What’s the Right Number of Faculty?

March 30, 2023

In 1996, when I started at SXU, we had eleven tenured or tenure-track faculty in English. Given the number of English majors at the time—not much more than our current number of 61—the university’s investment in our English programs was significant. It was evidence of a commitment to the liberal arts, to general education, to writing, and to secondary education. Regarding this last item: At the time I was the university’s only full-time, tenure track faculty member who worked as a discipline-based coordinator of a secondary education program. Over the years, secondary education coordinators were appointed in math and history; in other secondary education programs—science, music, art, and Spanish—faculty liaisons were identified, consulted, and made members of the Teacher Education Council, the policy making body of teacher education at SXU. The university had come to recognize—and promote and make investments in—the value of a close coordination of pedagogical and disciplinary knowledge and skills in educating a teacher. 

It wasn’t always a smooth process, as in those early days, my role was something of a peace-maker. Tensions arose between education colleagues and CAS professors, who sometimes seemed aloof and dismissive of pedagogical concerns; to many CAS colleagues the demands made by education faculty for program compliance often seemed arcane and intrusive. Such tensions between shared programs or forced unions among academics with different training and interests are common—though at SXU, the coordination grew into a collegial working relationship, as both sides came to see their mutual existence and efficacy as relying on one another.

I now find myself, once again, the only full-time, tenured/tenure track discipline-based faculty member who identifies his main duty as one of coordinating a CAS department’s secondary education program. I look back on the rise and fall of the university’s commitment to its education programs, as well as its investment in the liberal arts. The deprivations of the current scene leave me convinced there is a more balanced approach available. 

Trends in education, a favorite point of reference for our departing president, are important to study. But they must not be weaponized as “absolutes” to inspire fear and to justify extreme solutions (especially ones that don’t exactly fit our circumstances). We may need to make tough choices, but we need wisdom and information and goodwill to do so.

The problem facing faculty at SXU and elsewhere is that we are not always equipped with the necessary information to make sound choices about resources and investments, and certainly not at a comprehensive, or institutional, level. Even if we had access to detailed financial data (something that was more guaranteed when we had a union and the administration was obliged to share data in many areas), we would lack the expertise, and perhaps the perspective needed for wise decision making or advocacy. As Arunas, SXU’s patron saint of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), explained to me and others: “Administrators have a tough job; I wouldn’t want to do it. They work hard dealing with problems that have no clear or easy solutions. Faculty have their own jobs to do, and they cannot both do that job and also run the university.” 

The former union, when it worked well, provided a means of dialogue between faculty and administration in a way that systemized many balancing correctives. Collective bargaining typically brings this advantage, at least when it’s working well. In better days, we could collaborate in negotiating crucial matters like right-sizing the faculty and properly supporting individuals and programs. During negotiations from 2017-on, our union kept asking Dr. Joyner’s negotiators—principally her provosts, and there were many—Kathleen Alaimo, Suzanne Lee, James McLaren, Mike Marsden, Gwendolyn George, Angela Durante, and Saib Othman (though the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC, our union) only negotiated with the first three)—what number of faculty was right for SXU. What was the administration’s vision in terms of faculty composition? We never received a response.

It was perhaps a difficult question, possibly unanswerable in the context of the institution at that time, with a lot of variables: What kind of programs do we want? What do our students want? What are the trends? What standards exist or are inferable from other institutions? Despite the difficulties, the discussion of the question could have been productive.

The lack of any kind of dialogue on this matter left the administration a kind of carte blanche in simply pursuing, without the explicit announcement of such, the reduction in faculty in general as a kind of absolute end in itself. We have about 30% fewer faculty today than when Dr. Joyner began her presidency—but the more dangerous and insidious change has to do with the compositional change we’ve seen. We have lost many tenured colleagues—almost a 50% reduction in tenured member since Dr. Joyner’s arrival in 2017, with a similar reduction (i.e., nearly 50%) in tenure lines over that period.

