Sunday, September 21, 2014

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Sometimes the gap between where I live and where I work can be disorienting. Case in point: while my students are studying mathematical equations so they can get good grades on their petroleum engineering exams, I'm being run off the road by a brine truck serving a hydraulic fracturing well.

I survived that encounter, but my neighbors' frequent small misunderstandings about where I work and what I do act as a constant irritant. Since the college's budget problems have been in the news, I get questions everywhere I go--at the grocery store, at the gas station, even at church. Most of these questions can't be answered effectively in the time I spend pumping gas or standing in the check-out line, such as "Why doesn't the college just dig into that huge endowment fund?" First, I would have to explain why "huge" is not the appropriate term to describe our endowment, and then I would have to explain the difference between restricted and unrestricted funds, and by then my interlocutor would be asleep.

This morning, though, I got a question that really threw me for a loop: "Don't they teach anything besides petroleum engineering down there at that college?" 

That's right: an apparently intelligent and alert person who has lived in this area for more than 50 years is somehow not aware that we teach anything other than Petro.

Which makes me realize that those of us who teach English majors or history majors or journalism or education or biology majors are simply not doing a very good job telling our story.  

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