Monday, June 8, 2015

First Year Class Resigns Rather Than Take More Debt

By Professor Doom

     Last time around I was looking at the entire first year graduate class of a (soon to be formerly) top art school who resigned, rather than continue to deal with administration, which contemptuously posted a dean with no experience in visual fine arts to oversee the visual fine arts program—extremely insulting considering the salary involved for the dean (but, again, both high salary and lack of qualifications are very common in administration of higher education).

     The despairing decision by the students was only taken after trying, very hard, to negotiate with administration to keep their promises.

“…In a slew of unproductive, confounding and contradictory meetings with the Dean and other assorted members of the Roski administration in early 2015,…”

     I have to laugh at this complaint; the students don’t realize how much administrators love these sorts of meetings, not realizing how often administrators embarrass themselves with their chuckleheaded ignorance, an ignorance that would be forgivable (because they’re totally unqualified for their positions) but for their massive egos and personal sense of papal infallibility.

     Administrators, of course, don’t care how they look, they care that there were meetings. To justify their jobs, they need to document that they are *doing* something. The poor MFA students didn’t even realize that every pointless meeting actually made admin stronger, because, at the end of the year, the deans here will show to the higher ups that “we went to lots of meetings, so we need more support staff.” That the meetings accomplished nothing, and would be unnecessary except for the deans’ incompetence, just isn’t a factor. It truly is fascinating how administration in higher education works: administration doesn’t even want to accomplish anything with a meeting, that would be counter-productive from their point of view.

     And the poor kids actually thought these meetings were going to change anything:

“…Throughout this grueling process of attempting to reason with the institution, …”

     Ah, yes, trying to reason with admin, a hopeless task. I still recall spending years trying to convince them that the majority of votes of “5, 5, 5, 5, and 0” is “5,” but they insisted it was “4,” and nothing I said, no dictionary I cited, could convince them.

      You can’t reason with them. It’s that simple.

“…the Roski School and University administration used manipulative tactics of delaying decisions, blaming others, contradicting each other’s stated policies, and attempting to force a wedge of silence between faculty and students…”

     Ah yes, the “seal of silence.” I’ve dealt with this many a time. Administrators basically tell whatever lie they want to whoever they want, and count on people not talking to each other, so nobody realizes what lies are told. Underlings are threatened with termination if they tell anyone what administration told them. These threats come so often that it becomes pretty wise policy to just not talk, to anyone, ever. The ivory towers are pretty quiet nowadays, although discussions still occur off campus, among friends.

      Admin can’t realize these tactics don’t work if you have a trusted friend (and, gee, you’re in a department filled with people who share the same obsessive interests as you…having at least one friend there seems likely, though not to the reptilian administrative mind, which can’t wrap itself around the concept of “friend.”). So, you and your friend do talk, and figure out how and when the administration is lying, again…not that faculty can do anything about it.

     These students trusted each other more than they did administration, and talked amongst themselves to figure out the lies, doubtless a big factor in why admin couldn’t railroad them.

“…we have no idea what MFA faculty we’d be working with for the coming year; we have no idea what the curriculum would be, other than that it will be different from what it was when we enrolled and is currently being implemented by administrators outside of our field of study; and finally, we have no idea whether we’d graduate with twice the amount of debt we thought we would graduate with….”

     Isn’t it neat that administrators with no knowledge or understanding have now taken it upon themselves to set up programs? Please understand that not only are such programs likely to be wildly inadequate, but also the cheapest possible option will be taken every step of the way. This is why, for example, at one school I taught, even though we needed people in our IT department, we wouldn’t dare hire our computer science graduates—we knew full well the program was far too bogus to qualify them for even an entry level position working with computers.

      Now, at the undergraduate level, you can screw students like this—they’re undergraduates, and so just trust the administration (oops!) that they’ll be treated fairly and are getting a legitimate education. Graduate students aren’t necessarily so naïve, and after working with administration, the MFA students knew these people were not to be trusted:

“…Perhaps the University imagined that we would suffer any amount of lies, manipulations, and mistreatment for those shiny degrees…”

      That’s a reasonable conjecture by the MFA students. Hey, these tactics worked for administration when dealing with faculty and undergraduates, why not expect the same with grad students?

     They were told they were entering a good program, and wouldn’t have to graduate with much debt. After they were accepted, the rules changed. Again, this is typical of administrators.

     This kind of bait-and-switch fraud is not tolerated in any other industry. If you buy a 3 bedroom, two bath, brick house, and then find out you’re getting a sinkhole in the middle of a toxic dump, you’d be entitled for not just a refund, but compensation for the fraud, right? You’d have more recourse than just walk away from it….but that’s all the MFA students can do.

      For some reason, higher education gets a pass for this sort of behavior, and so bait-and-switches all the time. University of Phoenix and other for-profit institutions make billions telling people about how their wonderful degrees were worth something in the jobs marketplace, even though the for-profits know their degrees are laughable slips of paper. Much like the MFA students that were defrauded, those students will never get a refund of their tuition, even when it’s clearly taken under false pretenses, even when the Federal government shuts down the institution in the middle of the students’ degree program, much less get compensation for the year or more of their life that was wasted due to the deceptions of the administration. The very, very, highly paid administration.

      These MFA students really do seem to understand what’s going on:

“Let’s not forget about the larger system of inequity that we paid into to try to get our degrees. USC tuition has increased an astounding 92% since 2001¹, compensation for USC’s top 8 executives has more than tripled since 2001², and Department of Education data shows that “administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009”³. Adjunct faculty, the jobs that freshly-­minted MFAs usually get—­ if they’re lucky —­ are paid at a rate that often does not even reach the federal minimum wage4, while paying off tens of thousands of dollars of student-­loan debt. USC follows this trend of supporting a bloated administration with whom students have minimal contact to the diminishment of everyone else…. Meanwhile, faculty voices are silenced and adjunct faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate5, for students”

--I want to emphasize 75% of the faculty at this institution are minimally paid adjuncts. There are not enough permanent faculty there to assure students get a legitimate education, so students just get, at best, isolated courses from adjuncts that pop on campus and then leave, not coordinating their courses with others to make a coherent degree…and these students know that. Hmm, wonder if there’s a way so that the undergraduate students could learn that as well….

      Again, having plundered all they can from faculty, administration is now beginning to loot the graduate programs, and students are walking out. How much longer will it be until an entire year’s worth of students walks out of undergraduate programs? Not too much longer if people start reading my blog, I suspect. When it happens, you can bet this broad genus of schools will go extinct.

1 “Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System”, Final Release Data,National Center for Education Statistics, accessed January 2, 2015.
2 IRS 990 Forms FY 2001-­2007, Part 2, Item 25, and Schedule III and IRS 990 Forms FY 2008-­2012, Part IX, Line 5
3 “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much”, Campos, Paul F. The New York Times, April 4th 2015.
5 75% of USC faculty is contingent

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