10 October 2008

Plotting a Coup

Sorry for the disappearing trick--work, class, life, blah blah....

As a newly dubbed member of my alma mater's alumni association board of directors (wow that's a mouthful), I am gearing up for my first board meeting later this month. Long before becoming a "director", plotting began. My mentor and I have been seriously concerned with the state of the university and particularly the History Department AND the University Archives.

In the past decade the school has focused on growth outside it's traditional roots--into the health sciences and all the buildings that go with that. The Arts and Sciences (and particularly the History Dept) have largely been left to their own devices. Yes, there is a new building, but that's really a cosmetic band-aid covering a weakend department. One of the long-time professors retired. Some say he cut and run (and rightfully so). He had fostered an Institute that was perfect for the school and it's location in a city wrought with Civil War history. That Institute has languished since his departure. His replacement? Not real sure what her strength is.

The University Archives, if you can call them that, should be a source of pride and cultivation. It should be the center for the school's records retention policy but also the lifeblood of the school's past. However, it occupies a room the size of a small classroom, has no funding, no dedicated fulltime staff and the school has no records retention policy--well, that we can find. Again, a school so enveloped in Civil War history, it should be flourishing.

Thus, I have taken it upon my shoulders to drawing attention to, via my board membership, a few things:

1. With the economic crisis, what are the school's plans for "holding the line" but yet attracting and enrolling students who are willing to pay the private school tuition?

2. If the school honestly does not have a records retention policy, then a committee should be formed from alumni, trustees, faculty, and outside archival professionals to create one.

3. What are the goals for the Arts and Sciences department?

There are more but you get the gist of it all. This is a time for the school to tighten the belt, pull up the bootstraps and hunker down for the long haul. They need to focus on the heart of the school--liberal arts education--and pour energies into rebuilding a stable, sound and attractive history program that teaches the kids about sound research and writing skills and provides practical experience (ie see university archives).

The years coming up are going to see a hiring freeze and yet large numbers of baby boomers retiring from a variety of academic and federal history program jobs. BUT, opportunities are going to still exist and giving these students of history a leg up is going to be the edge the school can exploit--if it so chooses.

Off to the family homestead where the leaves are just beautiful this year....

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