David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
There is no Disputin' the Ghost of Rasputin

May 29, 2013: There is no Disputin' the Ghost of Rasputin

I have become convinced that the spirit of the "Mad Monk," Grigory Rasputin, has infiltrated the ranks of higher education.  His spirit manifests itself in many senior administrators, but his potential mysticism and prophetic powers seem to imbue college and university boards across the country.

Hear me out on this, people:

1) In essence, the Tsarina Alexandria calls upon Rasputin to stop the bleeding of her son, heir to the throne, Alexei.

Similarly, many colleges and universities hire executive leaders who they are convinced can stop the financial bleeding occuring at their campuses.  Look at some of these statements in press releases regarding presidential hires over the last three months:

  • During his tenure at ____, President ____ presided over the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history.
  • During ____ 13 years as president of _____, the university experienced a continuous process of positive transformation, highlighted by close to $100 million in new campus construction, renovation and improvement projects.
  • In addition, ____ has implemented a comprehensive multi-year financial model and helped to grow the college by 200 students.  ____ has been a successful advocate for increasing faculty and staff salaries, and has been heavily involved with _____ current $200 million capital campaign.
  • His resume lists more than $44 million of funded research projects.

By the way, don't kid yourself when you read these press releases that talk about the humanitarian, scholarly, community orientation of these final choices.  Inevitably, as you get to paragraph 6 or 7 of the release, the money will show up.  Let's face it, the ability to right the fiscal ship in an environment where costs are spiralling and government funding is dwindling is crucial.

2) Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandria were leaders woefully out of touch with the situation besieging their country.

Similarly, many boards of trustees also appear to be ignorant of the situations encompassing the institutions they govern.  See my recent blog on "No Confidence Votes" as just one example.  If you need more evidence, see this story from this week about the disconnect between the faculty and the board at the wonderfully named Transyvlania University, out of Kentucky.  This is not the exception if you look at the string of meaningless "No Confidence Votes" over the last several years.  Also, the events last year regarding the University of Virginia's president and the Board reflects the other side of the coin, when the "No Confidence" vote is basically coming from the Board, and the faculty and staff refuse to accept it.

3) Rasputin, at least in legend, seemed impossible to kill.

Similarly, these executives with "magic touches" move freely from institution to institution, no matter how poorly they executed their "plans" at the previous institution.  I know of one president now dismissed from two institutions, in part because  of"no confidence" votes that had some meaning, and fully expect to see an announcement of his or her hire sometime in the near future.  I could cite other examples of executives promising the moon and the sky, but then taking another position before either could be verified as being on campus; however, let's just leave the presumption as a legitimate legend across academia, perhaps no more or no less legitimate than the story that Rasputin needed to be poisoned, beaten, shot several times and finally drowned before he died.

The following potential similarities I will not pursue, but leave to my readership to ascertain potential truth:

  • Alexei's hemophilia was a result of constant royal in-breeding; the financial bleeding in higher education is a result of industry-wide in-breeding.
  • Rasputin used his power to fornicate wildly; executives are screwing the people they are trying to serve.
  • Russia under the rule of a monarchy at the time of Tsar Nicholas was a dying system; the current system of higher education is a dying system.
  • Rasputin wasn't really a trained monk/cleric; Academic leaders aren't really academics.
Surely, no one scoffs anymore at my hypothesis.