Education, Universities

UCF Program of Interim Studies

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020

Most common administrative title at UCF: “Interim”. We are about to have another one – Interim Head of Libraries – to add to the Interim President, Interim Provost, Interim Chief Financial Officer, and various other interims. And also, soon to be interim VP of Information Technology, who’s retiring in a few months.

This could be good, or could be bad. It will be good if there’s lots of new blood that can create a new administrative culture. One that’s able to look at things with new eyes, and not automatically default to “we’ve never done it that way before” or “the computers won’t let us do that” or “we can’t solve that problem without addressing a bunch of other things we don’t want to address” or some other way of keeping things exactly as they have been.

It could be bad, if this time of upheaval is just an opportunity for the craven and the Machiavellian to advance their own interests at the expense of the real needs of the university. It could be bad if this is the opportunity to “get back to our roots”, which here means turning into a technical and vocational school with little or no liberal arts. It could be bad if we end up with people who have little idea of who to talk to about what makes a university worth supporting, and instead just throw every idea at the wall to see what sticks.

We could grow up as a university, out of our arrogant adolescence, or we could double down on it, believing our own press releases about our greatness. We could decide to pay attention to models at other universities of academic and creative achievement, and build the structures to support that, or we could chase more metrics, get more bragging points, at the expense of long-term foundations.

Don’t know which way things will go. One thing I know – nothing will change without changing the governing metaphor of paternalism and patriarchalism which pervades this institution. Administration are not moms and dads to us, the faculty and staff, who are recalcitrant and disobedience children who must be brought into line and raised up to be good citizens.

It will take more than new faces and new blood to change that metaphor. But it could change, with the right people who realize its toxicity and are smart enough and strong enough to present a different way. So far, I’m not optimistic – whenever we get an announcement from the upper administration these days, we’re patted on the head, told that we’re good girls and boys and that we shouldn’t worry about all the turmoil going on, that’s just mommies and daddies fighting and they all still love us and we should keep on doing the things we’re doing.

With interims come opportunity, as a friend recently reminded me. I reminded him back, with interims comes a loss of memory. So let’s see what happens in this new UCF Program of Interim Studies.

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