AU REPORT |
Deans await sale of bonds
Survey shows alumni support for AU
Loan changes aid students
Renovating food courts
Construction workers J. Robert Fite, left, and Kyle Meadows drill into the former University Club in War Eagle Food Court to install a fume hood for the new Chick-Fil-A in the food court. The workers are employed by Parker Building Co. of Auburn, one of several local contractors renovating campus cafeterias for Sodexho Marriott, which recently contracted with AU to provide food services to campus.
Renovating food courts
Provost candidates interviewing on campus this week
The finalists are Fredrick Dobney, executive vice president and provost of Michigan Technological University, and William Walker, interim AU provost and vice president for academic affairs. Dobney's session was scheduled for 3:15 p.m Monday in Broun Hall auditorium, and Walker's meeting was set for 3:15 p.m. Thursday in Foy 203.
Dobney has been in his current post and has been a professor of social sciences at Michigan Tech, a 6,300 student Carnegie-classified Doctoral II institution, since 1993. He previously held joint academic and administrative positions at Washington State, Loyola (New Orleans) and St. Louis universities. He holds a bachelor's degree from Baylor University and a Ph.D. from Rice University.
Walker has served in the interim post since September 1998. He had been dean of the College of Engineering and a professor of mechanical engineering at AU since 1988. He served as a faculty member at Rice University from 1965-1988, with overlapping experience as an engineer and executive in industry throughout that period. He holds an associate's degree from Arlington State College in Texas, bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University.
Deans await word on agriculture bonds
Citing the loss of $100 million in the General Fund budget due to an
unfavorable court ruling on the state's business franchise tax, the
governor's office has placed a temporary hold on issuance of the bonds.
A major share of the funds will help finance construction of new facilities in AU's colleges ofAgriculture and Veterinary Medicine and School of Forestry. Other proceeds will go toward upgrading the state diagnostics lab across from Wire Road from the College of Veterinary Medicine and construction of agricultural facilities at Alabama A&M and Tuskegee universities.
Before selling new bonds, Gov. Don Siegelman has said, the state must first find a way to replace the $100 million the General Fund budget will lose next year. The loss of revenue is expected because of a Supreme Court ruling that Alabama's franchise tax on out-of state businesses is unconstitutional.
In an effort to find a replacement for the lost revenue, Siegelman has announced plans to call a special session of the Legislature in late summer or early fall.
However, state Finance Director Henry Mabry has cautioned that the general fund may not be able to handle payments on the agriculture bonds even after the franchise tax problem is solved. Mabry said funding availability may depend on a better-than-expected increase in tax revenues in coming months.
Buddy Mitchell, AU's executive director of governmental affairs, said he and other Auburn officials are trying to convince the governor to move ahead with sale of the bonds. Interest payments on the bond issue would be less than $5 million a year, he noted.
Buildings farthest along in planning, and thus most affected by a delay in
funding, are a poultry science building in the College of Agriculture and a
new large animal teaching hospital in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
A new building for the School of Forestry also could be impacted if the
funding delay extends into next year, said Forestry Dean Richard Brinker.
All the buildings depend on the state money to leverage private and federal funding that the university has either secured or is seeking.
Agriculture Dean Luther Waters said he is trying to make sure that $6 million in federal funds will still be available.
"The poultry science building is pretty far along," he said. "Funds from other sources might go away if these funds are delayed very long. We are doing our best to ensure that that does not happen."
The bond issue, when it proceeds, will provide $15 million for facilities improvements and construction in the College of Agriculture. Of that amount, $5.5 million will go toward construction of the approximately $15 million poultry science building.
Other parts of the bond issue will go toward a beef teaching unit, a meats
lab, a swine research center and Experiment Station units.
Forestry Dean Richard Brinker said the school is developing plans for its new building and looks to the state bond issue proceeds to generate more interest among potential donors. The School of Forestry is slated to receive $7 million from the bond issue and needs $8 million more to construct the building. Brinker noted that the school will receive $4 million from the federal government if suitable progress is made by Oct. 1, 2000.