Here is the legacy of Dr. Joyner’s presidency at Saint Xavier:


Please note that the year prior to this data set was 2015-2016, arguably our most traumatic period, when we lost almost 40 full time faculty in a single year. This was the height of the Gilbert crisis. Dr. Joyner entered after that exodus, and after the crisis had been paid for. Yet she continued to cut—reducing tenured and tenure track faculty by nearly 50% over her tenure.

The past several years, beginning in 2015 as SXU entered into what our departing president and the Board of Trustees call its “fragile” period, decisions have been made that have required “all hands on deck”—beginning with the opening of the CBA in 2015—and its subsequent openings two other times throughout the span of the 2015-2019 four-year contract. The Memos of Understanding (MOUs), three in total required reporting and collaboration at unprecedented levels. Faculty found themselves “running”—or approximating the running of the university, as we reviewed every expense, every outlay of cash, every plan, often contentiously with the administration. Through it all, the union lost favor with the faculty—possibly for being entangled in the weeds, possibly for breaking down in communication—but really, because the problems were so big—and it’s hard work “running the institution”—and we were only thinking along those lines, not actually doing it.

That was when we had access to data. Now we fly in the dark, something that wouldn’t be all that bad if we had trust in our administration. We don’t—and for good reasons, but not permanent reasons, one hopes. We need to get the trust back. The promise of a new administration should inspire some hope that “something better” might come along. How much worse can it get?

While faculty are not equipped to make decisions on every expenditure of institutional life, we are equipped to weigh in on the massive disinvestment in tenure and tenure lines that has been pursued by the Joyner administration. SXU’s disinvestment in its academic mission was so extreme that it caught the attention (via published IPEDS and other data that the university is required to report) of Matthew Hendricks of the University of Tulsa, who created a “dashboard” analyzing SXU’s finances in the context of student outcomes and administrative austerity. For a more mission-referenced discussion the impacts of the type of disinvestment that Hendricks analyzed, please read the talk by Dr. Mary Beth Tegan presented to faculty in a special meeting called to gauge faculty support for proposed program eliminations.

Why are we rushing to eliminate programs at this delicate transitional moment? Soon after Dr. Joyner’s announcement that she would be leaving SXU to become the next president of St. Norbert College, the movement to restructure SXU and eliminate several liberal arts programs kicked into overdrive. With the provost’s recent submission of his restructuring plan to Senate and the current fast-tracking of program closure proposals, it is clear to us that we are entering a deeper, darker, hotter circle of hell. The weaknesses of the plan have been referenced in several entries in this blog. But ultimately, those entries are, more or less, my opinions, despite the level of volume in the complaints.

We need better decisions, and, more importantly, better trust. We may not, ultimately, divine the exact right number of faculty for programs. But we can do better than we have been doing on this question. We can certainly refuse to accept the administration’s refusal to articulate their number; we can ask them to defend, if not justify, their plans and actions, which have left us decimated times 5 (if “decimated,” etymologically, is the destruction of one of ten, our nearly 50% reductions require a factor of 5).

Context on Faculty Concerns on Restructuring and Program Elimination

March 24, 2023

Stakeholders of Saint Xavier University, be they current students or alumni; faculty, staff, or administrators; trustees; colleagues in higher education; or other interested parties, will likely have questions about the heightened tensions surrounding discussions of program elimination and restructuring at our institution. This entry presents a kind of abstract of the faculty’s concerns on such matters, which seem to have entered the fast track in Spring 2023, soon after the announcement of Dr Joyner’s decision to leave SXU.

Admittedly, the characterizations below are largely one-sided and reflective of my views (though I have been in extensive discussion with many like-minded colleagues). The long opening listing of grievances and complaints, to be proved, would require much more presentation of facts and testimony to support the claims, both explicit and implicit. Such facts and evidence can be posted elsewhere. In the interests of fairness in regards to the current entry, I’ve left the comments on. Whoever you are, please feel welcome to post contrary or supportive or just varying viewpoints to help advance the discussion. [Note: because of bot-spamming, comment moderation is on, so there will be a delay before your comment can appear. All legitimate, human-generated comments will be approved for posting.]

