The weather here in the Rocky Mountains is like the economy: bottoming out and likely to remain in the deep freeze for the foreseeable future. So after my face-freezing walk across the Baa Ram U. campus, I arrived at work this morning to a flooded department hallway and an office full of wet carpet. (A colleague of mine 2 doors down got the worst of it–for the second time in two years, the pipes in the heating system in her office burst and flooded half the department.) Luckily, our decaying, flooding, oddly dead-fly infested building was on a list of buildings to be renovated…before the stock market tanked this fall, and before all of the other harbingers of economic doom that followed in short order. As the little gingerbread man in that Go Phone commercial says about another crumbling building, in the voice of Steve Buscemi, “I’d like people to stop eating my house…but that ain’t gonna happen.”
So, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Roxie’s musings on the problems facing public colleges and universities, get thee to Roxie’s World right now to read Moose’s back-of-the-cereal-box history of trends in higher education over the past few decades and her super depression-proof plan for public institutions everywhere:
For years, public institutions like Queer the Turtle U have been stuck between the rock and the hard place of declining levels of state support and mounting pressure to keep tuition affordable. Caught in that vise, schools have fought to do more with less while scrambling to catch up to private institutions in the game of fundraising. That strategy worked reasonably well when times were good and the bubbles in stocks or real estate had a lot people feeling rich. Now? The party’s over, public and private revenues have dried up, and schools are desperately trying to figure out how to cut costs without compromising the value of their brand (the ne plus ultra of higher ed under the consumer model).
Moose, who has a healthy respect for academic entrepreneurship, has a slogan for public institutions eager to prove that larger classes, smaller operating budgets, and reductions in advising and other forms of academic support are no threat whatsoever to the quality of education. She’s been using the slogan informally all over campus at Queer the Turtle U this fall, but it hasn’t been officially adopted yet, so, in the spirit of academic capitalism she has decided to auction it off here to one of my legions of loyal fans who works at some other cash-strapped public school. . . . Are you ready? Here is Moose’s slogan for hard times in higher ed:
Hey, kids, let’s rent a barn (without money!) and put on a show (for no money)! Historiann has even developed this generic university seal to symbolize this movement with the Seal Generator at Says-it.com. You can make your own seal–say it with me now–for no money! Can you feel the excellence, my darlings? Let’s see if the copier company will be happy to to fix our copier–for no money! How about serving up lunch in the student center to us–for no money! Maybe Shell Oil will donate gasoline for staff and faculty vehicles so that we can get to campus–for no money! I wonder if banks and landlords will forgive mortgages and rents for everyone employed in higher education, so that we can house ourselves for no money! This no money thing could work, just so long as it’s not just people in higher education who are doing it for no money!
One of my colleagues, who had spent a decade in K-12 education said that all teachers were held to an unspoken ideal: the Roman Catholic Nuns who taught in parochial schools. They were sexless, had few or no material needs, required no pay for their work, and disappeared into the convent out of sight at the end of the school day. The trope of the WASP amateur historian or the celibate scholar in the frayed tweed jacket is similar. People with no visible means of support carrying out a higher cultural mission in the name of virtue, not material gain.
Ultimately, these myths mean one thing. People, that is to say parents, students and legislators, do not value education enough to pay for it. Instead they would like it to be a commodity that costs as little as possible. If you want to know what society really values in a university go look at the salaries of Big 10 football and basketball coaches.
Yes, indeedy. Let’s see who’s willing to coach the team for no money! But no university president would dream of asking the coach to work for nothing–he works in a sector that’s very male dominated and hasn’t traditionally coasted on the volunteer labor of religious women, underpaid secular women, or WASP dilettantes with inheritances.
At the conclusion of that post, I asked, “Is the meaning of what we do all day long–teaching, research, and service–dependent on how badly we need the paycheck? Is it not work, regardless of the worker?” Today’s koan, my darlings, is slightly modified: Is the price paid for the work dependent on the work, or on the worker? And, what’s the real price of “Excellence Without Money?”