 90-percenter:

“You need to quit this program, Mr. McKerral,” he said quite dryly. “You will never succeed as a journalist.”

I quit — him, not the program.

Among the several who graduated this May from the School of Media, there were a bevy of 10-percenters. I will miss them all. But I will use one as an example: Hannah Claussen.

I first encountered Hannah, Class of 2022 (pictured above), in my JOUR 202 Intro to Newswriting class two years back. She sat in the first desk in the row right in front of the teacher workstation.

In my News editing class, she sat in the front row desk.

In my Press Law and Ethics class, she sat in the front row desk.

In my First Amendment class, she sat in the front row desk.

But that was not the most important signature of Hannah’s presence in my classes.

She excelled in classwork. She made strong contributions to class discussions. She served as a personal calendar reminder for me — inside and outside class. She accepted my mentoring, and I served as the adviser and first reader for her Mahurin Honors College Capstone project. She received the college’s highest honor, the Capstone of the Year Award — the first student in the School of Media since my arrival in 2005 to receive that honor.

And her conservative, Christian based approach to life reminded me of another 10-percenter that I taught at Troy State University, Lance Wallace, who now serves as Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

As I commenced my walk on the outer rim, I got to thinking about my final days as an undergraduate at Arizona State University, as a non-10-percenter.

My last “final” at the end of exam week on a May 15, 1975, concluded at 3 p.m.

The teacher for the class — something to do with the American Revolution — gave a one-question essay exam: “Why did we fight the American Revolution?”

I recall that I answered the question using fourth grade patriotic claptrap. I made a “C” on the exam.

I walked out of the building into the 101-degree day knowing that my undergraduate work was done.

The quad on the ASU Tempe campus was empty.

I had no cell phone with which to share my accomplishment or to take still images or video selfies.

I received no congratulations.

I did not want to attend commencement. My 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, stuffed to the gills, awaited. I wanted to head back to Illinois to do what I always wanted to do — teach.

Lance wrote about me and some of the most enjoyable years of my teaching career in his blog called New South Essays.

And after reading story about me, I am now wondering if I am still doing my students the 100 percent they deserve, whether they are 10-percenters or not.

I will chew on this, and once I get a taste for the answer, I will commence to be as good a teacher as Lance thinks I was, or I will commence to spend the final countdown in my life retired.

When the boot fits

I spotted this SUV some days back in the Western Kentucky University Chestnut Street parking lot, a testament to the university’s parking violation notices.

The various stickers, citations and the like started piling up.

 And eventually the vehicle got “the boot.”

Each day I passed the citation-laden vehicle, I thought about decades ago when I taught at Troy State University, where for 10 years I did not have to pay to park. My parking space carried my last name and sat 30 yards from the entrance to Wallace Hall, the building that housed my office.

Next to my parking area rested “The Pit,” a student-created name for the lot that sat at the bottom of a Grand Canyon-like hole in the ground. The deeply inclined stairs to the bottom of The Pit posed a treacherous walk down and an arduous walk up. When it rained substantially, The Pit turned into a lake.

One year, I called the WKU version of Parking and Transportation at Troy and asked about my free, named parking space.

“If I give up my space, can it become available for anyone to use?” I asked.

Nope. Another name will magically appear if you abandon it, I was told.

Directly behind my parking space at Troy sat a fire hydrant with a “no parking zone” series of lines stenciled on the pavement in front of the hydrant. During one term, a TSU police officer routinely parked in front of the hydrant in the “no parking zone.”

One of the reporters for the student newspaper came to my office one day and asked, “Isn’t it illegal to park in front of a fire hydrant?”

“Yep,” I said.

The next issue of the student newspaper — which I advised — on the front page featured a photo of the illegally parked cop car.

That afternoon the furious police officer who drove the vehicle stormed into my office and berated me and the newspaper for getting him in trouble.

“I am a police officer,” he yelled. “I have authority. This photo got me a reprimand in my personnel file.”

He stormed out, likely to move his illegally-parked cruiser.

As I passed the Suburban Utility Violator in the Chestnut Street lot one day, I got to thinking about power and authority, and that got me thinking about dictators.

History shows that the signature for dictators somewhat resembles the rogue SUV.

Dictators ignore the law and park themselves wherever they please for as long as they choose.

