Tuesday, February 5, 2008

University Politics

In honor of Super Tuesday, let's talk Presidents. Only not national presidents...university presidents.

My university is in the process of getting a new president, and has recently named the lone "finalist" for the position. Somewhere on campus, someone cares enough about the selection to deface the man's portrait with a complaint about the selection. I, however, could not tell you who is currently serving as university president, whether he's a real president or just a stand-in during the search, or even how many university presidents we've had in the three years I've been enrolled in this school.

I have no idea what a university president does. Obviously they're enough of a figurehead to cause an uproar if they start spouting nationally derided statements (thinking the Harvard president's comments on women in science), but from a personal standpoint it feels like department chairs and department policies have much more of an impact on my own life. This may be an entirely erroneous assumption, but it's not as if the university president is single-handedly setting tuition rates or graduate student stipend rates. None of the undergraduates in my lab knew, either, and they're the ones who don't have tuition waivers and have more of a vested interest in university decisions.

Actually, after trying to find out what a university president is supposed to do, I'm still neither impressed nor concerned. It seems that
the quality of university presidents is quite poor across the nation, so I shouldn't suffer any lack of extra prestige for my degree because it came from a specific university. Besides, the quality of research and my advisor's stature are going to be more important in any academic career, and the degree itself should be all that matters for a business career.

Still, I'd respect the opinions of people who object to our de facto new president if they were slightly more elegant or at least less criminal in the expression of those ideas. I'd put more thought into the governing of my school - I've already been completely unmoved by signs attempting to instigate the student body into taking action against tuition increases - but I can't quite convince myself it's worth the effort. Perhaps when I feel the impact of decisions made outside my department (the possible eventual professor job), it will seem important, but for now it's just some figurehead name.

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