Many of the most serious problems in higher education are well hidden from the students. Yes, they’re slowly becoming aware of just how broken higher education is, and yes, the less reputable schools are starting to lose students, but that’s just a small decline overall, not an extinction level event.
The primary issue in higher education has been the takeover by mercenary administrators, people with no education, no understanding of education, and motivated purely by ambitious greed, and accustomed to being able to get away with all sorts of abuses, in the name of, well, ambitious greed.
Mostly, faculty have borne the brunt of their rapaciousness; administrators usually have almost no contact with students.
Those days are ending. Having plundered faculty as much as they can (and booted any who speak out off campus), administrators are starting to turn towards the graduate students.
What happens when students start to see the creatures which are really controlling higher education? They walk out, en masse. The entire first year class of MFA (Master of Fine Arts) students at USC decided to just walk away, rather than continue to take abuse. In a sign of solidarity with the abused first year students, the graduating class of MFA students in this school did not even attend their own graduation.
The students explained why they left as a group in a letter:
In short, due to the University’s unethical treatment of its students, we, the entire incoming class of 2014, are dropping out of school and dropping back into our expanded communities at large…
The entire class of first year students, every single one of them, said “this college is ridiculous” and walked away from the entire program, knowing full well that the year they just spent was wasted.
Some background for the school these students walked away from: The Roski School of Fine Arts is (more accurately, was) one of the top schools in the world, ranked #36 in the broad category of Fine Arts graduate programs. This puts Roski on the same level as programs at Cornell, UC-Berkeley, and Stanford—institutions that most everyone has at least heard about. As a prestigious school, administration saw an opportunity: plunder the prestige for personal gain.
These students are to be commended for choosing to walk away. Many students, upon finding out they’re trapped in a bogus school (or, in this case, a school that’s turning bogus), make the choice of pushing through to get the worthless degree, rather than accept they just wasted a year or more of their lives. These are some very astute MFA students to escape the trap that has ensnared so many. It’s well worth looking at some key points in their letter:
The Dean of the Roski School of Art and Design was appointed by the University in May 2013, despite having no experience in the visual arts field. She, along with Roski’s various Vice and Assistant Deans, made it clear to our class that they did not value the Program’s faculty structure, pedagogy or standing in the arts community…
This is, of course, the key issue in higher education. Administrators now have no understanding of education, and certainly no respect for it. There’s also a weird pro-female bias that is very difficult to ignore. Time and again I’ve been ruled by some Deanling that, frankly, has no business in education, has no more ethics than what these students experienced, and I’ve seen these clueless people form imbecilic committees and make foolish hiring decisions that would perplex anyone with basic competence in any academic discipline. I simply don’t understand why positions that require no experience or skills are paid so highly.
I really want to focus on this new Deanling. In George Orwell’s 1984, he describes the “perfect” citizen template of Oceania—hunched shoulders, beetle-browed, suspicious, tight-lipped, and forever scuttling from one task to another.
I’ve noticed that there seems to be a template for Deans in higher education, especially at questionable institutions, or institutions heading in that direction. It isn’t just their scuttling and unethical behavior, they even LOOK similar. I’m not the only faculty to have noticed, Ginsberg noticed the same thing in his book about the skirt-and-panty-hose Deans ruthlessly enforcing the takeover of higher education. Feel free to look at the picture of the Dean here. It’s such an odd coincidence that she looks so much like several other Deans I’ve seen tormenting higher education.
There’s this weird conspiracy theory about aliens walking among us, wearing human costumes. I try not to entertain it in the least, but…but…if those costumes are all designed by the same person/creature/organization, wouldn’t you see similarities much like any artist’s work is distinctive? Silly, perhaps, but it’s weird how “same person, different name and slightly different face” keeps coming up like this.
Strange conjectures aside, the fact still remains: the renowned program is being plundered and destroyed, because control of the program is being ripped out of the hands of the faculty who built the program, and into the grasping clutches of administration.
Also, note that the students can’t even list all the Deanlings they were forced to deal with in trying to get their issues resolved…and that’s just in one part of one department of one campus of one University. Seriously, we have way too many bosses in higher education.
