Kansas Storm

Last week, Ani Kokobobo, who teaches at the University of Kansas, took to our pages to sound the alarm about threats to the tenure system there. I talked with Kokobobo about public education, the response to her essay, and decline and deterioration. 

This piece struck a nerve. What have you been hearing? 

I’ve heard from a lot of people, from friends and colleagues all over, saying: We’re watching this. If we lose tenure here, that’s a chink in the armor of the entire system — excuse the mixed metaphor.

We haven’t yet heard from our administration. We did hear, from our faculty senate, that there could be some positive resolution.

I’m sympathetic to our administrators, in that I know they face a really difficult situation. We’re increasingly being defunded.

Especially in red states, the pandemic could provide the impetus for ratcheting up a defunding agenda that was already underway. Is this the beginning of the end of the public university? 

The thing that gives me hope is, as department chair, how hard I see people work. We’re all working really hard at teaching. We’re a research university, and students deserve that kind of education. The only chance we have to weather this is to articulate the value of what we do to our students and to our communities.

This is not a political question. You want your children to get the best education that they can get. Our states have to pay for it, and we have to find a way to articulate that. We’re not the ivory tower. This is the last opportunity some of these young people have to grow and develop before they enter the work force — their last opportunity to get the critical skills they need to be citizens in the future.

I came to this country in the ’90s, and I ended up going to Dartmouth, which was the only place where I felt like I have a home — a place that I fit. And from there I could move on with my life and my career. That opportunity needs to be there for students of public education, too.

One of your areas of interest is the fin de siècle. The fin de siècle’s self-conception is one of decline and deterioration, but also of possibility and new hope. 

I do think about the fin de siècle. I think about nontraditional ways of living and being. It’s a time for opportunity, a time for innovation, even for academics.

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