Monday, August 15, 2011

Brasilian Knightmare

I have always found that international travel stimulates my dreaming. I have a fairly active dream life to begin with and generally can remember at least one of my dreams each morning. Sometimes I write them down, other days I muse over them throughout the day. As a student of Jungian deep psychology, I have long known that our dreams have important messages for us. And on international trips, they dream machine seems to go into overdrive.

The second week I was in Brasil on my recent Fulbright trip, I had a vivid and disturbing dream. I dreamt I was attending the board of trustees meeting at the university where I teach. I was making a case before the board for the general education courses we offer, a case which concluded with the plea, “Can’t we even pretend like these courses still mean anything?” At that point the chairman of the board, a figure I presumed to be the university president, simply shook his head and said, “No, we can’t.” At that point in the dream, I realized that my work at the university was not valued and that I no longer had a real place there as an educator. I got up from the table, left the board room and went down to the parking lot to find my car to leave. But when I arrived at the lot, my car was gone. The next thing I knew I was awakening to the simulated cock crowing alarm on my new IPad2.

By the time of the dream,I had already discussed the conditions of my work with several of my fellow Fulbright educators. I had told them about the increasing administrative service instructors are required to carry, about the assessments we are forced to administer, about the search committee I had just chaired, all this while teaching up to four different college courses a semester. Many were shocked at the work load I described and even more shocked at the pay scale we offer our instructors, including the $30K/year the successful candidate for the four year visiting line (which required Ph.D. in hand and experience teaching in two different disciplines) will be receiving. Most of them immediately described the situation as exploitative. One woman colleague from the SUNY system said simply, “You need a new job.”

But, as a colleague at UCF notes, it’s precisely folks like me, those of us who cannot simply pull up stakes and move to a new job in a new place, who allow the university the latitude to exploit its academic staff. In my case, I’m a captive market. My options are limited if I leave the university. It would be very difficult to leave behind my husband’s secure job across town, our investment in a home we rebuilt after a hurricane destroyed it, our local family ties and my own five generations of roots here. And there are a lot of folks like me teaching at the university, many as non-tenured instructors, even more as slave wage adjuncts. And so in my dream when I arrive at the parking lot to leave, it’s not surprising that my car is no longer there. It’s also not surprising that, as my colleague from SUNY quickly interpreted it, “You feel trapped.”

Over the past few months, I have been thinking more and more about retirement. I turn 58 in just a couple of weeks and could retire at 62. I might even have my last round of student loans paid off by then. I have thought a lot about what I will do once retired. I suspect I will continue to adjunct at the university and probably at the local community college, my former employer, as well. I would like to keep a foot in the classroom, even as my hopes for any kind of meaningful experience of actual teaching have long since disappeared. In their place has come the reality of the corporate factory into which most universities and community colleges have devolved and their waves of consumers formerly known as students. Fortunately, there are also the occasional little gems of actual students who remind me that there are still people who value actual educations.

The reality is that I really don’t want to stop teaching, I simply want to be able to actually teach again. I want the chance to reach and inspire students who actually care about learning, to rattle their cages and prompt them to think critically and creatively about their own lives and the world which they will soon lead. I want to spend my time developing ideas and lesson plans, not slaving over mind-numbing bureaucratic trivia. I want to work at a college which cares more about their students making sense of the world they will inherit than the dollars and cents of their bottom line, an imperative which shines through everything the university does. Which is why the news that arrived from the campus news service a week after my dream was so disturbing.

To wit:

UCF will host a weekday football game (vs. the University of Tulsa) on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Bright House Networks Stadium. This nationally televised game is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. and will showcase the UCF campus, academics, and athletics to the country. UCF's game day schedule and policies for the Nov. 3 game will be virtually identical to those successfully implemented during last season's inaugural weekday game on campus. We encourage you to keep the following schedule and policy specifics in mind as you develop plans for your fall 2011 classes.

The East Orlando campus and university offices in the Research Park will close for normal operations at 12:30 p.m. in order to allow adequate preparation time to support game day activities….Staff members, faculty members and students will be able to park in most campus parking lots and garages throughout the day. All of the Blue and Red Zone parking areas will be available as per normal procedures on a first-come, first-served basis, and Garage B will be available for specifically authorized individuals conducting official university business. However, Gold Zone parking lots and garages (those closest to Bright House Networks Stadium) will be restricted to vehicles displaying official Golden Knights Club or UCF Athletics Association parking passes starting at 1:00 p.m.Gold Zone parking areas include all parking lots and garages located north of Gemini Boulevard North (with the exception of Garage E and Garage G), plus Garage C, Garage D, and parking lots C1, C2, D1 and D2. Unauthorized vehicles in these areas will be subject to towing starting at 1 p.m.

As usual, the university simply announced these changes. It had chosen to cancel classes to host the local townies who want to come out to campus to tailgate (translation: get drunk on a work night) before the game on the beautiful grassy mall whose sod the university has just spent all summer (and an unknown amount of scarce dollars) for them to frolic upon. For those of us who actually park in those lots by the buildings where we work, we will need to move our cars or risk being towed, paying the towing and storage fee and the ticket the university will add as insult to injury. This is the same university faculty which has already paid $300/year for the opportunity to compete with students for parking spaces that largely do not exist after about 9:30 AM.

For the most part this kind of event is simply annoying. Instructors will have to give up a class day in afternoon and evening classes to accommodate the greed-driven machinery of corporate collegiate sports and deal with the truancy in morning classes such events always encourage among students. They’ll have to take the time to go move their vehicles to the other side of campus to accommodate townies pouring onto campus for a weeknight of hedonism, Then there is the joy of picking one’s way though the vomit, urine and defecation in stairwells and across minefields of garbage the day after.

On the other hand, any additional opportunity to leave behind our driven work lives to celebrate life is never a bad thing. No doubt, many overworked faculty and staff will welcome the afternoon and evening off. It goes without saying that students will be overjoyed. I certainly would have been as an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

But, what kinds of metalessons do these events teach those students, ostensibly the primary purposes for universities in the first place? And what message do they send the faculty and staff whose work as educators is clearly seen as peripheral to semi-professional collegiate sports and the money they supposedly generate? If we take the announcement seriously, this event suggests that image (showcasing the UCF campus, academics, and athletics to the country) and money (no doubt ESPN gave the athletics department a good chunk of change to provide the nation a little entertainment on a Thursday night) are the most important considerations in running a university. Concern for education, much less the faculty and staff of the university, are clearly secondary to such these corporate imperatives. And if the university teaches that metalesson by its example, why should we be surprised when our students evidence the same values?

“Can’t we even pretend like these courses still mean anything?” Apparently, that’s a luxury universities have decided they no longer have.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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