The mass resignation letter continues:
The effects of the administration’s denigration of our program arrived almost immediately. In December 2014, Roski’s MFA Program Director stepped down from her position, and was not replaced with another director; in short succession that month, the program lost a prominent artist, mentor, and tenured Roski professor, her pedagogical energies and input devalued by the administration.
The mentor referenced above resigned over the brutal treatment of the students, saying \”The students are correct in terms of funding, curriculum, and faculty structure, all changed in relation to the program they agreed to enter.\”
The Dean insists nothing changed, however, and that no agreements were broken:
\”The school honored all the terms in the students\’ offer letters.”
Now, absolutely, I’ve had a student not hear me correctly, but when the entire class AND the program director all insist there are lies being told, and faculty walks away from tenure in frustration at the lack of integrity of the “leadership”, I’m inclined to believe the Dean is lying. It doesn’t help that most Deans I’ve known are shills for administration, with no interest in telling the truth. These students left jobs, homes, families, and in some cases countries for the privilege of studying in a top program; I’m sure they knew quite well that the promises of the program were broken. Faculty, of course, know what’s going on as well:
“Simultaneously they’re saying there is no more money in the MFA program and there have to be cuts, but at the same time, there’s this huge influx of money for innovation and this arts business model,” said another Roski faculty member who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the administration.
What, a faculty member is speaking anonymously because he fears retaliation from admin? But, but, tenure and academic freedom! Yes, I’ve written of the culture of fear in higher education before, but every campus scandal has faculty members fearing retaliation if they speak the truth about what’s going on. Combine that fact with every institution has scandals, and realize that across the country, faculty are terrified of speaking out about what’s really happening in higher education.
Because of the culture of fear and lack of integrity in administration, there’s a common theme in higher education: legitimate faculty resign (walking away from tenure!) in disgust with the constant disrespect and unprofessionalism of the administration…and admin sees no reason to replace legitimate faculty. At the undergraduate level, this isn’t too big a deal for the naïve students, but in graduate school, who you train with becomes rather important. You don’t join graduate programs to work with “Expendable Adjunct #376”, you go because there are particular people there you want to learn from.
Undergraduates mostly go to college because they’re told that’s where they should go after high school. At some point, however, the undergraduates are going to figure out just how many of their temp-worker faculty are really not capable or qualified to teach the material, as I’ve documented quite a few times.
Back to the students’ list of grievances:
However, a different funding model was presented to us upon acceptance to the Program by the Roski administration:
The students’ primary grievance is they were suckered into a bait-and-switch. As applicants, they were told how rosy the MFA program was, how they were going to be supported and given valuable training. After they signed up, the deal changed, and they would have to graduate from a much weaker program, with double the debt they planned for. What’s really freaky about this is the combined debt of all the students, worst case scenario, doesn’t cover a single year’s salary of the Deanling who tried to screw the students into taking the debt. That’s how grasping the administration of higher education is today: one administrator’s pay covers the whole degree program of more than half a dozen students. Anyone else see something wrong with this?
Again, this is typical administrative shenanigans. At a school I was with, one administrator we referred to as Darth, because after she made an agreement that sounded good, she would later change it to whatever she wanted. Faculty were (and still are) helpless, even as she could tell us “pray that I do not alter it any further.” Her rise through the administrative ranks has been meteoric, for what it’s worth.
It really is sad that successful administrative “leadership” compares accurately with the leadership style of Darth Vader.
The letter continues:
Moreover, when we arrived in August 2014, we soon discovered that the Dean of the Roski School was attempting to retroactively dismantle the already-diminished funding model that was promised to us, as well as make drastic changes to our existing faculty structure and curriculum.
So, the rules were changed: the students would get much less training (including reduced studio work, bit of a problem for a studio artist MFA), and get much more debt.
Administration is used to making utterly despotic demands of faculty, and has gotten away with it for years. They’ve been making such demands of students as well, but mostly those demands are hidden by the student loan scam—only after students graduate do they realize how administration has enslaved them through debt, for decades to come.
Administration tried the bait-and-switch on the graduate students, who were too canny to be suckered like the undergraduates fresh out of high school. “No, Dean, we want you to keep your agreement,” said the students, but they were willing to talk things through. Next time, we’ll look at what happened when the students tried to actually talk to administrators as though they were equals.