College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Timothy Boosinger said the delay in getting $7.5 million from the bond issue is creating uncertainty for planners of the $33 million teaching hospital.
However, he added, the college is going ahead with plans for the building's
groundbreaking this fall. If funds are further delayed, the actual starting
date for construction could be delayed well into next year, he added.
"I'm excited about the project, and it's just a matter of when," Boosinger said. "I'm disappointed to have delays, but on a more positive note, it will give us more time to complete the private fund raising."
Spirit of Excellence
Spirit of Excellence awards are presented monthly by the university to staff and administrative/professional employees who have excelled in their positions. Recipients for June were, from left, Joe Shellnut of Small Animal Surgery and Medicine, Geneva Cannon of Facilities, Cedron Wynn of Telecommunications and Pat Manos of the Department of Communication.
VP for Outreach sees challenge, value in survey
"With 14 public four-year institutions and over 30 two-year institutions in this state, to have half the people in Alabama indicate that they are affected by Auburn's outreach and extension programs is quite encouraging," Wilson said.
"While we are happy that approximately 50 percent of the people are using Auburn's outreach services, our goal is to reach 100 percent of Alabamians," he added. "So we are not completely satisfied with the results.
"I would like for the next survey in three or four years to show us reaching at least 75 percent of the people in Alabama and for this number to continue to climb after that," Wilson said.
The statewide survey of adult Alabama residents was conducted by the
Survey Research Laboratory of the Center for Governmental Services, which is an Outreach unit. The survey was based on a questionnaire developed in University Relations and was financed by AU Outreach and University Relations.
The survey's results are based on telephone responses by 400 randomly selected adult Alabamians in April by the Center for Governmental Services' Survey Research Laboratory. A CGS report states that the same survey would be expected to produce the same results, within plus or minus 5 percent, 95 times out of 100.
Wilson said his office will use data from the survey to refine Outreach marketing efforts and identify population segments for expansion of service. One of those areas, he said, is the state's African American population.
Comparison of answers between white and black respondents confirmed that African Americans perceive less of a connection to Auburn than whites feel toward the university. As a result, African Americans rate AU lower and are less supportive of funding increases for Auburn than are whites.
More than 93 percent of whites surveyed agreed that AU provides essential services to the state, compared to 81 percent of African Americans. Similarly, nearly 90 percent of whites agreed that the state receives a good return for its investment in Auburn, a sentiment shared by 76 percent of blacks.
However, 86 percent of whites expressed opinions favorable to AU
research and 84 percent did so for AU academics, while 66 percent of
blacks did so in both categories.
"Certainly if there is an area where we have to improve our image, it is in the African American community," said Wilson. "There is a need to inform this community more fully about Auburn's academic programs, research and outreach opportunities.
"Overall, we need to do a better job showing African Americans that Auburn University is tremendously important to the state," he said.
DeMent: Survey shows importance of alumni in building support for AU
A recent survey on the image of Auburn University within Alabama points out the importance of Auburn alumni in building support for the university within the state, says Betty DeMent, vice president for Alumni and Development.
In a statewide survey by the AU Center for Governmental Services, 81 percent of the respondents agreed that Auburn graduates play an important role in the respondent's community and half agreed that AU graduates play an important role in the respondent's line of work.
"It is good to see that the people of Alabama recognize the positive impact Auburn graduates have on their communities and in their professions," said DeMent. "Faculty and students need to be aware of how important an active alumni base is for the university."
DeMent said the survey points out that alumni and their families are loyal and effective advocates for Auburn throughout the state. "Auburn alumni are proud of the university and are often influential in their communities and in their professions," she added. "The survey results bear this out and they show how important it is for us to maintain good communications with the alumni."
The survey's findings will provide insights as Alumni and Development
seeks ways to expand its communications with alumni, she added.
