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?”)


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