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In Vickie Travis’ letter to The News, she stated that Dr. Dunn had “earned the respect from the University community, as evidenced by public support for him during these past weeks.”
What some people appear to attribute as support for Dr. Dunn are public votes by the Staff Congress and Faculty Senate. This attribution confuses the relationship between the president, the faculty and the staff.
My question is: How many people are willing to publicly vote against their boss, knowing that their boss will continue to have authority over them after the vote?
What was strikingly absent from Ms. Travis’ letter was any significant discussion of students. She talked about the support Dunn had received from the faculty and staff.
She also noted a letter of support he received from area public school superintendents but the primary mission of Murray State is not to serve faculty, staff or even area public school superintendents, but rather to serve the interests of Murray State’s students.
What’s odd is that students seem to have been forgotten in almost every discussion surrounding Dr. Dunn’s presidency.
Regarding Dr. Dunn’s accomplishments, Travis listed Murray State’s Regional Outreach Program that “provided grants to organizations and individuals broadly enriching educational outcomes to students in the west Kentucky region.”
My question is: Which of these programs are helping the typical student who is going to school, working, has family responsibilities and is trying to find a way to pay for textbooks?
Speaking as a former professor, telling a student who’s having trouble finding day care for her child or who can’t find a parking space, “Murray State was the first public institution in the world to be recognized as a Safe Community by the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Community Safety” probably isn’t going to be all that satisfying.
Travis’ letter also pointed out that “the University’s Affirmative Action Plan was revised under president Dunn’s leadership for the first time in more than 20 years,” but she didn’t note that when Dr. Dunn had an opportunity to hire a Dean of Libraries, he chose not to run an open search which would have allowed minority candidates an opportunity to apply for the position. Dr. Dunn’s decisions suggest a significant gap between acts of form and acts of substance.
In Travis’ letter, she also wrote that she learned from her father to “check the record.” But what does checking the record tell us? It told Travis, “Murray State has been ranked 22 consecutive years by U.S. News and World Report as a top tier university in academic quality.”
But looking at that record a little more closely would have also told her that our ranking is lower now than it was when Dr. Dunn assumed the presidency.
It appears our rankings are declining, top tier students are less inclined to choose Murray State and a neighboring institution is pulling away from us in terms of fund raising. And what’s sad about that, is that rankings, enrollment and fundraising are all areas of strength as identified by Travis.
I want to make it clear that I appreciate what Travis wrote. I’ve served on an institutional board myself. The unfortunate aspect of that position is that it is part time, removed from the institution and the administrative head of the institution is also usually the primary source of information regarding the workings of that institution.
For those reasons it didn’t surprise me that many of the reasons Travis cited for supporting Dr. Dunn’s presidency sounded similar to what one would read in the Blue and Gold. My guess is that in Dr. Dunn’s interactions with the Board of Regents, he would focus on his accomplishments rather than his shortcomings.
Let me close by saying that I believe too many of us have been lazy in regard to concerns relating to student debt.
I also believe that if a student assumes debt, it is the student’s obligation to pay it back. But what obligation do students have to pay back a debt they never incurred, such as unfunded state pension liabilities?
I’m mentioning this because a number of people have referred to Dr. Dunn’s “enlightened leadership” and his “initiatives,” both of which sound like fancy ways of saying he’s spending tax money and/or tuition money on nonstudent projects.
If what impresses professors are presidents who spend money they don’t have, rather than setting aside money to fund pension plans, how sympathetic should this generation of students be towards those professors when it comes to bailing out those underfunded pension plans in the years ahead?
Letter by Steve Herr, graduate student from Murray, Ky.