SARK urges a rethinking of budget priorities

Peter Gillette

We are told, time and time again, that these are troubled financial times for private institutions of higher learning. Students learn this through perennial letters alerting them of a rise in tuition; trustees learn this by looking at graphs of projected shortfalls; and faculty, this year at least, learn latest of all that pay raises and other perks will be suspended.

In this time of belt-tightening, one must ask: what are our priorities? Certainly, the business of teaching and learning must come first, followed closely by the college’s residential mission.

That being said, the SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) convocation seemed quite ill timed. Though entertaining and occasionally illuminating, one must wonder what practical knowledge or applicable classroom experience could be gained from the event.

Convocation speakers frequently command upwards of $25,000. When spending such money, we ought to be more careful than we evidently have been.

The problem is not that SARK is an artist, or that her address did not concern a particularly pressing political issue. The problem is that we have begun to fundamentally misconceive the convocation.

The convocation series reemerged in earnest near the beginning of President Warch’s tenure as an all-campus class of sorts. Many speakers have boiled down complex artistic, scientific, and humanistic concepts in a way that makes just four of the normally excellent convocations from recent years.

One might say that we have to expect a bad apple here or there; but “bad apples” ought not cost so much money.

Sadly, it seems we may be losing our way, floating our series adrift into the world of rough-and-tumble literary agents rather than assuring ourselves that such large sums of money will at least indirectly contribute to an enriched student learning experience.

One might say that SARK was motivational; but her message strangely lacked any object towards which motivation ought to have been directed, and her frequent reminder that all have permission to stay in bed the entire day long also weakened the argument for motivation.

Several students and even some faculty left the convocation early, as SARK’s speech strangely combined vacuous content, length bordering on attrition, and formless personal narrative.

Students dissatisfied with the event ought to seek a voice on the Committee on Public Occasions, and doggedly insist that each speaker will be, at least, defendable and, at best, illuminating.

Incoming LUCC President Joel Rogers raised more than a few eyebrows when he suggested that foregoing one convocation one year could pay for a weight room. Perhaps less eyebrows are raised now.

Finally, think of how many faculty pay raises, scholarships, and gym equipment could be purchased with $25,000. If we value our money, let our public speakers reflect that.