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Living on Tulsa Time I: Down from the Ivory Tower


An old college chum sent me an article called “Storm Clouds over Tulsa," written by Jacob Howland at the end of April 2019. It got me thinking about the sad state of higher education in America, my own recent experience, and what the future might hold. As an old rock and roll fan, I couldn’t resist calling this blog “Living on Tulsa Time,” after the old Don Williams song, which Sheryl Crowe did with Eric Clapton, now an old guy hosting his Crossroads festival; Clapton also did it back as a youth doing his own slide guitar (though Jerry Douglas was amazing at Crossroads), when most of his band was from Tulsa, and I wasn’t long out of college myself.

Howland’s article focuses on the University of Tulsa, where a new administration “in a particularly crude and short-sighted manner,” has turned a “once-vibrant academic institution with a $1.1 billion endowment and a national reputation in core liberal arts subjects into a glorified trade school with a social-justice agenda.” The story is not just about what is happening at Tulsa, but about the “perfect storm of trends currently tearing through the American academy: the confident ignorance of administrators, the infantilization of students, the policing of faculty, the replacement of thinking with ideological jargon, and the corporatization of education.” As addressed in my March blogs about the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Practice with Boys and Men, I think this has even infected at least one professional association. My old student, the one now in Tulsa, is well aware of what is happening in her own back yard, but the story of what is going on at her alma mater, a “small liberal arts college in the rural area of a large Northeastern state,” so perfectly parallels it, that it may provide another point on the regression line.

I have retired from over 30 years of college teaching and have happily now wandered beyond the bucolic groves of academe, I have friends still there. They are bailing water from what may very well be a sinking ship, which hasn’t “made class” for too many years, and from which, as one of those remaining colleagues told me: “All the good minds have left.” They were never more than lower tier, their endowment probably wouldn’t cover more than a few months of their budget, and their inclusion of liberal arts has always been justified by its putative value to the more numerous “applied” majors, like business and education. So, it may never have been far removed from the little religious teacher’s college it was historically. It may represent an example case from the “half of all American colleges and universities [that] will go bankrupt in the next ten to 15 years.” Little schools like this one, its sticker price long exceeding its comparative value, will be among the first to go. Unlike Tulsa, its Division III athletic programs, especially absent American football (we had what the rest of the world calls “football,” that game played with your feet that Americans call “soccer”) were not as over funded as at Tulsa. But I retired at a time that, despite not making class for years, flat-lining faculty salaries, and implementing a hiring freeze, the administration and the board had gone ahead with a major fundraising campaign, to build a new “Sports and Wellness Center,” now under construction.