In a nutshell, and in no particular order, here is a list of faculty complaints about restructuring that I have gleaned from colleagues:

The current administration’s plan for restructuring is weak in its research and its rationale. It is based on faulty premises about its viability and its necessity. It is riddled with flawed assumptions about the interests and needs of contemporary and potential students. It omits data, or misuses data, or cites questionable data processes to cast aspersions on programs that are strong—either in current reality or in obvious potential. It has been developed without faculty involvement in general, and, more specifically, outside the orbit of faculty governance processes (curriculum committees have been side-stepped). It has not gone through curricular review processes that could vet its premises, its possible advantages, and its potential pitfalls. It doesn’t take into account current or past students’ views of the value, purpose, and possibility of an SXU education. It plays games with simple counting of majors, dividing up obviously connected and supporting programs in ways to minimize the appearance of student need of course work in the areas targeted for discontinuation. It provides no data on savings, or costs, or any information that should inform program closure decisions. It shows only marginal and selective awareness of State laws governing program requirements in education programs. It shows a contempt for a liberal arts education, proposing to gut programs to unsustainable levels, up to the point of non-existence. 

Communication of their plan, when it has been presented, has been sketchy, often unannounced (as documents gradually appear on the portal), often posted late or last minute just before a meeting, often incomplete, and rarely open to dialogue. At meetings where dialogue is permitted, there is rarely any movement of positions—just digging in, with increases in volume on both sides. Some faculty have characterized the provost’s rhetoric as a mixture of gaslighting and recrimination and bureaucratic deflection (his general message being: these proposals have all been discussed and you can read them at the portal and the process has been followed, and now it’s time to move forward, and did I mention for the good of our students? etc., etc., etc.). A recurrent theme in his presentations to faculty is the rancorousness he perceives in discussion; faculty, on the other hand, view their asking of questions as an exercise of due diligence, but some admit coming into such meetings with an agenda to resist.

The stakes are high and tensions are taut on all sides—all the more reason for more and better engagement of all members, and more charity on the part of all involved. The provost’s repeated calls for respectful dialogue will lead, I hope, to respectful dialogue. But the provost’s implied accusation in such repetition should not cause faculty to hesitate in critiquing proposals that are flawed and potentially damaging. In its current proposals, the administration is attempting to restructure this institution in a radical way that will alter the character of a Saint Xavier University education, perhaps irreparably. Should we not talk this over—according to proper governance processes—and come to a consensus? The room for error at SXU, particularly after the very controversial and highly divisive presidency of Dr. Joyner, is minimal. But the opportunity for rebuilding, and on the basis of a shared purpose, perhaps, has never been greater.

The End of the English Teacher?

March 4, 2023

The recent New Yorker article on “The End of the English Major” is grief-inducing for many reasons, one of which might be that perhaps President Joyner was right all along to pursue the ruinous path of program closure she put us on.

Side Point: I don’t really believe that, as Joyner’s canned administrator-speak about national trends, and the demographic cliff, and the SXU brand, and distinctive value, etc. did not take into account our local conditions, our demographics, our market, our traditions, and our record of success in a variety of areas that she chose to disregard.

Whatever. It’s time to move on from Joyner—more on this later. The English major and the humanities might be destined for death—but even if they are, it won’t be an immediate death—and, in the interval, we have an opportunity to reconnoiter with fellow humanists in order to package and promote new versions of our studies that achieve some of the objectives of interdisciplinarity and critical thinking and contextualization in traditions, and … well, all the stuff and values we preach (and truly believe in, and not without cause). The pendulum swing away from the traditional disciplinary categories might swing back leaving some new combinations of categories. We may well create the innovative programs that our administration (along with many other administrations across higher education) has been clamoring for, (despite neglecting to provide support for such developments). The larger forces of the pendulum swing may offer a needed catalyst. Suspicions may arise, perhaps, that, in our (over-)reactions and (over-)adjustments to the phone/social-media/Internet era of the early 21st century, the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater.

