Friday, May 20, 2016

Behind the Scenes at Community College

By Professor Doom

"The misplaced commoditization of education is perhaps most powerfully seen at the community college—inflated administrative salaries, meaningless surveys of satisfaction, exploitation of adjuncts, spiraling text book costs, millions of education leadership degree programs which do not prepare graduate students for leading anyone, thousands of programs, pilots, grants, and services that perpetuate a kind of public fraud which promises higher education but is best suited for vocational training. So much leadership puffery…"

--From today’s book.

     The workers in higher education, that is, the educators, know there’s something very wrong right now. Some leave, never to return, some stand up and fight, and some wait and consider the best course of action. The ones that stand up are squashed, and the ones who wait see the squashings and realize if we’re going to do anything about it, we need to be subtle.

      I’ve responded with this blog, in the vain hope that if enough people outside higher education watch as I connect the dots, we can amass enough strength and do something about it. It’s nigh hopeless, but perhaps over time my goal can be reached. I post anonymously, of course, but have no illusions that, when I’m found, my career in higher education will end. I’ve counted on the general incompetence of the Poo Bahs of higher ed for this to take years, and not been disappointed.

      Others write very thinly veiled books, “fiction,” detailing the madness, somehow thinking that posting their complaints as fiction will protect them. There are a few books out there from small publishers. Mainstream publishers won’t touch such books, for some reason.

      The book I’ll be looking at here is  College Leadership Crisis: The Philip Dolly Affair, detailing many of the characters one finds in an all-too-typical community college.

“…met for Moonbuck's coffee…but such benign activities were a front for their true purpose—to get rid of Dolly…”

They had a steadily increasing-in-volume dossier of information about the President and his actives in Hamilton City. In fact, they actually possessed several videos [soon to be posted on Lube Tube]


     The above excerpt highlights the nature of the fictional world in the book: a coffee shop called Moonbuck’s, an online site for videos called Lube Tube. This book is thinly veiled fiction. The proper names might be changed a bit, but otherwise the reader should realize the people and events detailed here are very close to real-world counterparts.

     Phillip Dolly is the Poo Bah of the fictional community college. Like many Poo Bahs in the real world, he leaves in disgrace from one school, only to quickly get another plum position somewhere else, in this case at the fictional Copperfield Community College (CCC)…it’s weird how often this sort of thing happens, almost as though the Poo Bah’s real job is to destroy institutions, and having succeeded in the job, the Poo Bah has no trouble getting yet another position where he can continue the plundering.

      The book considers the thoughts of Dolly as he’s cast down from the previous school, where he considers all the good things he did for the school:

Hmm, I made all of the directors deans and all of the deans became associate VPs. Only one of the new VPs had emotional problems, but no damage was done. He checked into rehab. Our quality initiatives must have moved the college forward. We redid offices, put in new floors and windows, and really spruced the place up too. We won several national awards.

I remember there was some grousing when I had the president's salary increased to 475K,…


     The book is a little subtle, but allow me to highlight the real problem with most (all?) Poo Bahs in higher education. All these people do is come in, elevate themselves and their buddies to high-paying positions, and plunder away. Yes, they win awards, but investigation reveals these awards are practically self-given, there’s a circle-jerk of back-slapping in higher education awards that only insiders really get to see. All the outsiders see are shiny plaques.

      It's a frustrating thing to watch as faculty. It takes years of flawless academic and scholarly work to qualify for a 2% pay raise and a slightly spiffier title, as faculty. Time and again, however, I've seen administrators fly up through the ranks, getting 10% or 20% pay raises yearly, despite making major blunders year after year (examples of making the academic calendar one week too short, spending $100,000 more than the budget allowed, scheduling multiple classes in the same room at the same time on a campus with a dozen rooms all leading to huge pay raises come to mind. Meanwhile having 70% retention instead of 75% precludes a raise, since only the best teachers should get that....)

      But the subtlety is missed: as the Poo Bah goes over all his “achievements” there’s a huge dog not barking: at no point does the Poo Bah ever consider doing anything for education or for the students. For Poo Bahs, getting big raises and constructing nice palaces are the goals of higher education, nothing more.

All those retreats, keynote speeches, conferences, dinners, trips to Europe—just so much, so much over the years…The governing board said I spent too much time out of state.


     Again, the book lightly goes over all these trips and things. But admin in higher education, even at tiny community colleges, regularly go outside the country for “retreats”…it’s positively insulting to the educators “left behind” because there are no travel funds for them. Even more obnoxious, they use these “leadership building” trips to justify awarding themselves promotions and pay raises. I’m serious: admin give themselves vacations, and then they reward themselves for getting vacations. Had I not seen it with my own eyes many times, I’d find it as shocking as, I hope, the gentle reader does.

Well, the faculty senate sent me a letter asking why my own kids didn't attend our college.


      Again, the book is being subtle. Often I accuse our leaders in community colleges to be incompetent, but the above line drops a hint that I’m quite wrong: these guys wouldn’t dare put their children in the community college system, because they know these schools are bogus, and wouldn’t inflict that on their own children.

      In many cases, then, the Poo Bahs are the worst sort of evil: they know they are serving evil, but do it all the same.

I recommended we take "Technical" out of our name and emphasize transfer education.


     It seems every community college Poo Bah dreams of destroying the possibility of the college helping the community, and instead turning the school into a big university, or at the very least into a school that claims to prepare students for university. I’ve seen it many times. There are many reasons for this, but turning the school into a “transfer” institution reaps many benefits—albeit none for students or education.

     By casting the school in such terms, the school need no longer worry about producing graduates, and there’s far less scrutiny over what, exactly, the school is doing. Instead, the emphasis can be on growth. It’s why a fake 2 year school can be considered successful, even if only 0.6% of its students actually graduate on time. “We’re a transfer institution” whines the Poo Bah, so who cares if there are no graduates, who cares if there is no second year coursework at the 2 year school, who cares if most of the coursework is high school level or lower?

Oh. The accreditation people were concerned fifty percent of our total enrollment comes from dual enrollment with high school kids [and the classes are taught at the high schools by high school teachers]. How can that be considered double dipping? I am very comfortable with those partnerships. I told the board and the faculty such outreach was important to stakeholder satisfaction.


       The book does a good job of aping the edu-speak of our Poo Bahs, but I want to highlight that “dual enrollment” referenced above. My own community college, and many colleges, do much the same: we claim to have thousands of students, but many of the students couldn’t find the campus if they tried, and aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license in any event. The “college courses” are taught somewhere else, by non-faculty…I’m not saying these non-faculty don’t do a good job, mind you, but the admin? They get pay raises for “growing” the institution like this, even though the institution is, quite literally, doing nothing. Millions and millions of dollars of salary to pay the “leaders” at the community college…while the students go to the same damn high school with the same damn teachers to take the same damn courses the high school already offers. It’s nuts, but the way how funding is awarded, makes perfect sense for administrators.

      Like I’ve said, the book is a little subtle at pointing out the reality of community colleges.

I guess I'll email those head hunters at tomorrow. Maybe I'll try There must be a community college out there needing my leadership skills, my knowledge of management styles, my commitment to the learn-ed college philosophy, my knowledge of branding and sustainability, my zest for policy governance, and my networking abilities.

      The book does a great job of getting into the mind of a typical community college Poo Bah, and I’ve only lightly gone over the ignorance and hubris of these guys. Next time around we’ll look at some of the other characters typical of community college.







  1. Thanks again for writing this. Our views seem even more relevant now in 2020!