Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 9.

Seery writes beautifully about the ideal of a liberal arts college:

The smallness facilitates face-to-face forms of teaching and learning. It thus showcases an interactive mix of personalism, relationalism, and localism. Persons get to know each other as unique individuals, as part of this unique class here-and-now, as part of this particular college, a college like no other, situated in this part of the country, with these or that local and regional distinguishing features, customs, and aspirations. You don’t just take a Shakespeare class from some carbon-copy, transportable, standard-issue Shakespeare professor. Rather, you take that particular Shakespeare course because it’s being taught by a professor who has become a local celebrity of sorts (but unsung otherwise) because of the way she’s taught the course, with scholarly insights and idiosyncratic twists and inventive accommodations, always displaying a teacherly attentiveness that takes into crucial account the indispensably unique individuals in front of her in that particular class in that particular year. Over time the course becomes steeped in surrounding local traditions and lore, and in turn creates its own tradition and lore, radiating outward from her teaching brilliance, which then contributes to the overall character of the college. Such a classroom is the moral center of the college. Everything else is ancillary.

Indeed. But you can be certain that the next Williams president will agree with every word, as she should.

Seery offers limited advice:

Pause to ponder this well: many American small colleges are in a death spiral (admittedly not Pomona and other elite schools) precisely during a period when presidential salaries are zooming skyward. It doesn’t have to be this way. I pinch myself with gratitude after every seminar with my students. The classroom is and must be the moral center of a college. That’s where the action is. That’s where the priorities must be placed. That’s what must be protected and promoted. We need college leadership that believes in providing the right kind of modern bang for the buck, with budgetary sobriety starting at the top.

And the Patriots lost the Super Bowl “during a period when” Mars was in Scorpius. Two true facts often have nothing to do with one another. That third tier liberal arts colleges are failing (true) has no connection with rising (and absurd) presidential salaries at places like Pomona/Williams.

Nothing resembling “budgetary sobriety” is on the horizon. The only (likely forlorn) hope is that a visionary board/president institute following policies:

1) Fix the current number of non-faculty employees at its current level. EphBlog was recommending that policy 13 years ago. The Trustees should not micro-manage the institution, but fixing the headcount is a perfect trustee-level way of attacking the problem.

2) Ratchet down the total number of non-faculty employees by 1% each year. More than 1% of the staff leave each year, either via retirement or voluntary departure, so this would require no firings. A 1% drop each year is imperceptible, but, in a decade or two, we will have made real progress.

3) Recruit the faculty to do more. Lots of faculty have no interest in anything but their teaching and research. And that is OK! But dozens of faculty would be eager to take a turn as, say, an assistant Dean of the College or assistant Provost.

What concrete advice would readers have for Seery?

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