With 66,000 AU graduates throughout Alabama and many in leadership roles, they would be hard for other state residents to ignore, she said.
"The people in those communities, businesses and professions see Auburn alumni in leadership roles in their professions and in their communities, as well as at the state level."
One reason that Auburn received high ratings in virtually all categories of the survey, she said, is that Auburn alumni and their families are very supportive of Auburn in their communities.
"Our alumni are an important constituency, and the farther you get from campus, the more important they become," she added. "It is important that we keep them informed about the university, because they are the university's best ambassadors in their local communities."
Approximately 20 percent of the survey's respondents had a family member who attended Auburn. Those respondents showed a greater familiarity with AU and were more supportive of the university in their responses than the general public.
While 90 percent of persons without an Auburn connection agreed that Auburn provides essential services to the state, and 80 percent of those without an Auburn connection agreed with the statement that Auburn is one of the best universities in the nation, responses were even higher from those family included Auburn alumni.
Of those with family connections to Auburn, 98 percent said AU provides essential services to the state, and 89 percent rate Auburn among the best universities in the nation.
One area which could affect state funding for Auburn is the public's perception of return on investment. Although 94 percent of those with family ties to Auburn and 86 percent of those without such ties agreed that the state receives a good return on its investment in Auburn, there was a major difference between the two groups in their level of agreement.
While a slim majority, 52 percent, of those without a family connection to Auburn strongly agreed that Auburn provides a good return for its investment, three-fourths of those with Auburn family ties strongly agreed with the statement. Compared to those holding strong beliefs, the 34 percent of those without family ties to AU and the 19 percent of those with such ties would be less likely to take action in support of their beliefs. Thus, persons with family ties to Auburn would be more predisposed to contact legislators or take other action on behalf of additional state funding for Auburn.
Questions about funding illustrated sharp differences between respondents with and those without family ties to Auburn. Almost two thirds, 65 percent, of those with family ties to AU felt that Auburn should receive increased financial support from the state. Less than half, 47 ypercent, of those without family ties to the university felt the same way.
Gaps between persons with and without Auburn connections revealed in those questions illustrate the importance of maintaining close ties to Auburn alumni, said DeMent.
"Auburn alumni and their families are immensely loyal to the university, and they are often the voice of Auburn in their communities," she said. "Anything we can do to improve communication with our alumni will have implications for Auburn's support by the state as a whole."
The results are based on telephone responses by 400 randomly selected adult Alabamians in April by the Center for Governmental Services' Survey Research Laboratory. A CGS report states that the same survey would be expected to produce the same results, within plus or minus 5 percent, 95 times out of 100.
Loan changes mean savings for students Approximately 15,000 Auburn students receiving federal government Direct Loans for their college expenses may be eligible for savings under recent changes to the program starting in the fall, says Kaye Storey, AU's director of student financial aid.
Storey says the largest savings for the students will be realized through a 1 percent reduction in the Direct Loan origination fee.
"That's definitely where the greatest savings will be," she said. "So far this year, we have paid out $43.7 million in student loans. If you figure the savings just from that amount, it would be $436,933 over approximately 15,000 students."
Other changes in the law will allow students to save 0.25 percent for paying off loans electronically and 0.6 percent for consolidating loans from the government with those from other lenders while they are in school or during the grace period before they enter loan repayment.
Storey said her office just received detailed information on the changes to the program and will work to see that all AU students are aware of savings for which they may be eligible.
"We will see that the word of these changes and what they can save our students is well disseminated," she said.
Nationally, more than 2 million students will be eligible to save an average of $631 on their direct student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Each student will save an estimated $100 on the origination fee, $157 for the electronic debit reduction and $374 after consolidation.
The newly announced discounts are similar to those now offered to students by lenders under the Federal Family Education Loan program and will help bring parity to the two programs.
