Chapter Six: “Peace, Love, and Crawfish”

Louisiana is known for a lot of interesting and strange things. Creoles, Cajuns, crabs, crawfish, colossal shrimp, bizarre backwoods politics, fresh oysters, microbreweries, deer-hunting, gumbo, sport fishing, swamps, and yes, raunchy Bourbon Street. The mighty Mississippi River cuts directly through the state, dividing Baton Rouge and Lafayette with the notorious Atchafalaya Basin. New Orleans is home to the Superdome, some of the most outrageous strip clubs in the country, and debauchery at every turn. Some of the best restaurants in the world can be found in Louisiana. Real Cajun food is considered a delicacy among people throughout the world. There are four major universities in the state. Louisiana State University located in Baton Rouge is considered the flagship public institution of the state. Tulane University in New Orleans is considered an elite well-to-do private institution. Loyola University in New Orleans is also a top-notch private institution. And the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, home of the mighty Ragin’ Cajuns, is also an influential public institution of significance.

My wife Brenda and my son relocated with me to Lafayette in the Summer of 1998. Lafayette was a town of considerable size. It was not a major metropolis, but it did not represent small-town America like Monticello, Arkansas did. Throughout the city, there were shopping centers, fast food chains, apartment complexes, housing developments, a major mall, and gourmet restaurants of every shape and size. The culture in Louisiana, if you don’t know, is largely built around food. The Cajun cuisine takes some getting used to, but people come from all over the planet to sample the food in this region known as French Louisiana. Interestingly, the history of the region is just as rich as the food. The Cajun settlers who came to the Acadiana region were castaways from Canada. As the story goes, the British were hunting the French in Canada and drove out a large segment of the population who fled southward down the Mississippi River until they got to Louisiana. And they stayed put. In this region, you will find many natives who still speak Cajun French. In the customs and culture, you will also find French influence in the art, language, traditions, music, food, namesakes, and the overall celebration of life. Frankly, Cajuns are some of the happiest people on the planet.

Our apartment was modest. Our furniture was reasonable. Our rent was manageable. The size of the University was considerable at 17,000 students. And even though the University did not have a law school or medical program, they did have several Ph.D. programs in selected disciplines, which made the University a powerhouse Carnegie IIA doctoral-granting institution. Dr. Paul Barefield was my immediate supervisor, and his official title was a full professor and department chair. My job? I was a brand-new assistant professor of communication with two years of credit toward my tenure clock. If you don’t know, American universities typically give you six years after your Ph.D. awarding before you are reviewed for tenure and promotion. If you are successful with tenure and promotion, you are offered a lifetime contract and promoted to the rank of associate professor. If you are unsuccessful with tenure and promotion, you are summarily dismissed. So, the pressure is really on during the six-year clock to perform well in your teaching, research, and service to the University so that the institution will offer you the so-called “armor of tenure.” Tenure is supposed to protect you from institutional politics. In theory, that is. People with tenure, faculty members with tenure, usually have a strong voice on campus and celebrate their free speech wholeheartedly because the institution is prevented from disciplining them for the things they say. That’s why tenure is considered the gold coin of being a professor.

So, finally, we had arrived at a significant research institution. The question is, how would this all play out? I was at a brand-new institution, with a brand-new set of colleagues and rules, and I had been identified by my department chair as the computer and technology wizard of the department. You’ll have to remember, that I was still the editor for the American Communication Journal, which was a web-based serial of the American Communication Association. Everything that I did in my spare time revolved around advancing this journal property. And I had a team of about 30 to 40 influential scholars backing me on this project. You also need to remember, that it was 1998 and the web was still in its infancy. The web had not become a popular medium for the distribution of information. There were no smartphones. And Google was just starting to emerge online. The main fear on the minds of most people was Y2K when computers were not supposed to recognize a four-digit year and would perceive the date to be 00 or 1900. The conspiracy theories around a total meltdown of information infrastructures were rampant, and businesses and organizations were throwing considerable money into a frenzied reprogramming of their computers to recognize the year 2000 onward. From 1998 to the year 2000, I spent much of my time consulting for companies — mainly oil and gas companies — in the Acadiana region, building websites for their organizations and coaching programmers on how to deal with Y2K.  The money flow was considerable, and we were loving Southwest Louisiana!  Aiyeee!

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