Robert Kelchen

Musings from a Midwest Road Trip

One of the best things about being a faculty member is the incredible flexibility during the summer. Although I am only on a nine-month contract and have to hustle for grant or contract funding to maintain a nice standard of living (here is what I did last summer), it’s great to be in almost complete control of my schedule for three months out of the year. I had the pleasure of spending much of early June on the road in the Midwest, mixing some time with my family and friends alongside more typical academic obligations. Here are some musings from 900 miles behind the wheel across some of the most beautiful scenery in America.

After some time with my parents, my wife and I went to Kansas City for a friend’s wedding. But since we are both Truman State University alumni, we had to make a stop at the Harry S. Truman presidential library in Independence, Missouri. In the midst of all of the exhibits (including the famous Zimmermann Telegram), there was a well-worn display on some aspects of Truman’s legacy that are still being debated today. Truman is well-known in higher education circles for the commission that he established, and many of these ideas keep popping up on a regular basis.

We then took a walk in downtown Kansas City, which has been revitalized over the last decade. (Ed policy friends: you’re going to love going to AEFP there next year!) One of the downtown attractions is the College Basketball Experience, which also hosts the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. I was struck by the graphic outside the building, which prominently featured a Creighton basketball player. This raises questions about whether players should be paid for their likenesses, even when the organization using the likeness is nonprofit.

After a gorgeous drive through corn and soybean fields (and listening to a near no-hitter on the radio), I was in Champaign, Illinois for a conference on state funding volatility in higher education hosted by the University of Illinois. Illinois knows something about the topic, but it was good to see a sense of normalcy (and construction cranes!) after a second year of consistent state funding recently came through. I presented my draft paper examining whether star research faculty members leave public research universities after state funding cuts—and I found little evidence of this. (Thanks to Eric Kelderman for this nice writeup in The Chronicle!) I also enjoyed the art outside the conference room, including this nice sign that would look great in my office.

I was then back in New Jersey for a few days to chair a dissertation defense and cut the grass before heading to Minneapolis to give a talk on higher education accountability at the Lawlor Group’s Summer Seminar for administrators at private nonprofit colleges. I usually speak with policy and scholarly audiences, so it was great to learn from a different group of people over the course of two days. It has been great to travel around for a while over the last few weeks, but now it’s nice to be back in New Jersey for a prolonged stretch of time. Time to write!