Under the Direct Loan program, students borrow money for college and other postsecondary education directly from the federal government through their schools. Under the FFEL program, students borrow through banks and other third-party lenders, which, in turn, receives guarantees against default from the federal government. The Direct Loan program began in the 1994-95 school year and now accounts for about one-third of all student loans.
Flynt honored by Southern Baptist Historical Society
Wayne Flynt, a distinguished University Professor at Auburn, has been awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Southern Baptist Historical Society.
The award the society's highest honor recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to the cause of Baptist history, said Charles Deweese, executive director of the Southern Baptist Historical Society.
Established in 1982, the award is also given to those who motivate others to greater achievements and who promote a greater awareness and appreciation of Baptist heritage among Southern Baptists.
The Southern Baptist
Historical Society is a voluntary, non-profit, religious organization
committed to the preservation and communication of Baptist history to
individuals, churches, and interested organizations.
"Wayne was a natural choice for this award," Deweese said. "He stands out as a Baptist layman and as a strong scholar of history with deep interest in the Baptist denomination."
Flynt is the author of numerous books, including two about Baptists. The first, written in 1997, was Taking Christianity to China: Alabama Missionaries in the Middle Kingdom, 1850-1950. The second, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, was written last year to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
Flynt has been active in the historical commissions in Alabama and with the Southern Baptist Convention. He served on the Historical Commission with the Southern Baptist Convention for eight years, two years as chairman; and 10 years as a member of the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission, one year as chairman.
The selection committee also mentioned Flynt's work in directing 16 theses and dissertations by college students that dealt with Baptist history.
An ordained Baptist minister, Flynt is a professor of history at AU and is widely cited by other historians as an expert in the history of the United States, the South and in American religion.
Archives opens Nichols tapes to public
The recorded interviews on Nichols' youth, student days at Auburn,
military career during World War II, work in the Alabama Legislature and
service in Congress and a 387-page bound transcript were closed to the
public following his death in 1988, but were recently made available for
research, says university Archivist Dwayne Cox.
Cox says the interviews cover such subjects as Watergate, the Vietnam war, the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Alabama politics and the late Auburn football coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan.
"My favorite of the interviews is on how Nichols was wounded during World War II and his long process of recovery," Cox said.
The interviews, which took place over an 18-year period beginning in 1970, were conducted by Cox, retired University Archivist Allen Jones and the late AU history professor Ed Williams.
The oral history is part of a larger collection of Nichols' papers, which he began donating to AU in 1966.
Born in 1918 in Sylacauga, Nichols was the son of a vocational agriculture teacher who eventually became principal at Sylacauga High School. He came to Auburn in 1935 on a football scholarship, majored in agriculture and received ROTC artillery training. After earning a bachelor's degree in 1939 and a master's degree in 1941, Nichols became an assistant farm agent in Autauga County.
He served in World War II as a gunnery officer in the 45th Field Artillery in Europe and lost a leg in combat.
After the war, he returned to Sylacauga as a salesman. In 1959, he entered politics, winning election as a Democrat to the Alabama House and in 1963 to the Alabama Senate.
Three years later, Nichols won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he held until his death in 1988. He served on AU's Board of Trustees from 1968 until his death.
Doctors can earn MBA through Auburn program
The Auburn Physicians Executive MBA program, which will be launched fall quarter 1999, will be restricted to physicians, says Robert Niebuhr, director of the PEMBA program.
"Physicians are in a different ballgame," Niebuhr said. "They can't just depend on an administrator to make decisions about how they want to grow their practice. Physicians have developed very strong clinical skills, but have not had the need previously to develop business skills."
About two dozen students are expected to enroll this fall in the new program, which has been marketed through direct mail, newspaper and medical journal advertising and presentation to various groups in the healthcare industry.
Kim Kuerten, assistant director of the AU College of Business MBA programs, says the PEMBA program is modeled after the successful Executive MBA program begun in 1998 by the College of Business.