In his New Yorker article, Nathan Heller describes the contemporary moment as a time when, “by most appearances, the appetite for public contemplation of language, identity, historiography, and other longtime concerns of the seminar table is at a peak.” Perhaps the disruptive and seismic shifts in knowledge making and sharing brought on by the smart phone are temporary or transitional, and once we’ve survived the attendant growing pains, we will recover our collective recognition of the value of reading and theorizing about the past as a way of improving our understanding of the present.

The humanities may come back, since, clearly there is an interest in discourse on ethics and culture and art, and when there is an interest in such things, it stands to reason that there is a place for sophistication and beauty and rigor and context for such discussions and the methods of holding them. The pushing ever on in pursuit of a “perfection” is our compulsive nature as language-using humans, right? (I’m looking at you, Kenneth Burke, for flank support in this “perfection motive” argument—all such motivation deriving “naturally” from our condition of being language-using animals.)

But even if the humanities don’t come back, it’s going to take some years for English studies to evaporate at the high school level the way they have evaporated in higher education in the past ten years.

Here’s where I must pivot from the lofty and depressing concerns of the New Yorker article to the local and depressing concerns of restructuring at Saint Xavier University. The current move by our Administration—and by their collaborators in the university’s Department of Education—to relocate all secondary education programs into the Department of Education appears, on its surface to be a rational and defensible course of action, at least to judge by the sobering context of the New Yorker article. If the English major and humanities are dead, why not eliminate disciplinary content requirements for prospective teachers, and simply focus on skill development and pedagogical formation, with, as needed, some nods to subject area expertise?

But this is going too far. My complaint about President Joyner all along was that she exploited a rationale that had a basis in truth and good reasoning, but that she pushed things too far. She took a national trend in higher ed—she fomented attendant fears and insecurities—and, powered by a lot of gibberish and true-believing sycophants and opportunists, she ruthlessly ramrodded an agenda that was equally out of balance as it was self-serving. The bellwether was the elimination of the religious studies and philosophy programs. Prior to the closure of these programs, their faculty made compelling arguments for 1) the programs’ efficiencies in course hour generation; 2) the synergistic support between major and gen ed course offerings; and 3) the value added to brand and mission by supporting majors in areas that provided graduates roles in local, national, and international religious communities, as well as preparation for graduate studies in various humanistic areas. The arguments fell on deaf ears all around—except for Senate which voted down the program closures. Despite Senate’s objection, the Administration could claim, gaslight fashion, that the shared governance box was checked, and the programs were closed under proper authority of the Board of Trustees.

In general, Joyner encouraged an approach to program contraction or closure that resulted in cutting to and through the bone, while maintaining a veneer of compassion by not firing individuals or cutting specific positions (though she did do both). In the post-Joyner period, we can all agree that some contraction was called for—but not the wholesale starving of humanities programs that we have seen.

What I propose for the mid-term transition into whatever the future holds for higher ed, is for all secondary programs to lean into current disciplinary content standards as necessities for compliance with basic teacher preparation requirements. I have been shouting in a well, it seems, about the 2019 move by the State of Illinois to align secondary State standards to national standards. This recognition of professional disciplinary scholarly organizations may be, in the context of the New Yorker article, the last, best gasp of recognized valuation of humanistic knowledge and standards. But in any case, does anyone predict that, in the next generation or so, there will be an abandonment of the more or less traditional education required for teachers at the middle and high school levels? Will there not be a need for teachers—with some version of formation along the lines that we have always provided?

I’m not calling for teacher educators to dig in and insist on perpetuating a version of our studies as they have always existed. Rather, I’m saying there is a strong market and a growing market for secondary teachers in humanities-related disciplines who can adapt their skills-based, or content-based, or Internet-based approaches to the evolving and recurring needs of the teaching of language, culture, and rhetoric.

In preparing disciplinary experts, SXU could take the lead in helping to meet the urgent need for new teachers. The teacher shortage across the nation and in Illinois is reaching crisis status. Just yesterday (3/3/2023), Governor Pritzker announced the Teacher Pipeline Grant, a new package of financial incentives to recruit new teachers to address the chronic shortage that is predicted to worsen in upcoming years. Given the shortage, we may expect an eventual reduction of standards for teacher quality—all the more reason for an institution like SXU to brand itself as distinctive in offering programs that produce the highest quality teachers, who have mastered not only best practices in pedagogy, but also the rigorous standards for content knowledge required by the State and disciplinary professional experts.

