I'm in Montreal for the Libre Graphics conference. I got in late last night after a 6 hour drive. It was a beautiful day for a drive. The countryside is pretty between here and there. It's interesting that, right around the time you switch from US to Canada, the land use switches from forest to agriculture. It appears that this is the time to spread manure on fields. It was a pungent 50 kilometers after crossing the border.
I got off to a late start. I had meant to leave earlier, but the chairman of the board of trustees for the UMass system was on campus and I was part of a union group that met with him before lunch and then I attended his talk to the faculty senate in the afternoon. He operates at such a different level from the campus that its somewhat hard to have a meaningful conversation about the University with him. He's focused on long range plans to modify the environment the University operates in order to make its overall parameters more like "aspirant institutions", which is all pretty distant from understanding the current problems of the place and how to fix them. We did get a commitment from him to help us get economic parameters from the governor's office so that the negotiations for our contract can get moving again.
He said two other things that I thought were interesting and/or problematic. First, he said the University needs to play a larger role in solving the problems of the region. The University used to have a large outreach program and extension service -- these were both essentially eliminated during the last two rounds of terrible budget cuts. In the past two years, the outreach program has begun again on a shoestring, giving a few awards to faculty who do outreach in spite of the obstacles. Furthermore, although its possible to find contexts for outreach, faculty at a Research I institution are supposed to focused on developing a national and international reputation for tenure and promotion. Outreach is not the way to achieve those things and so that mission is not a good fit for the University unless we change how faculty -- and the institution -- are evaluated.
The second issue is more problematic: he said that faculty should find sympathetic business leaders to carry our message because when faculty speak, politicians label it as a union issue (and don't pay attention). It struck me a bit like telling a person of color "you should get a white person to say that, since no one will pay attention to you." It may be true -- but to unproblematically accept something like that seems unfortunate. It's certainly true that the University and business have common interests and, to the extent that we can speak with a single voice, we can accomplish more. But on a wide range of issues, the University should represent an independent and unbiased perspective on what's important and right.
I'm looking forward to LibreGraphics -- there are a bunch of interesting talks in the program -- a very international line-up too. I'm particularly hoping to learn more about using scribus and inkscape -- and participating more effectively in the development community.
While I'm here, I will also be meeting with Normando (and maybe Boriso) to talk about next year's joint ELNA Landa Kongreso and the TutAmerika Kongreso de Esperanto that's to be held in Montreal.