Beyond that:

• Dictators maintain their power by making unilateral decisions without considering the consequences for those affected.

• Dictators use a constant stream of propaganda to make it seem like their practices are fair, equitable and in the public’s best interest.

• Dictators surround themselves with loyalists who get paid exorbitant amounts of money to remain loyal and to stand by the dictators or take the heat for the dictators when they make  bad decisions.

• Dictators swiftly eliminate anyone who questions their decisions. They ship them off to their kingdom’s equivalent of Siberia or they execute them, literally or figuratively.

• Dictators reward themselves financially, and at some point during their regime, they come to believe that they are untouchable, so drunk on hubris that they get careless.

Dictators hang around as long as they can, milking the system, and standing in front of every camera that shows them looking snappy and/or benevolent — media hounds of the worst kind.

And this goes on and on until people get tired of it, or more likely the dictators get caught in one of the many backdoor scams they have run.

And like the ticket-laden SUV, they get “the boot.”

Silly bills bring votes

I try hard not to wander into the political swamp.

But sometimes politicians provide such enticing bait that even the most cautious just cannot stop themselves — in this case, me.

The impetus for my swamp tour stems from the tried-and-true talent lawmakers have for disguising (not very well) what amounts to no more than political pandering and attacking the “intelligentsia” in dictator-like fashion.

And so, I give you Kentucky House Bill 14 and House Bill 18 and similar legislation in 23 or more other states. (Not-so) great minds thinking alike.

The Kentucky bills both propose broad and undefined restrictions on teaching race, gender and religion in K-12 and post-secondary classrooms.

The bills are essentially gag laws for the “liberal” side of the political food fight and “ungag” laws for the “conservative” viewpoint.

Alas, no matter what roads we travel, we end up at the same place, a roadblock for getting anything useful done.

While the state that serves as my home since 2005 wallows in issues far more important than crafty lawmakers hunting for votes by butting into classroom teaching, this is where the politicians choose to spend their overpaid time.

The state offers a losing tax structure that drives business and its young folks to border states. It by all estimation offers a mediocre education system and a worse health care system. These come with a lagging economy.

So instead of butting into how to teach history, why not focus on the state’s long history of ineffective legislative efforts to address real problems?

Why? Simple.

They care more about pandering for votes and developing fodder for campaign attack ads.

One of my favorite lines comes in House Bill 18:

“. . . a local board of education or board of a public charter school shall ensure that no public school or public charter school offers any classroom instruction or discussion, formal or informal, or distributes any printed or digital material, including but not limited to textbooks and instructional materials, that promotes any of the following concepts:

1. One (1) race, sex, or religion is inherently superior to another race, sex, or religion”

The sponsors of HB 14 and HB 18 are all Republicans.

The Kentucky Legislature website shows 30 Republican senators, among them are one African American and three women. It shows the Kentucky House of representatives has 75 Republicans, among them no African Americans and 13 women.

Seems like one race and gender is inherently superior when it comes to lawmaking.

And that becomes more apparent when you look at redistricting in the same states where lawmakers want to dictate classroom teaching.

They have herded black voters into single districts to make more districts “winnable” for their party partners.

Again, it sure smells like one race is inherently superior to another.

Added to the Monkey Pile of bad law is HB 130: “Freedom of Speech at Public Post-secondary Education Institutions”

This bill — all sponsors Republicans — calls for blanket enforcement of the First Amendment in post-secondary public schools.

So we have a bill that wants to gag people who teach about issues of race, gender, etc. And we have HB 130, a bill filled with regulations to protect everyone’s free speech, including I assume teachers and administrators in colleges and universities who teach about race, gender, etc.

Genius.

In my lifetime, I have found no one goes the extra mile better than lawmakers to breach the First Amendment and to be fair, college administrators.

It is no shock that in public opinion polls, lawmakers sit near the bottom of professions regarding public trust — even lower than journalists.

But lawmakers do not care. Once elected, the primary mission is to get reelected.

And for that, silly lawmaking works.

Playing the privacy card on the public

top-secret2

By Mac McKerral

I spend a lot of time in my Press Law and Ethics class talking with students about privacy.

And one point I really focus on is how authority loves to use the “privacy card” to trick people into thinking that hiding things from the public is a good because it makes the public safer.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, but it happens all the time — even at Western Kentucky University.