At SXU we may not save the humanities across the board. But we have an obligation to preserve the humanities that are foundational to our secondary education programs. It’s not a total answer, and in doing so, we may be swimming against the current of gloomy trends outlined in the New Yorker article. 

But there are other trends: Our record of preparing effective teachers in secondary programs is strong. It will remain strong only if we lean in harder to our tradition of housing our programs in disciplinary areas—something the State of Illinois, finally, has codified in its move to accredit programs according to their alignment to national standards.

Restructuring Programs at SXU, 2023

February 15, 2023

From the failed initiatives of the Gilbert Campus and international students project in 2015, through the financially fragile years of Dr. Joyner’s presidency, up to our current proposed plans for restructuring, the recent history of SXU has been turbulent. The chaos of these past eight years, heightened by Dr. Joyner’s unexpected departure, calls for a turning of the page in our methods. The administration’s resolve for restructuring should come with a pledge for greater reflectiveness, community-wide dialogue, and a commitment to proper process. How do we decide collectively and optimistically to move forward as an institution?

Let’s consider fundamental questions, beginning with: what is the purpose of a college education? More pointedly to my concerns as a stakeholder: What role do the humanities, liberal arts, and general education play in a college degree? 

In a recent interview on her new appointment as president of St. Norbert College, Dr. Joyner affirmed key values of a traditional education, particularly one provided by a private, faith-based institution. She referenced three traditions that drew her to St. Norbert—its Catholic roots, its Norbertine values, and its deep commitment to the liberal arts. She spoke of the Norbertine concept of communio, which emphasizes mutual respect, esteem, and trust. Similarly, at SXU we often heard professions of Mercy values and commitment to mutual respect as foundational to our community.

Critics of Dr. Joyner, however, felt that such professions did not jibe with the actions that were pursued at SXU or the divisions that arose and were allowed to fester in our community. Under Dr. Joyner’s watch we saw a shrinking of general education requirements and offerings. We saw the closing of liberal arts programs—starting with mission-based programs in religious studies and philosophy. Many considered the hiring of an anti-union lawyer, the eventual breaking of the faculty union, and the defiance of various bylaws, to be breaches in shared governance and trust. The massive turnover of administration, faculty, and staff in recent years, and the expressed frustrations and sadness of many who have left the institution raise the question of role of esteem in community life at SXU.

Not all of the negative effects are attributable to the president. Change is always difficult, and inevitably meets with resistance and painful dynamics. But now we stand at a crossroads. As we move forward to a new structure, we need to be wary of words that sound good, but don’t always ring true.

As programs are considered for cancellation, as faculty lines are cut or expanded, as budgets are proposed, we need collaborative and informed discussions that take into account nuances that have not gotten the proper attention they require. We need stakeholders to be empowered to share their expertise, their perspectives, their visions, and their concerns. I’ll start with one example.

One of the restructuring plans proposes to move secondary education programs out of the disciplinary majors in which they have been housed at SXU. The proposal is to convert all teacher candidates from being majors in their respective areas to being majors in secondary education. By making this move, several current major programs—for instance in English, Spanish, history, music, art, and possibly more—will likely be closed since the discipline-based education majors often comprise the majority of majors in the department. The new education programs will feature pedagogical formation, along with some coursework in the disciplines, to the extent that the department of Education is able to persuade the State that it is meeting national standards (these are the standards developed by professional organizations in the disciplines, and they are quite rigorous). Even if our colleagues in Education are able to make this case to our accreditors, the bigger question remains: will this approach provide teacher candidates the necessary foundations for success in teaching in disciplinary areas?

