Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Seeing the Ninety Percent

Students at Small College are protesting today. As protests go, it's pretty festive. A jazz combo is playing at one of the campus landmarks, and folks are bringing their lunches to sit in the sun and listen to the music. A well-liked faculty member will be leaving the college at the end of the academic year, and the protestors want him to stay so they're making sure we hear their opinions.

For me, a child of the '70s who remembers the horrifying news of Kent State, this is a snuggly parody of a protest. No one is in danger, very little is on the line.

It reminds me, though, that the life of a college is an iceberg:  Even when every effort is made to bring the entire chunk of ice to the surface the facts often stay in the underwater and unseen 90 percent.

In this case, as the president told these protesting students several weeks ago, we love the faculty member and wish there were some way to keep him. He was here on a one-year appointment as a visiting scholar, though, and that year has elapsed. The only way he would have been offered a new contract was if certain ambitious enrollment goals had been reached, and they were not, so the budget line that would have kept him here was eliminated. There was no malice or lack of appreciation in the decision; it was strictly a prudent but much-regretted financial necessity.

The students, although they've been told these facts, only see that someone they really really like will not be here next year, so they're gathering signatures on a petition they'll send to the same president who went over these facts with them earlier. Unlike enrollments, signatures do not fill budget lines, so the odds that this protest will be successful are about the same as the odds the Titanic will make it to New York the next time you see the movie.

I love their fervor, I love their passion. But one things students learn at Small College (or at any college, for that matter) is that as a young adult you inevitably will bump up against a part of the world that your fervor and passion will not change. When that happens it's important to once again look at all the facts--it's highly likely no one is out to get you.

But if you have seen 100 percent of the iceberg, and you still want to melt that baby, protest away.

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