The philosophical primate has some thoughts on being asked to do six impossible things before breakfast. The Faculty Senate asked for his input on a new initiative from the state legislature and board of regents. He responded to the following question:
2. Given increased enrollment and smaller budgets, how can we maintain and improve student success and retention?
That’s a good one, isn’t it. Uh…we can’t. Der. More students and less money: not the way to maintain and improve student success and retention. That’s like asking: given fewer workers and supplies, how can we get this building project finished faster and better?
The pp put it more eloquently.
The board of regents and state legislature can demand whatever they want — they can demand that faculty alter time and space, suspend gravity, and invent perpetual motion machines — but we cannot meet demands for what is simply impossible. When someone insists that you do something impossible, the only correct and sane answer is, “No.” Any response to their demands other than honestly telling them how and why their demands are impossible would simply reinforce their deluded conviction that they can create the results they want by simply insisting that the people and institutions they have power over produce them. Real-world results cannot be produced by fact-ignoring fiat, and hard problems cannot be solved by insisting that someone lower down the totem pole solve them — especially when that insistence is accompanied by a reduction in the resources available to carry out the work needed to fix those problems.
So don’t ask insulting questions. If you have to impose increased enrollment and smaller budgets, don’t ask the proles how they can do even better.
It is a fundamental principle of ethics (my field of study) that “ought implies can,” which simply means that one cannot be obligated to do something that is not in one’s power to do. Surely at some level the powers that be must be aware of the self-contradictory nature of their demands, and that those demands cannot be met — but if they are not aware, that does not obligate us to nevertheless try to meet those demands. If we are obligated to do anything, it is to make them aware that their demands are impossible, and to explain why. In other words, we are obligated to educate them — which, after all, is our calling.
School those powers that be. School them good.