Friday, September 10, 2021

Wine Stewards on the Titanic

Yesterday was the first day of our Fall 2021 term at my very small college campus.  Our campus has contracted so much that I don't have as much to worry about.  I'm not hiring teachers at the last minute, and it's rare to lose a faculty member at the last minute.  Our faculty members don't have a moment to lose, so they pack the first day with lots of content, and they're prepared for the fact that students might not have books.  What else could go wrong?

When I got the first phone call from a student who couldn't get into his online course shell, I didn't think much of it.  There's always a student or two who ignored e-mails or didn't follow the instructions in the e-mail.  I referred the student to the online division.

Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from a colleague in the online division.  She told me not to send students to her, that she wasn't returning calls or e-mails.  I was baffled at first.  Come to find out, students hadn't been added to the online classes yet (at 9:30 on the first day of classes).  Students didn't have course shells, and teachers didn't have students.  There was no information about when this issue would be fixed.  There wasn't any information about the nature of the problem.

Throughout the morning, as solutions still didn't come, I tried to reassure students that they'd be getting information soon.  By the end of the day, we got a communication that the problem should be solved.  

If we hadn't had a month of tech troubles, I might not have spent much time thinking about the larger significance and whether or not there was a larger significance.  Someone mentioned deck chairs on the Titanic, as we made the required bulletin board to celebrate Constitution Day.

I said that it was more like we're the wine stewards on the Titanic.  We have jobs to do, and we see them as very important to the overall organization.  We're focused on the finer details.  We don't see the icebergs.

At this point, I don't have the distance to know if this metaphor is apt for my particular situation, but it does seem perfect for the larger state of higher education.  And as I spent the day thinking about the metaphor, it seems apt for much of modern life.

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