Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why we become educators ... or not

The other day, I watched for a few minutes as a Madison bus driver, one who drives a wheelchair accessible bus, brought somebody for what was obviously a medical appointment. It must have taken her 5 minutes or more to get this one person out of the bus, a lot of it pretty cumbersome and real physical work. She wasn't exactly smiling, but even at some distance, she had a look of satisfaction about her. When I see stuff like that, I'm always reminded how many of us got into this business from a deep-seated belief that higher education is something that fundamentally helps improve society: An educated society — specifically one where every smart, energetic person has ready access to the best chance to learn — is a better society.

When I was getting into this biz, a bunch of decades ago now, mine was a moderate political position: Not about what to burn down, but about what to build, how to create a better society through education. We were willing to face steep odds of finding a job, work for far less than we could get in industry, and work 80 hours a week once we got a job.

And times are harder than ever. Tuition is through the roof and classes are increasingly packed like airline seats. Faculty and staff positions are not being replaced here (last year, History lost five faculty and got one replacement, according to one person there, English here just lost five faculty this spring, I heard, and other departments are truly collapsing due to departures, including at least one that was until recently a powerhouse nationally), TA positions are being cut (Linguistics 101 fills instantly at a 360 student cap, and they were just cut from four to three TAs for the fall), and the average raise for faculty was ca. 4% last year. Worst, there's now an $8,000 per year surcharge assessed on Project Assistantships, for 'tuition remission': You bring in money to hire a grad student, you pay the University $8,000 for the privilege.

But it turns out, the administration isn't suffering with those below them. A couple of weeks ago, I got a one-page sheet called "The CEO pay plan comes to L&S". L&S is the College of Letters & Science. I didn't run the numbers, but the median raise among their staff was clearly double digits (yup, over 2.5 times what the faculty's was), and there are 'assistant deans' (including former clerical people) who are earning almost $100,000. Almost a quarter million dollars went into raises for the couple dozen people who work in that office. And the Grad School just created a .75 time position to focus on grad funding — a completely new position. I wonder where that $100,000 came from. Would have probably funded five TAs/PAs, even with the new surcharge. How disconnected is the administration that they didn't anticipate the rage that's now starting to brew among grad students, faculty, classified staff and academic staff?

Well, I guess the administrators truly do not share our priorities or goals: They've chosen to line their own pockets (anybody want to calculate the trajectory of deans' salaries versus faculty/staff/TA salaries over the last 20 years?) while they are cutting deep into resources to teach students. I've heard that Ireland was a net exporter of food to England during the potato famine. It's getting kind of like that.

1 comment:

Aimee Olafson said...

[big sigh] We see these kinds of things at all levels of education and it clearly reflects what popular culture values and how it continues to (de)value education. I was a product of a solid public school system growing up in the late 70s throughout the eighties and even when the state and local economies were doing poorly, there seemed to still be money set aside for education, at least in my area anyway, not the case anymore.

My cousins and I are the first generation in our family to finish high school, let alone college and my experiences led me to pursue a career in education to give back to the system which gave so much to me (among other reasons). But now, there are so many issues at so many levels (administrative to societal) and salaries aren't in line anymore with the rise of living costs. I've had some teacher colleges actually leave their jobs to work on the line at a Toyota plant; they had families and even with teaching and coaching, they just couldn't make it. Toyota offered a higher wage and better benefits and then they didn't have to deal with disciplinary issues and idiot parents. Speaking of idiots, a rather ridiculous film, is called Idiocracy (with Luke Wilson and one of the gals from SNL). The movie has good ideas, just not a great delivery, but at any rate, it attempts to illustrate what happens over time when people care less and less about education.