Monday, June 12, 2006

Higher Education: Another Victim of Katrina

Last semester, I took online courses at a local university. I'm an English major whose specialty lies in fiction writing, but I have an on-again, off-again love affair with history and anthropology. One of the courses I took this semester that was easily one of the best classes I have taken in my college career. It was an anthropology course entitled "Fads and Fallacies of Human Origins", and it was taught by one Dr. Shenkel.

Like most teachers that teach specialized courses, he was very passionate about what he taught, and it really shone through in his Microsoft Word lectures. Though I've never had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Shenkel in person, his enthusiasm inspired me to seek out the truth in everything. Though the class focused almost exclusively on cult archeology, once I completed the course, I was more easily able to recognize instances of fallacious thinking and identify abuse of facts. Though I was a skeptic even before I took the course, that skepticism was honed into a more powerful tool after a semester in Dr. Shenkel's class.

Unfortunately, Dr. Shenkel was one of the many human sacrifices made after Katrina. Earlier in the year he sent out an e-mail confirming that his position, like many others at the university, had been terminated:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for coming and putting up with the trauma of getting the university going again. As most of you should know by now, the LSU Board of Supervisors has given the Chancellor the green light for restructuring. The draft plan I have seen eliminates my position starting with the next academic year.

It's disconcerting to think that professors as inspiring and enthusiastic as Dr. Shenkel are having their positions eliminated. In my three years of college, I have only rarely encountered professors that have managed to inspire me to do outside reading; even fewer have done enough to change my entire way of thinking. Dr. Shenkel was one of these rare professors, but nevertheless, his position was eliminated.

When the semester came to a close, and with it came the obligatory end-of-the-semester course review. And for the first time in my college career, I felt compelled to write down more than just a line or two about my thoughts on Dr. Shenkel. I hoped that perhaps my opinion would somehow influence the fate of his position. Dr. Shenkel had done more than just taught me; he had changed my life.

I greatly fear Dr. Shenkel and many other talented professors may have had their positions eliminated as a result of carpet decision-making. Perhaps if professors were evaluated on a case-by-case, administrators would have been able to recognize that Dr. Shenkel was a valuable asset to the university. Regardless, I can't help but wonder how many other fantastic professors were relinquished simply because they did not have tenure.

I can only hope that there weren't many.


Blogger Michael said...

Sorry to hear about your prof...sadly, academia, it seems, has been in 'going-out-of-business' mode, or at least 'ongoing liquidation sale' for some time. A few years ago, a good friend of mine with outstanding credentials lost his non-tenured position at LSU, and subsequently received several dozen rejection notices before being hired at a much smaller school. But I guess it improved the bottom line, or whatever nonsense substitutes for "employing qualified people capable of doing good research and inspiring their students" these days. Why invest when you can "spend your capital?"

As for you post below, about Feingold, I liked him enough to vote for him twice (I spent most of the 90's in Wisconsin--sometimes going to school and eventually getting a degree from UW). He's not perfect, but he's miles better than any other potential candidate. Can he win? Hmmm...I don't really know. He wasn't expected to win his '92 Senate race, but proved the "experts" wrong. I still remember his campaign slogan--"He knows Wisconsin like the back of his hand." The TV commercials would focus on...the back of his hand. He'd point at, say, the upper left part, and announce something like "next stop, Eau Claire." It worked...

Monday, June 12, 2006 3:40:00 PM  
Blogger jeffrey said...

Unsurprisingly, Feingold is also a favorite of mine as of late.. who I believe can be a viable candidate.. if he keeps it up. Still I have so little faith in Democrats to do anything right these days that I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, June 12, 2006 4:22:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I just wish he didn't have such a thick midwestern accent...geez, it still grates on me to hear one.

Monday, June 12, 2006 6:21:00 PM  

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