A recent story in the College Heights Herald alerted readers to a decision made by WKU administrators to make the public jump hurdles to access the salaries of WKU employees, the salaries clearly a public record.

Of course, these wise keepers of records back the decision with the privacy card.

This salary information until this semester was easily accessed via the WKU library website — and believe me it was accessed.

Now, if you have a WKU ID, you can:

  • go to the WKU home page.
  • search the 2015-2016 budget.
  • scroll way down to the bottom of a shopping list on the left-hand rail to “budget salary information.”
  • enter a logon and password, and get to the records.

For members of the public trying to access these clearly public records but who lack a WKU ID and who therefore cannot participate in the above equivalent of the Olympics track and field triple jump event to find them, well, that “public” must make a written request to the university to get them.

So, not only has WKU created two classes of “public,” one with privilege and a massive other one without, the geniuses behind this bogus misinterpretation of state law want us to believe that privacy of those with the salaries has now been elevated.

As I often say, “I was born at night but not last night.”

This administrative slight of hand has nothing to do with privacy protection, other than protecting administrators from criticism when it comes to who gets paid what.

It’s an embarrassment filter and nothing more.

I learned about this dubious plan a few weeks before the Herald revealed it and the alleged reason why it was so necessary: the “Anthem” breach.

Yes, the insurance company that WKU contracts with joined a long list of targets hit by hackers — including the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and T-Mobile to name just a few — who culled all kinds of personal data about people within databases.

To that end, the Herald story is revealing.

“We did add that password because of concerns about the Anthem,” Stacy Garrett, assistant director of the budget, told a Herald reporter. “We added that layer of protection to make it a little harder to reach.”

Ridiculous, I say, and that comes from someone who has been the victim of identity theft three times, including a fraudulent tax return, one option for identity stealers, as the Herald story relates.

More salient was the comment by Joe Johnson, WKU chief technology office who ultimately must orchestrate hiding information behind the WKU firewall — when he is told to do it.

The Herald reports: “Despite the Anthem hack being the main reason new protocols affect access to salary information, both Johnson and Tony Glisson, the human resources director, said there has never been any proof that WKU employee information has been stolen as a result of the (Anthem) hack.” 

But all of these decision-makers do admit the salaries of WKU employees are public records.

Deborah Wilkins, WKU general counsel, agreed with Johnson and told the Herald:

“The public has the right to know the compensation paid to a state employee, so we will produce information to an [open records request].”

Wilkins told the Herald that WKU is under no legal obligation to post this information on the WKU website and that as long as the university responds to open records requests, it meets state law directives.

That translates to: WKU will respect the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law.

Through the years, I have crossed paths with Wilkins regarding public records and pubic access issues at WKU, usually when people working for WKU are completely clueless about state law and who accordingly say and do really stupid things.

I have found her thoughtful and reasonable. But as they must, general counsels take the hit when “geniuses” come up with stupid ideas.

As to the law, I remain doubtful that WKU can create two different classes of “public.” So I will be looking into that — with a lawyer.

In the meantime, it appears WKU administrators relish dealing with paperwork — in this case Freedom of Information requests delivered via email, mail and phone calls.

Moving forward, I will be doing my best to make sure they get what they want in droves.

And if the news media wants to step up, as it should, to ensure someone can easily get the clearly public record of WKU employee salaries, I suggest they make the data easily available on their websites and let readers know they can get it. I have it and will be happy to share it.

Now back to my law class.

I remind my students frequently that government is not a bestower of freedom. It is a protector of freedom. And the various people responsible for the myriad public records at all levels — including at WKU — are not the bestowers of those records.

They are custodians of those records and answerable to the public, which has every right to easily get them.

(For more about Mac, search the menu for “About” and “Who is this guy?”)

A call for some change

Phone Boxes

By Mac McKerral

I recollect encountering my first genuine, fire engine red British phone box in Alabama.

It turned up courtesy of Mrs. Jack Hawkins Jr., the wife of the president of what at the time was called Troy State University. The second and successful attempt to rename the school changed it to Troy University, the switch predicated on making people think it was a private not a public institution.

Making things appear what they are not happens all the time at colleges and universities.

