I began this letter on the second day of the strike. When news arrived that an agreement was reached my first inclination was to drop it. But then I read Emily Sines’ fine letter (“In light of the contract agreement”), and reconsidered.
I graduated from OU in 1975. Those were heady days, when OU still ran experimental “inner colleges” (I was in New College for a year), and hosted a summer arts immersion program (“Adventure in Creativity”) in collaboration with Cranbrook. OU’s primary draw for me was the reputation of its faculty, and I soon found that the faculty fully deserved that esteem. I had the great good fortune to study with professors like Joan Rosen, Brian Murphy, Dolores Burdick, Peter Binkert, and others. The stature of OU’s Linguistics Department helped me gain admission to the Summer Linguistics Institute (1974) where I took a course with Noam Chomsky, Morris Halle, and Samuel Jay Keyser. During my graduate studies in Ann Arbor, that love of literature and writing cultivated by Rosen and Kurzman emerged in my first collection of poems (Hopwood Award 1977), and from there, in my own academic and publishing career.
Now in my 20th year as a tenured professor I’d like to share a thought about how the administration at my college handled a fiscal challenge. In the aftermath of the crash of 2008-09, our Board of Trustees understood that decisive action was needed, and proposed a 3% pay cut for faculty. The savings from that cut would have covered our budget crunch, and in a narrow fiscal context, carried us through the crisis. But we took the further step of instituting a 4% pay cut for all administrators. That step not only accelerated our recovery, but proved important for campus-wide morale and resilience. When all cuts were reversed the following year, we saw a renewed sense of shared mission and purpose.
I would hope that OU administration can emerge from this agreement with new insights into the central role of faculty in the mission of higher education. I say this as an administrator myself (Director of Library Services), who still holds faculty rank, thus having a foot in each camp. We all know there are huge challenges ahead, with demographics threatening our enrollments and student debt mounting. It is tempting for any administration to retreat into a simplistic corporatist mindset. But I would argue that these challenges should enhance, not erode, the core value of faculty excellence.