At my so-called university named for the fourth president, the slave-owning “Father of the Constitution.” No, I am not going to talk about the racism issue, which there is some effort to deal with on campus, notably in renaming three buildings named for Confederate figures, with our Provost originally from South Africa speaking reasonably intelligently about that issue.
No, we had our annual general faculty meeting to begin the year, classes supposedly beginning on Wednesday, supposedly a mixture of live and online, although likely to go totally online any minute as Eastern Mennonite University also in Harrisonburg just went totally online and delayed student move-in due to an outbreak of the virus, and Facebook is full of photos of our students partying without masks and packed together on balconies. We will not be far behind on that one.
So many of my colleagues never attend these meetings, but when I have been in town, I have since I first started here in 1977, the year the name was changed from Madison College and there were only a third as many students as there are now. The speeches are mostly full of party line rah rah baloney I have always had fun making snide remarks about to pals. But in fact, I have long enjoyed seeing faculty from across campus, with this meeting increasingly the only time in the year one sees any of them. I knew that was not to be this year with the meeting virtual, but another regular feature has been a speech by our president, with the current one starting his 8th year here, Jonathan R. Alger. These speeches, despite usual propaganda, also usually do provide some information about new developments on campus, and there have been some not related to racism or coronavirus, not to mention relations with Richmond, important as this being a state school.
But, no, Alger did not speak except for a minute at the beginning to introduce the Provost. OK, I get that he does not want to say anything inaccurate, but there is much he could say that is not inaccurate, including being honest about just what all we do not know and is up in the air. But he chickened out, a complete failure of academic leadership. I am already down enough as it is with everything, but I admit that irrational as it might be, this failure of him to speak at all left me completely demoralized at the end of the meeting, which they did not even clearly announce. The Provost stopped speaking and sort of said “Have a good semester,” with many of us watching still pictures for quite some time obviously expecting Alger to appear and speak, gradually dropping off. I hung on until the number dropped below 30, the old number of statistical significance before I left demoralized and depressed. I have gotten over that and am now just disgusted and ticked off at this complete cowardice and lack of academic leadership.