As to the phone box, it remains on the TSU campus (I refuse to call it TU), just a short walk from the building in which I taught, the Hall School of Journalism. The junction where the phone box sits used to hold an intersection with traffic control. Now it features a roundabout.

You might see a trend developing here.

A few weeks back, a student alerted me to a photo posted on a social media site — the smiling face (what else would it be?) of Dr. Craig Cobane with three genuine, fire engine red British phone boxes. Caption information stated that these would adorn the almost completed Honors College and International Center. It will hold all things honors and all things WKU “reaches” — until our Chinese “partners” get their own building.

For purposes of transparency, I offer two statements:

  • I am longtime supporter of the Honors College and all its appendages.
  • I am a longtime opponent of the construction of this building at a cost of $22 million-ish. For the past several years we have been told the university is broke. Add to the multimillion cost annual maintenance, upkeep and HVAC for the building — a “fixed” cost — and the price of three genuine British phone boxes, and you might understand my position.

“It just gives everyone a sense of belonging,” Bryan Russell, chief facilities officer told a reporter from the College Heights Herald.

Quite frankly, I feel left out.

My next encounter with a phone box came when I taught at Harlaxton College in England during the spring 2015 term. A phone box sits close to the college’s Office of Student Development. It offers free local phone calls, a step down from the Phone Boxes Trifecta pictured above, which I have subsequently learned come with Skype capability. Of course, in my travels throughout the United Kingdom the past spring, I saw a lot of phone boxes, usually with tourists crammed inside them taking advantage of photo opportunities, not Skyping.

But I know that the phone boxes have become collector’s items because of the advent of mobile phones, and BT Group PLC (formerly British Telecommunications PLC) will sell and ship them to anyone.

This comes from a story published in 2012 in England’s Daily Mail newspaper:

“The K6 (phone box) was introduced in 1936 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King George V and these boxes reached the landmark of 75 years on the streets just last year. The “Jubilee kiosk,” as it became known, was designed by English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It became the first genuinely standard telephone box to be installed all over the country and there were some 70,000 on the streets by the time production came to an end in 1968.”

The cost to get one in 2012: £1,950 (plus shipping). If that remains the price, it equates to approximately $3,000. But, hey, you cannot put a price on history — or cool baubles.

I suspect that when the dust settles, all kinds of interesting baubles will turn up in the HCIC, real conversation pieces (wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall and hear those conversations) to accompany the Thesis Defense Room, an international café, study nooks, yet another theater and 82 offices. (I applaud the designers for finding space for 11 classrooms).

I do not know how much the phone boxes and the other baubles cost or how they were paid for, and it doesn’t really matter.

I say quite frequently that perception often outweighs reality, and the building and the perceptions that accompany it really matter.

For almost a decade, the faculty who teach throughout the Western Kentucky University system have seen no significant increases in pay, and at the same time, the cost of living rose 14 percent and the faculty pays more for parking and more for health insurance. And during administrative budget defenses — not in the Budget Defense Room but in the “University” Senate chambers (see “making things appear” above), what always tops the list of “must pays” is fixed costs that routinely go up annually.

When I grow up, I want to be a fixed cost.

But now we are told — on the precipice of a $7 million-plus deficit — that faculty compensation will be a “priority” in the next budget go-around, despite none of the budgeters knowing how that might happen and to what degree. And of course if it does not happen, it will be the Legislature’s fault.

My perception – and big, spanking new buildings with their accompanying price tags help paint part of that picture – is that for the past several years, the “priorities” have been all things Honors, all things athletics, all things constructed and all things Chinese.

I do not think I am alone in my perception.

So if paying faculty — instrumental to why we have a university — is going to be a priority, then our leadership better start thinking outside the box — and beyond the phone boxes.

(For more about Mac, search the menu for “About” and “Who is this guy?”)

R.I.P: WKU ‘Abacus’ 1980ish-2015

Shelf

By Mac McKerral

The list of stuff eliminated by competition or relegated to museums and “retro” users by technology grows each day.

I found, sadly, that the “Abacus,” the calendar created by the Western Kentucky University chapter of Delta Sigma Pi now joins that list.

I have purchased an “Abacus” every year since I arrived in 2005. A couple weeks back, I headed to the WKU Bookstore to get a 2015 edition. I scanned the calendar-section shelves but saw none.

So I asked one of the store managers when the “Abacus” would arrive.

The answer: never.

