The costs of treating higher education like a business

an op-ed by Chris Drabick; feature image by Ilenia Pezzaniti

IMG_1103(2)I lost my full-time job at the University of Akron. I am, until the end of the Spring semester, an instructor in the Department of English, with the job title Temporary Visiting Lecturer. The language itself portends how precarious a position I, and the 100 or so other TVLs, have been in.

But teaching is what I do, and it is what I’m supposed to do. In anonymous evaluations of my composition courses, my students have said things like:

“This man is the reason I now enjoy writing so much.”

“I wouldn’t want my friends to miss out on having a teacher like (him).”

“He wants to help you become a better writer (and) see his students succeed.”

On these same evaluations, I finish with an overall response score always above the department mean. And it’s not because I’m handing out A’s like candy: check me out on ratemyprofessors.com, and you’ll find students commonly classify me as a “Tough Grader” (I’ve also got one of those hotness chili peppers, which is neither here nor there but makes me feel better about myself nonetheless, which has become increasingly important of late as you might imagine).

faculty numbers breakdownAsk the UA administration, and you’ll hear talk of adding academic jobs. It’s a(nother) lie. In my department, there were nine TVLs in 2015-16. They “added” three new full-time Instructor jobs. Nine minus six. Six of us gone. I can’t speak for other departments. But in mine, that means adjunct faculty will teach 300 more students in 2016-17. This is not to disparage adjuncts, especially considering I’ll be one in the Fall.

Adjuncts have it rough; some work at three or even more different campuses, teaching half-dozen sections per semester, subsisting on something near or below poverty wages with no job security, and certainly unable to give the sort of time and attention to student work that would benefit everyone. But the suggestion that the current UA administration is doing anything in the best interests of current or future students, that they care even one appreciable whit about education, is erroneous in every possible regard. Ask any adjunct.

Please don’t be fooled by the administration’s flashy, hollow buzzwords, the constant doublespeak or outright refusal to answer any direct question, LeBron’s smiling face and arm around Scott Scarborough. This is a failed administration. They conduct their business in secret, away from the eyes and ears of the community they ostensibly serve.

“Run it like a business.”

We’ve heard this a million times. The “it” changes, but the mantra remains. In what business would a 30 percent drop in “customers” be tolerated? They love to cite “changing demographics,” but those numbers have not hurt our “competitors’” enrollment figures.

Perhaps it’s the litany of bad decisions and short sightedness that makes us feel powerless. We know it all by heart by now: $1 million in renovations, baseball cut for naught, $850,000 to an unproven startup (started up by a man with a federal fraud investigation over his head), which now handles the student success once ably handled by, you know, Student Success. One after the other after the other. When we hear that the University “borrowed” $4.1 million from its students in the form of illegal fees, it gets added to an already weighty list of what would have once seemed like unbelievable nonsense.

Requirements of TeamworkBut believe it. This actually happened. Has anyone been punished for this tangible, literal thievery, or any of the other crimes—some real, some figurative—that have been perpetrated by this administration of our University, our city, our community? What will it take for us—and make no mistake, it is up to us—to demand accountability, to demand immediate change?

It’s not too late to start again. But it is getting later. And it is going to be harder. This University, this resource, is ours. It is not theirs. It’s doubtless that you know someone who was directly affected by the much-covered round of job losses last summer. It was devastating. “Mistakes were made,” they said.

There’s no front-page ABJ coverage of this round of job losses. But there will be fewer full-time instructors in many departments at UA in the fall. Fewer Akronites with health benefits, a decreased tax base, less money for good and services, the real trickle-down economics. They’ve learned to keep it quiet this round. Don’t let them.

Make some fucking noise.

3 Responses

  1. Count Scrofula

    Frankly, they’re “running it as a business” quite well: a handful of greedy pieces of shit at the top gut it, loot it, take what they want. Then they “resign” before they can be fired, take a healthy severance package (a.k.a. “get the hell outta here” bribe), and do it again to another institution.

    *slow clap*

    Reply
    • Admin

      Maybe “running it like a bad business,” but business — this magazine is one, most of the places we like in Akron are businesses — does not equal greed. #JustSaying That said, there is a very specific mindset that this group seems to be employing that can follows some of the patterns you described, especially the desire to convert public funding to private company holdings. – Chris

      Reply
  2. Roosick

    So many good people who have given years to the students are losing their jobs. Parents should be advised that morale is in the basement on campus right now. Everyone feels it. For the students’ sake, most of these people who are soon to lose their jobs and benefits are attempting to put a brave face on the situation. Housing and car allowances for the rich while we eliminate jobs that make maybe 32k with benefits. The board and the president must sleep well at night.

    Reply

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