Why Am I Still Here?
Guest column by Peter Shive
University of Wyoming professor emeritus
— November 9, 2013
When I came to UW in 1969 I had no intention of staying. Attracted by the excellence of the Geology Department, I figured I’d stay a few years to build a reputation and then move on to a more prestigious University. Yet here I am, 44 years later. Why is that?
First, I quickly noticed that it wasn’t only the Geology Department. After those first few years I found myself saying to students, “If you do a little homework beforehand, you can get just as good an education here as you could at Stanford (my alma mater) or Harvard.” I still believe that.
Later I became aware that, although we are a major land-grant University, there are things about UW that make it special, make it stand out among its peers. I then found myself saying to students, “We may be a university, but we are not a factory. If you come here, you will be treated like a person, not a number.” I still believe that.
Then, when I turned 50, I made a major career change that dismayed my department colleagues, my department head, my dean and probably my provost. At most other universities, I probably would have been fired. But at UW I was allowed to make the changes I sought and to continue to pursue my unusual career dreams. It is for that reason that, in the seven years since retirement I have continued to work for UW without salary or benefits, performing various administrative tasks and even teaching occasional courses. I have been so well treated here that I have an overwhelming and continuing desire to give back.
The feelings this evokes are harder to articulate. I’ll put it this way. I would be able to say to anyone — students, faculty, staff and residents of the state, “There has been a basic decency of process here, woven into the fabric of the University and probably even of the state itself.” I suspect that anyone who has been here more than three years knows what I am talking about.
And so I have been shaken by the changes that have occurred here this fall, and by those that are proposed for the future. They are absolutely inconsistent with the three statements above. I don’t want to have to say to people, “Come here for the football games, but send your kids somewhere else. And if you stay here in any capacity, watch your back.”
The current mantra is, “Let’s become the number one land-grant university in the country.” I beg to differ. I would say instead, “Let’s work to improve, as we have. And on the way, let’s not dishonor the qualities that already make us great, even if they may not be as measurable as the number of dollars paid to us by energy companies or the scores of athletic contests.”
— Related story: “Students and faculty question spate of resignations at University of Wyoming under Sternberg,” by Gregory Nickerson
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Thank you Professor Shive for sharing this with us. I find myself in complete agreement with your sentiments.
Having received both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees and recognized as a 2003 Outstanding Alumnus, I,too, have an acquaintance with my alma mater, the University of Wyoming.
I was born in Wyoming, spent all of my school years here, returned from war to finish my education, and went out into life to succeed. Two of my sons also received degrees from the University of Wyoming.
I agree completely with Professor Shive, re: “We may be a university, but we are not a factory. If you come here you will be treated like a person, not a number.” And, “There has been a basic decency of process here, woven into the fabric of the University. . .”
“Let’s work to improve, as we have. And on the way let’s not dishonor the qualities that already make us great, even if they may not be as measurable as the number of dollars paid to us by energy companies or the scores of athletic contests.”
I can only say amen to the comments of Julia Stuble and Robert Hoskins both of whom I know and respect, and of whom I applaud. I, too am dismayed by what I see as the new mantra. Thank you, Professor Shive.
Professor Shive, as a former student that greatly benefitted from your interdisciplinary approach, I’m grateful you found a place to stay at UW. If we seek not only job training from our higher education endeavors, but answers to questions about how to live–if we seek morality, consolation and guidance (to borrow from Alain de Botton)–then we need and deserve an institution where ethical leadership is based on the decency of process that created a supportive environment for your evolving research interests and the students that ask questions with you. Thank you for this summons to improve, not erode through reinvention ruses, the qualities that have made UW a great land-grant university.
All around the country, the various oligarchies that run things have been working overtime to turn universities and colleges into factories for the production of corporate bureaucrats committed to the pursuit of profit at all costs. Training citizens who can think for themselves and contribute to the communities in which they live? That ideal is long past.
The recent “massacre” of deans, provosts, and other administrators at UW is simply a reflection of this larger process of privatization.
A breath of fresh air and a powerful reminder of what opportunity lies beneath all the hubbub as of recent. Thank you Professor Shive.