She told me the fraternity got out of the calendar business, Delta Sigma Pi primary fundraiser for near 40 years. The designer of the 2014 “Abacus,” Samara Heavrin, wrote this on her blog:

Abacus-Cover“The Western Kentucky University Abacus is a yearly publication of the university calendar. It has been an ongoing tradition for over 35 years to get an Abacus before the school year begins.”

The Delta Sigma Pi website states that the professional fraternity was organized to foster the study of business in universities and to promote closer affiliation between the commercial world and students of commerce — but not necessarily a closer affiliation with WKU.

The bookstore manager told me that half the 2014 editions did not sell, the victim of competition from similar calendars the store still offers and the growing use of tablets, phones and computers with calendar functions — and apparently, an interloper.

The manager told me I could find a spiral-bound calendar very similar to the “Abacus” in the Raymond B. Preston Health & Activities Center — for free.

I picked up the freebie later that day on my way to the fitness center in Preston, where I find parts of my body have outlived their usefulness.

The Preston calendar — not quite as ambitious as the “Abacus” — fit the bill, and I began filling it with entries — but now with a fair amount of guilt.

Cody Cox, president of WKU’s Delta Sigma Pi, shared in an email to me this about the “Abacus”:

“After we had a loss for $10,000 and the competition of a free planner from the Preston Center, we decided it was time to discontinue the abacus and look into other options.”

My office holds a desk drawer that — among other things — contains all the “Abacus” (Abaci, Abacusses) I have purchased since 2005.

They represent a decade’s worth of meeting, appointment and deadline memories.

I cannot let them go.

ReaderMy office also holds a bookshelf that sits on part of my desk. The shelves contain an array of reference books — dictionaries, quote collections and encyclopedias.

Yep, on the shelves sit a bartender’s guide to making drinks, a “CIA Fact Book,” and the “Al Qaeda Reader.”

These books used to be gold for writers and editors. But “Since we got the interweb, these hardly get used,” (My Morning Jacket, “The Librarian”).

Like my collection of “Abaci,” I cannot let them go.

(For more about Mac, search the menu for “About” and “Who is this guy?”)

A five-year circle

lucy-surprised

By Mac McKerral

I wonder if the National Security Agency would provide me audio recordings of all the cell phone conversations among Western Kentucky University faculty following Tuesday afternoon’s email from President Gary Ransdell regarding the end of Dr. Gordon Emslie’s run as provost.

Dr. Emslie “decided” (the president’s words) to “step down from his administrative role and return to teaching” in January in the Physics and Astronomy Department, the president wrote.

The email caused quite a stir, and it reminded me that five years have passed since Emslie — one half of Gordon & Gordon Inc. (now “Ltd.” And you choose who is/was first) — arrived at WKU. I recall the visit Emslie and Dr. Gordon Baylis, former vice president for research, paid to the School of Journalism & Broadcasting as part of what became known — not fondly — as the “Gordon & Gordon Tour.”

The tour had received less than glowing reviews from other departments by the time it booked its gig in Mass Media and Technology Hall, and Gordon & Gordon admitted that to the SJ&B faculty. They said we would see a new and improved version.

Much of the meeting focused on increasing research and money to WKU from research, which would allow departments to better utilize faculty and exercise cost benefits. To detail the plan, they used a kind of “Budgetademic” sign language, which involved pulling fingers down on one hand and attaching fractions to them.

I never really got it. But that’s understandable, since I am a journalist, and Dr. Emslie is a physicist. To me, it was rocket science.

And I do not know if the scheme still exists — “scheme” in the British sense, a word used by the news media there as a substitute for “plan,” (a worthy one or not). I love the British use of “scheme.” It allows you to describe every plan as a “scheme.” In my experience in higher education, most “plans” are just that.

And now five years later, both Gordons have “returned” to teaching duties, perhaps bi-term classes for Dr. Emslie.

However, more important than looking back is looking forward.

That same email informed faculty that for the next two years, Dr. David Lee will serve as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Some may recall Dr. Lee, the dean of the Potter College of Arts & Letters, was passed over for Emslie a half-decade ago.

The annual Potter College Start-of-Fall-Term Rave took place Wednesday morning in the Fine Arts Center, and as soon as Dr. Lee walked through the doors of the Russell Wilson Theater, the applause started — and they continued strongly for a good stretch as part of a standing ovation for him.

