Slightly more than a year ago, I informed PBC readers that I had been mobilized for active duty (I’m in the Army Reserve), attached to the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, and ordered to join the fight in Diyala Province, Iraq. Now — after perhaps the most meaningful and memorable year of my life — I’m back, and I must say that I’ve returned to a nation that feels a bit different from the one I left.
In October 2007, I felt good about my 401(k), felt good about the economy, enjoyed living in my ever-more-valuable home, and wondered when Hillary was going to swat away the annoying Obama gnat that buzzed about her as she marched onward towards her date with destiny. Today, Obama’s weeks from taking the oath of office, some of America’s greatest companies are facing extinction, and I’m wondering if I should take the last remaining pennies in my retirement fund, buy a few gold dubloons, and stash them in a chest beneath my (rapidly depreciating) house. In the meantime, Iraq — which once teetered on the brink of a genocidal civil war — is so flush with cash that regional governments can’t even find a way to spend all the money they have. Is it time to approach Maliki about a bailout package for American homeowners?
But if there is one constant, however, it is the radical/conservative (“we’re progressive, and we’re never going to change”) world of higher education, where the speech code is still the norm, “student religious activities” are viewed as vaguely unclean, and universities continue to lose significant First Amendment lawsuits.
In the coming months, it will be fascinating to see what effect, if any, President Obama will have on the academic landscape. He was elected in part through student efforts that seemed unprecedented in intensity (if not in actual scope). He also is much more a product (and member) of academia than any president in recent memory. While many academics liked and supported Bill Clinton, any person who cushioned the back of his El Camino with Astroturf is going to have a bit of a cultural disconnect with, say, your typical Dartmouth prof.
Obama, on the other hand, fits right in. He shares an Ivy League education with Bill, but he also taught at the University of Chicago, and spent part of his professional life working with a certain violent academic on education “reform.” Moreover, his New York/Boston/Chicago career path is one far more recognizable and understandable to academics than Bill Clinton’s trek from the nirvana of Yale to the backwoods of flyover country. Temperamentally, president-elect Obama reminds me more of a particularly charismatic law professor than he does your standard pol. In other words, for good or ill, academics have one of their own in the White House.
We shall see what all this means, but for now I’m enjoying starting my morning with a good cup of coffee in a quiet office as I read through all the relevant briefs and court opinions of the last year. There are many things to catch up on, many battles to fight, and much blogging/pontificating to do, but for now I’m just glad to be back.