The PEMBA program is also an offshoot of a certificate continuing education program for physicians that was administered by AU and the Southern Medical Association.
"One of the real selling points of the PEMBA has been our relationship
with SMA," said Niebuhr, noting that doctors who enroll in the PEMBA will
earn 40 continuing medical education hours through the two residency
Recognizing that the continuing education program taught many general business basics, Kuerten said, "We decided to design an actual degree program for physicians."
Physicians with MBAs are becoming much more common, she says.
"There's a fair number of programs for health care providers, but there's
not that many certified, accredited MBA programs for physicians."
Two of the better known are at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but neither has the same model as Auburn's.
The Auburn program was designed to accommodate doctors who may have difficulty leaving their practice for more than a couple of days a week, said Kuerten.
"Instead of meeting every other weekend or in the evenings like most other PEMBA programs, students will meet in Auburn for five Thursday through Sunday residency periods and participate in two week-long residencies -- one in London and the other in Washington, D.C.," she said.
The remainder of the course work will be taken via videotapes and Internet-based instruction.
Kuerten says many physicians who inquire about the MBA program are asking, "What am I going to be able to do when I'm through and have an MBA?"
"It will equip them to more effectively manage their practices, understand the managed-care environment, create and implement new financial plans and more efficiently manage an integrated healthcare delivery system," she said.
And Kuerten added that some physicians "may view it as a stepping stone into hospital or HMO administration or out of medicine completely."
The Auburn PEMBA includes six distance learning courses fundamentals of economics, statistics, fundamentals of accounting, healthcare finance, advanced corporate finance and health services marketing. The five campus residency courses are behavioral management, managed health care environment, finance and strategic management. The eight-day London residency will focus on comparative healthcare systems, while the eight-day Washington residency will teach legal/financial aspects of healthcare systems.
"This is the same core as an MBA curriculum, but we've tailored the cases
and examples and structure towards healthcare," said Kuerten.
Auburn's program is priced at $45,000, which includes tuition, books, lodging and meal expense for all residencies and airfare for the London and Washington residencies.
Pharmacy faculty member warns of Y2K side-effects
With Jan. 1, 2000 less than six months away, an Auburn University professor says the threat of millennium bug computer shutdowns is already being felt along the pharmaceutical supply chain.
"There's a certain group of people out there expecting the worst," said Bill Felkey, an associate professor of pharmacy care systems in AU's School of Pharmacy. "They are worried that computer problems caused by the millennium bug might result in unavailability of medicines they need. And these concerns are causing ripples along the chain that includes the patient, physician, pharmacist and insurance provider."
Felkey, who has worked closely with computer vendors in his capacity at AU, says he personally expects few glitches in the industry after Jan. 1. But, he says, with patients' concerns causing some to change their prescription regimen, the pharmaceutical industry has been forced to address the issue.
"One of the main problems is that some patients are planning to guard against
running out of their medicines -- which they may, in some cases, need to live -- by cutting back on their dosages now and stockpiling some of their them," Felkey said.
"Lives could be endangered by this kind of approach. It's a very real problem that has had to be addressed."
Felkey said an increasing number of pharmacists are seeing patients seeking refills before they are due or requesting that their prescriptions be increased in number or volume.
"In many cases, these changes can't be made without the physician's involvement," Felkey said. "If a decision is made to allow the change, then it causes a bump in the demand on the manufacturer. Plus, it could result in an exceedance of the cap that certain insurance providers have on what they'll pay for, either over a year of coverage or in a single prescription. So everyone in the chain has had to make some modifications."
But Auburn Pharmacy Alumni Association president Becky Jones-Sorrell, who practices at Ritch's Pharmacy in Mountain Brook, says few of her patients are concerned about Y2K problems.