Lee wore a countenance of humility.

But he did not wear his signature navy blue blazer, a blue oxford-collar shirt or sunglasses perched atop his head.

For my part, I hope little else changes about David Lee during the next two years.

I am not sure how much he can expect to do as an interim provost. “Interims” usually must concentrate on simply feeding the beast, rather than altering its diet. That job falls to the successor.

And as Dr. Lee knows well, WKU faces serious and longstanding problems. The recently released “Faculty Work Life Survey” references many of those, among them:

  • Morale: “poor” and “very poor” responses from nearly 60 percent of respondents.
  • Salaries: nearly 70 percent of respondents are unsatisfied with them and some 60 percent do not believe the president works much at fixing the problem.
  • Retribution: nearly 60 percent of respondents believe speaking out about issues on campus results in retaliation.
  • Leadership: some 50 percent of respondents lack faith in the president’s ability to select competent leaders and remove incompetent leaders from administrative positions.
  • Academics: nearly 55 percent do not believe academics remain the top priority of the Board of Regents.

And then there is that $7 million (give or take) budget deficit.

“I appreciate the greeting, and I hope you still feel that way in two years,” Dr. Lee told his PCAL minions on Wednesday.

I suspect that will be true.

In an environment where patience, understanding and thoughtfulness seem to have become grossly undervalued, the stock of someone who holds those attributes certainly will hold its value.

Dr. Lee started his remarks Wednesday by saying: “If you think you are surprised . . .”

Surprises have come in bevies to Western Civilization the past few years, the vast majority of them far less palatable than this one.

(For more about Mac, search the menu for “About” and “Who is this guy?”)

Time to put away the toys

FullSizeRender

By Mac McKerral

A friend sent me the cartoon above after my lament about the onset of the “Meetings Week” that precedes the first day of classes.

Yes, the fall semester arrived, and I am wondering during “Meetings Week” where the summer went.

I am wondering where the year went.

I listened to the drone of the cicadas as I walked about campus.

I am wondering where seven years went.

I wonder a lot, especially about life here at Western Kentucky University. Some of that wondering takes on a pretty serious tone. Most of it does not.

The idea to write regularly about all things WKU came to me several years ago, but I decided to wait.

The time seems right.

I chose the name “WesternCivilizationWKU” for a couple reasons.

First, we are a civilization here under the ever-expanding bubble called campus. We have a way of doing things. We come with a unique set of skills, interests, habits, thought processes, dress, attitudes, politics, faith and the list goes on.

Second, since I arrived in 2005, I have heard students moan about taking the (former) general education course “Western Civilization (I or II). For many students, anything that happened before Taylor Swift hit the big time lacks relevance. Many (an ambitious term, no doubt) will find my posts in this blog irrelevant, which makes the blog’s title in an odd way relevant.

And many of the students who moaned about the class called Western Civilization a “flunk-out” class. That term sure stood the test of time. So the blog’s name gives it an academic signature.

Now, back to “time.”

This week I arrived at the annual meeting for the Potter College of Arts & Letters promptly at 10 a.m. — 24 hours early. I could have sworn it was Wednesday.

Nope, Tuesday.

So I clung to the last vestiges of my summer signature — not knowing or really caring what day it was — as I walked back to my office while listening to the cicadas provide a backdrop to a cacophony of other sounds: marching band instruments and instructions to the players delivered on a public address system; long lines of freshmen mastering the plan while chatting, huffing and puffing, laughing and grousing; cell phone chirps, followed by “Hey, Mom”; the clock tower chimes; construction noises; and lawn mowers.

And I started wondering again.

What will the new academic year bring? How many “new academic years” do I have left in me? What can I do to (improve, tolerate, avoid, better understand, withstand, appreciate, mitigate, invigorate . . . ) “Western Civilization WKU” and all that comes with it?

Time will tell.

James McMurtry sings this refrain in his tune “No More Buffalo”:

“No more buffalo, blue skies or open road
“No more rodeo, no more noise
“Take this Cadillac, park it out in back
“Mama’s calling, put away the toys.”

The summer is over, friends. Mama WKU is calling.

Time to put away the toys.
(For more about Mac, search the menu for “About” and “Who is this guy?”)