Travesty

My only regret after Friday’s “State of the College” event was that I had not asked for the attendees to fill out a survey on what they thought of the proceedings.

I was delighted, then, to see that the Lounge helpfully posted a short survey asking for participants’ feedback, asking “I think the State of the College Address was:” I immediately emailed all of my family and friends, pleading with them to rate the event “The Best Ever.” As of Sunday afternoon, it looks like three of them have responded, assuming they don’t have a perverse sense of humor and voted for one of the other categories. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two votes for “A Travesty” came from a few of my friends.

As you may notice upon close examination, PhiloDave did not provide a true Likert scale of a spectrum of choices for the voters. The scale starts with “The Best Ever,” as good as it can get. Next is “Definitely a Success,” a reasonable drop from the implausible heights of “Best Ever.” Next comes that dreaded adjective, “Fine,” loaded with an indifferent approval for happenings for which one cannot muster emotional reactions. “Truly Fine” may have elevated the category above the above mentioned “Success,” and “Fine” is spectrally above the next choice, “Forgettable,” but I do not feel “Fine” is as in line with the Likert-type neutrality its middle position suggests. “Forgettable” is a strong choice for the Likert fourth position.

That leaves “A Travesty.” My heart sank when I saw the choice. At first, it struck me as a reasonable, if dreaded (for the organizer), opposite alternative to the apposite “Best Ever.” Not content to accept PhiloDave’s scale at face value, however, I did some sleuthing of my own.

I pulled out volume two of my trusted Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Sixth Edition, and found, nestled between “travitessiment” <travestying a person or thing; the wearing of a dress of the opposite sex> and “travis” <1. A railed enclosure into which restive horses are put to be shot. 2. A wooden partition separating two stalls in a stable. 3. A horse’s stall in a stable.>, “travesty.” To my surprise, the word did not mean what I thought it meant.

travesty /’travesti/ adjective & noun. M17 (mid-17th century origin)

[ORIGIN French travesti pa. pple of travestir from Italian travistere, from tra- TRANS – vestire clothe.]

adjective. Dressed so as to be made ridiculous; burlesqued, parodied. M17 – L18.

noun. 1. (A) derisive or ludicrous imitation of a serious literary work. Now chiefly transf., a grotesque misrepresentation or imitation (of a thing). L17. 2. Orig., an alteration of dress; a disguise. Now spec. (chiefly THEATRICAL), (dressing in) the clothes or style of clothing of members of the opposite sex (see also EN TRAVESTI). M18. 

For those who were not able to attend the meeting, we tried a new format this go-round. After a set of introductions by our new faculty members expressing enthusiasm for HWC and DreamWorks (one delusional English instructor thought he was receiving an Oscar) and brief introductory remarks by me on our priorities for the coming months (including our Graduation Initiative, budget efforts, space, customer service excellence, and College to Careers), we were entertained and informed by a number of our colleagues. Several faculty committees updated us on events and roles, our union leaders told us about scholarships and current events, Professor Schoenberger gave a pitch for the Legal Clinic, and a parade of administrators updated us on budgets, instruction, space, and processes. Everyone was so efficient in sticking to his or her time contract, we had time left over to take questions and comments from the assembled. The meeting ended on time, and several people took advantage of the subject-matter tables we had set up in the adjoining room for more in-depth discussion for any of the afore-mentioned topics that piqued particular interest.

In my view, the event was a smashing success. I won’t say it was the best ever, as different ‘state of the college’ addresses have different intents. My intent for this one was to allow diverse members of our community to briefly update colleagues on goings-on, with enough time to whet appetites in the event people wanted a more comprehensive discussion afterward. We met the goal. I didn’t even see anyone sleeping, unlike during my Fall speech.

“A travesty,” though. Assuming PhiloDave intended the adjectival use of the word, in line with the other more Likert-like alternatives, I wonder if ‘travesty’ isn’t an astute choice after all. Each participant was given a 3 – 5 minute window in which to make their pitch. By constraining the time and form, I may have inadvertently created many little parodies of a full-fledged State of the College address. In my position at the front of the room, I saw enough smiles, nods and gentle chuckles to now make me wonder if the audience didn’t see this as a delightful burlesque, a parade of abbreviated valedictories, cut short in the prime of their eloquence in order to serve Chronos.

Or maybe PhiloDave did intend to implement a Likert scale and use the more colloquial understanding of travesty as a disaster. I’d like to know. So, while I don’t expect the overwhelming numbers of respondents (as of this writing, 10) the Lounge can produce, I am interested in feedback. Let me know in the poll below, assuming you got this far.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with higher education, non-profit and private-sector consulting experience.

4 thoughts on “Travesty

  1. Hi Don!
    I’d like to complete your survey, but I want to check a box somewhere between Yes and No. The reason for that is, Yes, I did learn a lot, but, No, I don’t want to ask someone later. See, while I believe your idea was great, I also left wondering if some of the 411’s could not have been given to us in the way of a newsletter.
    Truthfully speaking, I did not go to the State of the College hear about announcements. I went to hear about the state of the college. Again, I applaud you for your efforts, but I would have appreciated hearing more from your administration and less from others – a simple newsletter from each of these non-administrative parties would have sufficed.
    More of the same next time, but with a focus on administrative staff.
    Keep the round tables for the non-admin folks who want to communicate with us; and ask them to send out monthly electronic newsletters between now and the next State of the College.
    Thanks for reading!

  2. Realist,

    I adore you and yet I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    Get real here. We have serious challenges with communication among departments in the building. For example, I had to get a forwarded email of a forwarded email to find out about changes at the federal level that affect a new student’s ability to get financial aid, many of them being in my program! Seriously……..

    Our culture is this. We are busy with a growing student population, and we are seriously understaffed in many areas from Admissions and Advising to Faculty to all those other departments that I know nothing about (like OIT). We don’t have time to talk to, let alone write an email to our colleagues in the same office. Personally, I barely have time to clarify policies and procedures with my department mates, and when I write the long emails, they barely have time to read them.

    Truth: We are highly verbal people who get things done by oral communication.
    Fact: this newsletter idea just isn’t going to fly. How many people read the Assessment Committee newsletter? How do we know they read it? We don’t. Written communication is a one sided thing.

    The only way to ensure communication is to take advantage of the only all college forum we have; State of the College. This is the ONLY event that is attended by every member of our community.

    As for the Q&A and round tables, super!! All were announcements. Every comment was information based, clear, and above all positive! What a transformation!

    This State of the College gave me information I needed and filled in some holes in my knowledge base. It emphasized how interdependent we truly are as we work with students to help them through the entire college experience.

    Knowing more stats isn’t going to help us to improve graduation rates, if that’s what you mean by having admins run the show. Knowing how students can be served does.

    The only missing component was a luncheon for our family to celebrate our accomplishments. I would have liked a button saying….the State of the College ‘rocked’ in every way, but luncheon was sorely missed.

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