Even though I am trained as an artist (an actor and a creative writer, if you fancy those things art) and highly value individual expression; I’ve always felt a responsibility to contribute to the greater good for my fellow humankind – maybe to a fault. I take satisfaction when I’m able to help a group make a significant impact beyond my own self-expression. I like to learn, and help others learn, too. To me, learning equals creativity.
For the past few years, I’ve worked in administration for a large public research university. Before that, I worked in administration and production in small non-profit arts and cultural organizations. I’m culturally academic and pale pink in terms of my politics: so it seemed like a comfortable and logical fit.
If you’ve been watching the economics and politics around higher education, you’ll understand why my job has changed a great deal in the past few years. The missions of research institutions are being questioned. They are talking at the Federal level about implementing a kind of “No Child Left Behind” accountability program for higher education. The obsession with efficiency and productivity is outweighing a culture of creativity and innovation—the idealistic parts that are perhaps the backbone of higher education.
I believed that my arts-honed ability to problem-solve innovative solutions would be an asset to the team I was in. And it was until very recently. Suddenly I’m getting stonewalled. And we’re all getting bogged down in circular conversations about where to put our increasingly limited time and energy and resources. I left the arts because I felt that industry was in irreparable disrepair. And now, I’m afraid that higher education is in the same sinking boat. As is, I increasingly fear, our United States government.
My institution has been laying off droves of people: some people who really were quality performers, too. Dedicated staff and caring untenured teachers. And in my state, like many other states, there is legislation afoot that would fundamentally change the way public education operates. Faculty would be judged by student evaluations and the number of ‘A’s and ‘B’s they give out, not to mention their external fundraising skills.
So I admit, I’ve been looking at jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I have. But I’m scared, you know. I seem to be performing well according to others, but it’s still possible I could be in the next round of cuts.
Maybe this time is different. Maybe I’m supposed to stay put. Maybe instead of my usual flight response when my environment is threatened, I need to stay and fight. Maybe I have to be more innovative with less. Like everyone in these strange times.
Putting my personal job security issues aside, I ask you, what is the perfect relationship between individuals and institutions? Including Government, Education, Medicine and Religion?
What’s the perfect balance of power between the individual and the group?
I have to remind myself that all institutions are made of individuals, making individual, fallible decisions, all the time. Which ones do we stay committed to? And which ones, if any, is it time to throw away? Can they be changed, and forgiven, and move forward, even for their faults? If so, how do we act and work and live compassionately and responsibly, together? For we have to work together to solve these frighteningly dehumanizing issues. No individual can do it alone. We must have the courage to overcome our fear and fight the battles to sustain, grow, and even change the institutions that we participate in from our own conscious, as unique individuals. So that these institutions can help the individuals thrive, and vice-versa.
Maybe there isn’t a perfect institution, or a perfect individual. Just like there isn’t the perfect relationship. But we can all try to do better. And I mean ME.
"They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom
By trying to change the system from within..."