"We've had a couple to ask questions," said Jones-Sorrell. "We try to reassure them that the manufacturers normally keep a 60-day supply ahead of the market and they have insured us that they are ready for Y2K. We have had some -- like heart patients or kidney patients who absolutely have to have their prescription -- who indicated they would like extra medicine in case something happened, but not to the degree of having six months or a year's supply like I've heard about in the media."
Still, Felkey says legislation has been passed in some states to prevent insurance providers from prohibiting by policy extended drug benefits. In addition, a Task Force on Y2K and Pharmaceuticals was created as part of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. Last month, the task force released a report which stressed steps the industry had taken to prevent against any Y2K glitches and its readiness for any problems that may be caused by the millennium bug.
"The pharmaceutical industry has emergency response plans in place and extensive past experience in using these plans in handling disruptions caused by severe weather, transportation, or other unforeseen circumstances," the report read. "Government and organizations within the supply system that manufacture, purchase, distribute and provide prescription and nonprescription medicines and medical supplies are continuing to work together to further enhance contingency planning for Y2K-specific issues."
And Felkey knows first-hand how much time the pharmaceutical-related computer
firms have devoted to assuring Y2K compliance.
"As I have tried to work with the computer industry over the last two months, I have been unable to get enhancements on products because all of the attention is focused on Y2K," Felkey said. "It is critical to the mission of the pharmacist for us to be ready for this bug. Everybody in the entire system is sensitive to the fact that patients will want to have this extra drug on hand."
Felkey and the President's Council report both recommend that patients concerned
about drug availability talk with their pharmacist and their physician.
"Both would have to be involved in allowing a change in the normal flow of medicine to the patient," Felkey said.
New book presents works by Alabama women
A new book of short stories and poems by Alabama women features works by Auburn University faculty, staff and students.
The book, Ordinary and Sacred As Blood: Alabama Women Speak, was edited by Mary Carol Moran, who teaches writing classes for AU's Outreach program.
A two-year resident of Alabama, Moran met many of the women whose writings are in the book through the class Novel Writer's Workshop she teaches for AU's Outreach program. She met others through different writing groups.
"I was so impressed by the quality of Alabama writers and got the idea to put something together," she said.
The 75 authors are well-represented statewide and range in age from 15 to 90, she says. "Housewives and doctors and professors and retired accountants have contributed to the book and their words are funny, outrageous, poignant and pointed, and are always genuine."
Moran said that when she was putting the book together, she looked for "honest writing, that more than polished writing. I was looking for people who had opinions and who wanted to express them.
"What I found was a lot of ladies who have strong stories to tell."
Natasha Trethewey, an assistant professor of English at Auburn, has five pieces in the book, and a historical picture of her family appears on the book's front cover. Trethewey, who recently won a prestigious 1999 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, is writing a book based on some earlier short stories and poems she had written.
For Alison Franks, secretary to College of Liberal Arts Dean John Heilman, this is her first time to publish her work. The short story that appears in the book, titled Yes, was taken from a memoir titled Messages for Savannah she wrote for her granddaughter.
Franks said while she has always kept a journal, it wasn't until she took a class from Judy Troy, a professor of English at AU, in 1996 that she was really encouraged to write.
"Judy and others encouraged me to take my journals and gather up all the
stories," Franks said. When she finished she had the 180-page book bound
and gave it to immediate family members. "I wanted Savannah to know
who we were, so I started with when I was born and told her stories,
about my mother, my father, her mother, her uncle and about our lives."
Temporary employees Ora Maurer and Diann Greene also have pieces in the book. Maurer, who writes using her maiden name Ora Dark, has only been writing two years. She is currently working on her first novel, and has been commissioned to write a humorous book as well.
Greene, who combines her maiden name, Kenney, with her married name,
when she writes, is currently writing a novel loosely based on her
In addition, AU students Van Potter, Lauren Kenney and Kimberly D. Martz, also have pieces in the book.
Theatre's summer starts July 15
AU Theatre will present the play "A Tuna Christmas" this week and next as the first of two SummerStage '99 productions.