While the new approach may appear to bring efficiency, it marks a departure from our tradition, one that placed a premium on content knowledge in disciplinary areas. SXU’s strength in this traditional approach has made its secondary programs distinctive in the past (with all programs earning national accreditation through NCATE and some programs earning exemplary status through the State of Illinois). More to the point, the move away from the disciplines in out of step with the State’s recent (2019) restructuring of secondary education accreditation in its adoption of national, discipline-based standards for secondary programs. Saint Xavier proposes to move away from discipline-based programs, just as the State has mandated a discipline-centered and structured approach to teacher education.

This example names but one of the areas that needs a full airing of all stakeholders. As we look towards the next version of SXU, let us all commit—students, faculty, staff, administrators—to a complete discussion—and one where we are not shy to call out inconsistencies and deviations from mission and values.

It Is Dark Inside the Wolf

February 10, 2023

How much of my preoccupation with the Woes of Saint Xavier is ego, how much is a need for justice, how much is simply a nagging thought that we’re close to a better way, and, with a little tweaking and compromise, we can find solutions that create a win-win? 

I need to be suspicious of the “ego” part. I suspect I can be vindictive and passive aggressive. I want satisfaction, and my appreciation of the intrigue of a long-game payback gives me pause. Nursing one’s wounds is necessary for recovery and survival. But watering and tending the garden of one’s grievances is the wrong path. It is self-destructive, at least in life, despite how satisfying it can be in stories and imagination.

This week’s reading in class of Margaret Atwood’s The Testatments is relevant here. The novel is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, which was written a lifetime ago in the early 1980s. Atwood explains that she had no plans to write a sequel, but then 32 years later, propelled undoubtedly by developments in American politics and social movements, and The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, she found herself desirous of creating a sequel. The problem, she explained in “The Writing of The Testaments,” was that she had lost the narrative voice of the original. Always a student/teacher of creative processes, Atwood explains that there are ways of continuing the story in such a case—for example, by shifting the perspective or by starting in the middle. She uses “Little Red Riding Hood” as an illustration, which could have started, “It was dark inside the wolf.” And so, we’re on a different track, with different narrative possibilities.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, the wolf was the repressive society of Gilead—and that story does in fact begin in medias res in that dark place. The Testaments, it turns out, also begins inside the wolf—but here the wolf is Aunt Lydia, one of the founders/collaborators/subversives of the repressive Gileadean society. Atwood’s novel takes us into and through the psychology and history of that wolf—and the story provides rich, detailed portraiture of the proverb, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” My satisfaction and sympathy with Atwood’s depiction of this very cold dish worries me a bit, as I feel stirrings for similar satisfactions in connection with the wrongs that have been done to me and mine.

Is SXU’s situation a problem of local significance—one employer’s bad behavior—or is it reflective of a larger, world turning moment? Grappling with that question is one of my challenges. As I look on in shock and horror, maybe I just need to take a breath and recognize: sic transit gloria mundi, don’t take it personally, ‘twas always thus, it’s bad all around, two steps forward, one step back, there’s still some hope…. But how much comfort and hope can there be in recognizing the scale of the problem is the whole world, rather than just the place where I work?

I’m trying to grow up a bit about my expectations. Here’s what I’ve recently discovered about how I’ve approached life through my youth and adulthood up until recently: I’ve been waiting for the “end of history”—in the sense that we will have arrived, through progressiveness, reform, and enlightenment, to a time beyond—not all human frailties—but some of the big ones, at least, like (extreme) racism, sexism, and bigotry (or at least the more obvious bigotries). Atwood’s essay cited above (“The Writing of The Testaments”) helped me perceive my bias. She said she was leery of the phrase “on the wrong side of history.” The phrase suggests that history pronounces judgment and advances on, in a more or less settled way, and posterity situates itself on the correct side. But in her explanation that “history is simply human beings doing stuff,” she spotlights how random and impermanent and potentially backsliding history can be. “It winds around, it reverses, very much depending on the circumstances.”

Enter Donald Trump. He unveiled to me (and others) just how so many “solved” problems of the past have not at all been solved, but still are there, lurking, seeking out their point of entry into the fray. With Trump, we’ve learned that the term “backsliding” is too much of an understatement. What would the term be for the dissolution of entities that we had, more or less, reified into existential absolutes—democracy as the American form of government, for instance?

