University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. — Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Three Crucial Questions for the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf

Henry the K may be a tad too strong in his assessment about college and university politics, but behind every exaggeration is a usually a strong element of truth.

As I prepare to “defend” my MA project paper this week, I am appreciative of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication for offering me a Graduate Teaching Fellowship…it was an offer that I simply could not refuse. The fellowship is basically a free master’s degree, the provision of full-medical, dental and vision for my family and a small stipend. In exchange, I served as a teaching assistant for five quarters including lecturing at least three classes per quarter, which is invaluable experience.

Several of my colleagues have asked if I am contemplating going on and pursuing a doctorate in Journalism, my response: Let me defend my MA first; and I didn’t know that psychedelic mushrooms were still in vogue.

Looking back at the past 18 months, there are facets of the academic experience that standout in my mind, particularly for a middle-aged, Anglo guy pursuing my second degree 34 years after the first one (the average grad student is 29-years old).

● Are we instilling students to be social justice activists or are we preparing them to get a job? What is more important in the long-term? Blow-by-blow accounts of the epic “victories” of the Occupy Wall Street or lecturing students about return on investment (ROI), cover letters and resumes? You have probably already figured out by now where I come down on this point.

occupywallstreet

● Why do some students, teaching assistants and even tenured faculty absolutely detest Wall Street? On several occasions, I have been asked why I am creating a course called, “Strategic Business/Financial Communications.” The questions seem to imply that I am guilty of aiding and abetting corporate monsters. Certainly some antipathy to corporate greed and excessive CEO compensation is justified. At the same time, a large percentage of these very same social justice advocates are also part of the Apple cult (i.e., iPads, iPhones, iPods and Macs). Gee, isn’t Apple a multi-national enterprise (MNE)? Whatever.

● Even though completion of a second full-year of foreign language is required for a master of arts degree, I have to question why is foreign language study not recommended or downright discouraged by a professional school? Was ist los? Ich verstehe nicht.  I have no clue why this is the case. Learning to read, write, hear and speak another language makes you better at your language. Aren’t we learning how to tell the story and aren’t language skills essential to telling these stories?

● And while we are the subject of telling stories, why is there not greater emphasis on the analog skills of writing, grammar, style and editing? There is no doubt that the digital software skills of audio and video production (e.g. Final Cut Pro) and importing and cropping of photos (e.g. Photoshop) are increasingly vital, but written and verbal language skills are the essence of telling the story and telling it well. These skills are not easily offshored and outsourced.

● Even though I was pleased as punch to serve as a teaching assistant, I was stunned by the massive egos of a few, certainly not all, of my colleagues. There are some cases in which teaching assistants are injecting their personal political agenda and subordinating the course. There are other cases where they dominate a classroom with an outpouring of verbal diarrhea that would make a filibustering US senator blush. Didn’t your mother teach you to share?

foxhole

● What is the worst grade that you can give to a student? F? D-? How about an A- or even worse a B+? Get ready to climb into your fox hole and fix bayonets when you give out one of these grades. Expect to be told about how hard the student worked, how another instructor said the assignment deserved an A. And be sure to be prepared for an onslaught of negatives in your teaching assessment evaluation. Every quarter somebody gets me real good. It simply goes with the territory. As mumsy said, you can’t please everyone…yep they even put Jesus Christ up on a cross.

● Diversity is celebrated with one big exception. Let’s hear it for differences in ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexual orientation and non-Western creeds. The notable exception to “diversity” is those poor souls that harbor an annoying political disposition. It’s the one that believes that rapidly expanding government is not the automatic answer to all questions, wants to keep taxes reasonable, supports private enterprise and a strong national defense. You may have heard of these folks. No, I am not surprised. I went to school in Eugene. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have at least one registered Republican on a professional school’s faculty? What a novel idea?

Even though I humbly raise some issues that someone may consider to actually be important, I am thankful for the advanced degree, the opportunity to receive the Zertifikät Deutsch, to team on a ghostblogging research project and to receive an academic award for that same project.

As a friend who knew me from my Bay Area days and knows me now said, “You seem calmer and happier.”

I will buy into that.

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