"A Tuna Christmas," directed by Professor Will York, is a hilarious comedy based on the original play "Greater Tuna." The two actors in the play will be portraying 22 characters, male and female, which means fast costume changing. The play is set in the town of Tuna, Texas.
All shows are in Telfair Peet Theatre and start at 7:30 p.m.
Two types of tickets are available. Tickets which include dinner before the play are $25. Dinner at Horizons in the AU Hotel and Conference Center is served at 5:30. Tickets for the play only are $10. For tickets, call 844 4154.
The second play in the series, "My Three Angels," will be Aug. 5-7. Based
on "La Cuisine Des Anges" by Albert Husson and directed by Professor
Ralph Miller, the comedy examines the efforts of three escaped convicts
who rescue a family from ruin by con artists.
Is there time for intellectual discussions?
By Herbert Jack Rotfeld, Professor, Marketing
After almost thirty years at the university, Evan had not published a page of research. He stuck his head into Hal's office and asked the junior faculty member, "Have time for an intellectual discussion." They killed almost two hours.
They weren't at a major research university, but that didn't stop many
business faculty at the mid-sized regional state school from thinking and
discussing ideas. Inside the dean's suite of offices was a large room that
always had fresh coffee where many faculty, department heads and even
the dean would stop by to discuss books, ideas and news. Business
students had almost all their classes on the first floor of the building; the
upper-three office floors surrounded a central core of lounge chairs in
which students would relax, study or sometimes sleep between classes.
The easy access to faculty offices meant that many students would also stop by to talk with current or past teachers and some faculty would themselves sometimes just wander into the area and talk.
Unfortunately, not all faculty enjoyed this arrangement. Oh, they'd hold
office hours for students, but they had textbooks to write or consulting
reports to complete (mostly the latter). They didn't want to be bothered by
conversation. After three years, Hal's contract was terminated by a vote
of the tenured faculty. He had published some research, more than most of
his colleagues. He was not a superstar in the classroom, but acceptable.
Not seeing the inherent contradiction, the chair told Hal that his desires for conversations were a distraction to colleagues and they felt he would be better off at a school where he could just work alone on his research.
So he went to a research school, in fact several. But he never enjoyed any
place as much as that first teaching-oriented university. But even there,
things changed over time. Pressures increased, faculty egos grew and
younger faculty did not seem to enjoy old talkers like Evan.
In his autobiography, Tinker in Television, former NBC network president and creator of the MTM production studios Grant Tinker gave a perspective on the "management" of his creative business. Like the academy, good television traffics in ideas.
And when he sold MTM, the new managers quickly installed automatic door closers on all the offices, a factor that discouraged employee interaction and which he saw as the beginning of the end of that enterprise's success. People were no longer talking to each other. They seemed more productive and more "work" was done. But the thinking had come to an end. Within a few years, MTM was no longer an innovator or leader in television production.
And increasingly, many universities are no longer intellectual environments. The pressures are too great and there are too many things to do. Talking is a luxury. Ideas are a distraction. And more offices now have door closers.
Elsewhere, since the book discussion group was in a campus town, most
members were university faculty. Various forms of literature were
discussed every month by chemists, engineers and a business professor or
two. The English faculty were asked one day if the group was too much
like work for them, but it wasn't. Who had time? Teaching classes, grading
papers and meeting the demands for research output proved time
consuming, and the book group gave them the only outlet for thinking about
literature beyond the demands of work.
So the general question must be asked of all educators: Do you read things other than journals or textbooks or business news? Do you discuss political magazines and books with new ideas unrelated to your work?
In Allegra Goodman's novel, The Family Markowitz, one brother worked for a U.S. university and the other sold antiques in Britain. Both were scholars and intellectuals, but intellectual pursuit was more the life of the brother working in England. At the American-based university, it had become drudge work, a burdensome job, and no one talked with him about anything. There is too much to do. Research seminars were narrow, too few and more set for showing off than discussion.
