During my time at Mansfield University, I’ve served under five presidents and my department has been relocated four times. With the most recent move to North Hall, our campus’ “Old Main” I decided to go through all my files and collected stuff.
Nearly three decades of stuff.
The first thing I discovered is that there was a lot of things I didn’t need. I threw out about two-thirds of my holdings.
The second, and most important discovery: nothing changes.
I didn’t read everything, but I did go through selected memos, minutes and discussions that began for me in 1980.
The first president I served under was controversial. She was brought in to reduce the number of faculty. She did it in a blunt way, not consistent with the smooth, sometimes hypocritical way of higher ed or any top management.
When she got the job done, with pressure from the faculty union, she took another job. (Read fired.)
I won’t go through all the administrations. What struck me was memos back and forth between me and my superiors about budgets, staffing, needing more help and money to do the job they were asking me to do.
There are memos of me defending the public relations department. There are missives from me explaining that the results of PR cannot be bean counter quantified. (No one used the term ROI in 1985).
There are battles with a supervisor looking for ways to pressure me to leave.
There are also letters thanking me for the great job our department did publicizing their event.
I did not find one note congratulating us on getting our university into the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, USA Today, the dozens of Associated Press articles.
I did find notes that said we weren’t getting enough publicity for MU.
I found letters that said we were not touting our department’s accomplishments enough. I found about the same number that said I was a publicity hog for our department and myself.
From every decade I found memos that said we were in a budget crisis and would have to find ways to do more with less, to work more efficiently and effectively . . . . .
I found, and continue to get, memos declaring that we have to be more accountable.
I found five year presidential reports on how we’re going to move bravely into the future. Nowhere did I find a document showing that we accomplished all that we said we were going to do, except the Middle States Report.
Here’s the bottom line: The only thing that changed in three decades was the method of communication . Fifteen years worth of communications were done on typewriters and mimeograph machines. The last 15 were done on computers.
The human element–the hopes, dreams, successes, failures, the occasional lies, the infighting, rare congratulations, the bullying, stalling, the forging ahead or the fight for status quo — indeed, the human nature that hasn’t changed since Socrates, lay before me in tired piles of dusty files.
Human nature does not.
My conclusion? Do the best you can each day. Push for what you believe in. You’ll win some and lose some. At the end of the day the mark you leave will be forgotten but it will have helped the institution and contributed to your own intellectual and spiritual growth.
My new perspective was, in the end, liberating.