The costs of treating higher education like a business
an op-ed by Chris Drabick; feature image by Ilenia Pezzaniti
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).
Ask 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.
But 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.