At SXU, the reifications that have been dissolved for me are, in a nutshell, the values of higher education: the assumption that higher education is a worthy pursuit in and of itself; the view that higher education improves standards of living and the significance of living. All these things can go away. All these things are going away. The process of going away takes with it the hopes I had had in colleagues to stand up for education. Too many of us have been insecure about the value of higher education’s “product” in comparison to other products—be they technologies, skills, professional credentials, or new careers churned up by the market, or supposedly so, in programs deemed as “in demand.” Never mind that the criteria for measuring demand are specious, drawing on bad data, bad projections, bad assumptions.

Undeniably, what is happening at SXU is transpiring on a broader stage. Across the country and world, there are hard questions being asked about the value of a traditional education organized around foundations in the humanities and liberal arts. Mixed in with the elegiac reflections that arise in me are other considerations with their own disturbances—e.g., personal nostalgias that bespeak my privilege and perhaps invite harsher scrutiny. Part of my grief, I confess, involves the loss of ease that comes from a shared recognition of privilege and value—to titles (hearing “Dr. Bonadonna” still causes a flutter in my soul), to academic routines, to assumptions of authority and value. Nonetheless, a large part of the grief, undoubtedly, does stem from the ugliness of transformation in this specific institution.

I’ve seen friends make peace—through retirement, through job switching, through capitulation. It does seem that the administration’s strategy is to clean house of anyone with a memory or a grievance, the two go hand in hand. I suppose it’s possible that a new entire staff could adapt and progress more productively than aggrieved old timers—and so, maybe the intensity of what I’m feeling is just a case of “my ox is the one being gored”—and so that’s why I’m in such a state.

I walk through the halls, and I have brief and lament-filled conversations with each colleague I encounter. There’s the shaking of the head. I’m thanked for my efforts. We commiserate in our futility. In my office, I get the emails from any of several back-channel faculty groups—planning future actions, or offering new tidbits of offenses, or strategizing about next steps. I write in my blog about the depression that I feel; I hear professions of depression from others. It’s heartbreaking.

We seem to have gone to a place beyond “morale.” A few years ago, some of my most respected advisors told me to stop framing SXU’s challenges in terms of a morale problem. All agreed morale was bad, but my advisors preferred a different way of framing our needs and visions. Today, our morale has not improved, and that term continues to fail to describe our reality, but in a new way. Perhaps we are too depleted to have a morale problem. If morale falls in a forest and there’s no one there, does it make a sound? The absence of so many who have left, and the planned absence of so many who have informed us of their plans to leave, creates an emptiness and pain that might better be addressed as a form of grief. The climate is one of hopelessness and loneliness. There’s bitterness and anger and disbelief too. There are twinges of the old fight here and there, but most are putting their head down in whatever salvageable way they can, and trying to move forward, somehow, with a will to survive, or just persist, but in a short-term manner.

Through it all, the pragmatist in me maintains there’s another way, a middle ground. Maybe. I want to reach out to my adversaries and try rapprochement—if only for mutually self-serving goals and ends. But dialogue has failed in formal and informal ways, and the power of the adversaries has been consolidated. I and many others have become hardened in our perspective of the other side’s autocratic, power-oriented stance and modus operandi. I have trouble letting go of foregone conclusions and despair—though I’m not convinced I can’t, however dark it is inside this wolf.

The stories of some of the victims—faculty and staff who have been pushed out or mistreated through punitive and harsh economic measures—fill me with sadness. I think of a staff colleague, described recently on Facebook as “one in a million,” and I see the impacts and the heartlessness of this institution in simply stepping over her and ignoring her in the face of mistreatment.

I am in agony over the consequences of the inexorable march upon which SXU, in a kind of Menippean satire, has embarked. I can give to students, but only so much. Ultimately, it’s they who are mistreated, as it always comes down to the student experience. The deprivations of resources and care inevitably lead to disengagement and failure and loss—of them, and all of us.