Friday, March 16, 2018

Even A Poo-Bah Can Be Unpersoned!




By Professor Doom

     A recent incident highlights so many of the current issues in higher education today. Even though I can tell the gentle reader almost nothing of the incident itself, much surrounding it is worthy of discussion.

Admin, referencing me: “We’re tickled to have him here.”

     
     There’s a very depressing aspect to higher education, which admittedly has its counterpart in the corporate world: your co-workers tend to disappear. In death, many years past, a deceased professor might get a memorial or the like, but those days are past, it seems.

Admin, 6 months later, when I started asking questions: “You need to seek employment elsewhere.”

      When a faculty member leaves for other reasons, there are always questions, questions that admin usually won’t discuss honestly. Other faculty ask around, of course, but they only get a brick wall from admin:

Admin, referencing me: “He left for personal reasons.”


     I’ve been on the business end of this, and seen it many times in my coworkers. Sometimes I’ve tracked them down to learn the truth of the matter, but invariably it boils down to “he said/she said” even when I get lucky enough to talk to the disappeared faculty.

       Whether through death or other reasons, when a faculty leaves, within a day there’s no trace the person ever existed. His office or desk is quickly filled by a replacement, and admin usually makes it clear (if the faculty left under any sort of cloud) that the faculty is, to use a word from Orwell’s book, unpersoned.

     For admin, it’s similar, although they get golden parachutes on the way out, and if it’s the Poo Bah, well, then a building or two is named after him no matter how suspicious the circumstances. A recent incident has changed this pattern:


     One of the biggest problems in higher ed is how the leadership is selected: stupidly. While NFL players are only awarded huge contracts after years of excellent play, the Poo Bahs of higher ed are granted generous hiring packages for reasons no mere mortal can glean. Because they are so often hired under sketchy circumstances, my blog has cited a few times where a Poo Bah has been removed after a very short time, sometimes within months of hiring.

      The Poo Bah on campus is basically a god, but this god clearly did some great wrong. And so his name was scraped from the website, and doubtless any statues of him were toppled as well. There’s no mention of a golden parachute, so I suspect it has not been awarded. You better believe the rank and file at the school are asking questions about what happened to who, they were told, they should worship as a god.

        I’m shocked, shocked, at the answer of the university representative providing an answer the question of where the god went:

"Dr. Lamadrid has done over the last couple of years some very good work," Marcotte said. "I will just reiterate: he has left for personal reasons, and it was a little bit short notice."


     It takes little effort to realize there’s a lie here; I’ve never seen a Poo Bah leave for “personal reasons,” and I just assumed it was because gods cannot have the personal reasons so often attributed to mere faculty. Even if we were to accept this excuse, doing so under short notice, without demanding and receiving a truckload of money?

     Rubbish.

     At a university meeting, a bit more information was released, and this information came from a faculty member:

"he said that at the end of that investigation, it became obvious to the board that Lamadrid had to go." 


     There’s a culture of fear in higher ed today, because faculty who dare to speak out against even pure madness, much less try to shed light on a subject, are punished. The above quoted faculty member naturally won’t have his name attached to the quote:

The faculty member requested anonymity because Marymount professors lack tenure.


     The above is only one sentence, but the reader should take heed of the implications: do not send your kids to this school, as the faculty there cannot provide an education, since they are explicitly under the thumb of admin.

       Admin will tell you the implication I’ve given in the previous paragraph is wrong, but seeing as they’ve just been caught in a lie, well, it’d be foolish to believe anything else they have to say.  (Marcotte, incidentally, denies the quote, leaving the gentle reader to decide which version of events makes the most sense.)

…began an aggressive push to become a four-year institution with graduate programs in 2010…


      The immense fraud of your typical community college has made it hard on legitimate 2 year schools, who have changed their names from “college” to “university” to escape that stigma, and, at least in some cases, to pursue a larger portion of the student loan loot.

      Trouble is, neither of these reasons makes much sense. The point of a university is to gather scholars for purposes of education and research. Instead, we have these places re-labeling themselves as universities to (at best) escape being associated with a fraudulent segment of higher education, and (far more commonly) to grow, grow, grow, to generate more profits. Accreditation used to care about such things, but their only issue with this school calling itself a university concerned money.

cached version of a 2017 Marymount California news release that has since been removed from the university's website praised Lamadrid for his creativity and ambition. “From his first day at Marymount, on April 1, 2016, Dr. Lamadrid brought new strategies for student enrollment that immediately gained the attention of prospective students,” 


     I hate how often Orwell’s dystopia is in sync with today’s higher education, but I have no choice but to allude to Orwell again: previous praise of the unpersoned Poo Bah is flushed down the memory hole since it contradicts the new narrative that the old Poo Bah doesn't exist. Many of Orwell’s predictions have come true with frightening accuracy, but I suppose we can take comfort that his “memory hole” concept hasn’t worked out quite as successfully as Orwell thought: you can’t just toss everything contradicting the current narrative into a fire, the current age of computers just doesn’t allow it.

In 2016, Inside Higher Ed highlighted one of those strategies: a deal in which Marymount California arranged for freshmen to buy a Cooper Mini from an area dealer at a discounted price and agreed to make the fifth year of car payments if the students didn't graduate within four years.


     And again, while I cannot discuss the incident, we have yet another highlight of how higher ed’s current direction is so wrong. Only a minority of students in all of higher ed actually complete a 4 year degree in 4 actual years (and for a community college, around 0.6% of students getting their 2 year degree in 2 years is considered pretty decent….honest, we need to ask questions about these types of colleges).

      In addition to the weirdness of “financing” the student’s 5th year at this 4 year school in this manner, I can’t help but wonder why students would be buying minivans. How did it happen that higher education became about buying students minivans?

      Before summing up this mess, I give a shout out to one of the readers of the quote article, who said:

As George Orwell would say, he's now an unperson.


     Honest, I realized this had happened to the Poo Bah before I’d read the comment, but I see I’m hardly alone in making the comparison.

      So let’s sum up the questions this article raised, without even touching upon the mysterious incident causing the unpersoning of the Poo Bah:

     First, we need to start questioning why we even need Poo Bahs, as they soak up huge sums of money for little apparent benefit.

     Second, if we must have them, we need to change the hiring protocol, in particular we should stop hiring wandering plunderers, and instead hire people who have already devoted their life to the institution in question. Considering his past at a possibly seedy foreign exchange student company, it’s reasonable to wonder how he even got hired.

     Third, we need to change our system of higher education which has terrified our faculty to the point they dare not speak truth.

      Fourth, we need to start restricting the opening and expansion of schools; this school is already closing campuses, and across the country we’re seeing enrollments drop, even as our campuses expand and expand.

     Fifth, we need to stop using 1984 as a guideline for a how a campus should behave. Maybe we could write into accreditation: all campus activities must be the exact opposite of how it’s done in 1984. I know it sounds silly, but every few months I accurately apply the word “Orwellian” to a campus policy…something really needs to be done here.

     Sixth, we need to have some honesty in our bachelor’s programs. Schools where less than 20% of the students actually complete their 4 year (or 2 year) program on time should be identified, and forced to honestly advertise the true length of their programs.

      Seventh, inducements to keep students on campus need to strictly be about education. Offers to help pay for minivans should not be on the academic agenda.

       All that said, I sure am curious about what really happened. The former Poo Bah is as trustworthy as any other admin, so I don’t reckon the truth will out from him either…but I’ll let you know if I can.