Today I experienced the best and the worst of Ohio University.
First the best: being inducted as an emerita associate professor – then listening to William Beale, founder of Sunpower and former teacher of Engineering at OU. He entertainingly proposed elegantly simple solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems. He was brilliant, funny, self-deprecating. It was the best of academia, thought-provoking ideas and civil discussion with well-educated and intelligent people. That was why I joined the academic ranks – and why I came to Ohio U. It was the high, the best of Ohio University.
Now the low. I did a mundane thing next, but bear with me as it illustrates something critical to the future of the university. I parked in the Baker Center garage. A simple, everyday act. Upon returning and putting my ticket in the machine, it said, "Unreadable ticket." Put it in again. Same. I looked – date and time were clearly stamped. Gentleman behind me said – let me try. He did. Same message. What to do?
He said you need to go to Baker Center, first floor. Seemed like a lot of effort but no choice. I went to the first-floor desk; no one there (it was mid-afternoon). Computer folks whom I bothered said I needed to go up to the fourth floor. Really? That seemed like a lot of time and effort (I had another appointment to get to.) OK, I went up another three floors. There was a student at the desk. I told her the machine in the garage said my ticket was unreadable and the date and time was right there (thinking she could validate my ticket or something). Nice girl said, "Oh, that happens a lot." (Really?) She said she would call Parking Services and they would send someone over.
They would send someone over. Someone would drive over. Think for a minute. (And remember this happens a lot.) Someone gets in a van (as it turns out), uses expensive gas and valuable time to drive over to the parking garage to open the machine and do something to let me (and many others from the sound of it) out.
At this point, I was incredulous. I thought of the time, mine and others, and money OU was spending on a recurring glitch in the machine. And the university has budget problems. We're cutting faculty, deferring maintenance, eliminating jobs.
So I thought, maybe the right people didn't know about this problem. I saw a phone and asked the operator to connect me with the head of facilities. Cory or Cary or someone answered. He was an administrator, I could tell by his voice. So I said, I'm an emerita faculty (I was proud that day), and the machine in the parking garage, etc., etc., and someone has to drive over and this seems like a huge waste of time and money. After a minute or two he said, "What do you want me to do?" (Could he not think of something himself? Guess not.) So I said, "Well, I'd like you to say you will look into this problem and fix it." Long silence. I thought he might have hung up. So I said, "Are you there… (silence)… or am I talking to the wall?" He said, "You're talking to the wall."
This, obviously, was a low point. To me, it was Ohio U. at its worst. I share this because I believe it speaks volumes about where we are as a university.
And I will leave you to your own thoughts on this.
Bojinka Bishop is an associate professor emerita of journalism in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.