Of course, many students complain if the teachers expect too much thinking, writing on the all-important student evaluations that "Too many quizzes force me to do all of the readings for each class and take up too much time. We have other things to do with our lives besides study." And the most popular faculty often are the ones that agree with this view. A student told his favorite teacher while some of his classmates disliked the class. "They have a problem with you because you're different. You want them to think."
In theory, faculty are paid to publish research because it feeds to their teaching. Not necessarily that it makes a person a better teacher per se (because that entails all sorts of things with presentations, style and so on), but because it keeps them current and involved with the "cutting edge" of the work. Many universities encourage research because of the prestige involved with certain researchers, but for most, research stands as little more than a force to keep the faculty from having their knowledge of the material drift into the nethersphere while their minds slowly churn into the dendrite capability of cottage cheese.
And therein lies the frustration for this work. Faculty are paid to interact with students, but how much they are paid depends on what they do when students aren't around. The job once meant "thinking for a living," but the pressures for output and measurements of "productivity" and other counting what research was done, there is no time to "discuss." Ideas are too abstract and no one can measure what is thought. As in Goodman's novel, to find happiness as a scholar might mean not taking on the life as a job description.
Faculty are to be researchers and teachers. But at too many modern schools, this does not mean "scholars" or "intellectuals." There's just not enough time. And today, no one seems to want to spend two hours on an idle discussion of ideas.
B>* * *
Campus Views columns are made available for the expression of views by AU faculty and staff. Views expressed in each Campus Views column are those of the writer and are independent of official university policy.
Kimberly Aston, Student Affairs specialist
This week's Unsung Hero is Kimberly Aston, student affairs specialist III in the Admissions Office, where she has been employed for two years. She was asked:
What do you do in your current job? "I supervise 25-plus student tour guides, coordinate mass mailings and plan/coordinate all travel for the Admissions Advisors who recruit prospective students."
What is the most rewarding part of your job? "It is rewarding to me to get through a Fall quarter of rigorous travel coordinating and still manage to get all the recruiters where they need to go without making any mistakes."
What is the most challenging part of your job? "Supervising students can be a challenge at times, and its always important to me to be sure my recruiters are well taken care of on the road."
If you were not doing this job, what would you most like to do?
"I would love to be able to travel all over the world (who wouldn't?)."
What makes Auburn special? "You don't realize how lucky we are to have friendly people and a safe environment to live in until you go to a campus/town that isn't so blessed."
What was your first impression of Auburn University? "Walking on campus as an AU employee for the first time was very invigorating because of its beauty and the feeling that I am a part of something special."
How has that impression changed? "It hasn't changed much. This campus will always be beautiful and invigorating and I am still proud to be a part of AU."
What words best describe Auburn as a work environment, learning environment or just a place to be? " Beautiful, challenging, safe, enjoyable, friendly..."
What do you like to do when not at work? "I keep busy doing all sorts of activities with my friends and family. A typical weekend could consist of taking my daughter somewhere she enjoys to go, a good game of darts with friends and enjoying the weekly NASCAR race. I also like to work out at the gym, but don't get to as much as I need to."
What person or persons do you most admire and why? "I admire people who put a smile on the faces of others. One of my favorite things to do is make people laugh."
What is your favorite line from the Auburn Creed and why? "'I
believe in honesty and truthfulness, without which I cannot win the
respect and confidence of my fellow men.' I try to do to others as I would
have them do to me."
Editor: Roy Summerford. Contributing editors: Bob Lowry, Janet McCoy and David Granger. University Relations Executive Director: Pete Pepinsky. The AU Report is the faculty/staff newsletter of Auburn University and is published by the Office of University Relations at Auburn University. Direct correspondence to AU Report, 23 Samford Hall, Auburn University, Ala. 36849-5109. Telephone 334/844-9999.Electronic mail: firstname.lastname@example.org