Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eight years after the education president left office, post-secondary education is hurting

For-profit universities aren't having the best time of it. ITT Technical Institutes is shutting down, Marinello Schools of Beauty shut down earlier this year, and (in case you haven't heard) Trump University has issues.

So why aren't people fleeing to the relative security of non-profit educational institutions?

Because they have their own problems.

I've already talked about Mount St. Mary's University's issues - partly due to privatization efforts, partly due to angering the faculty.

But one way to take care of faculty issues is to close down a program, just getting rid of troublesome faculty.

Six days before the start of the fall semester at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), a group of Master’s candidates and professors received an email from the dean of students informing them that their program was suspended and they would not be teaching or studying as planned. As a result, 17 accepted students and two longtime professors teaching in PNCA’s Critical Theory and Creative Research (CTCR) program were left disillusioned — and, in the case of the professors, unemployed. The college says the program was suspended because of under-enrollment and a delicate financial situation, but students and teachers claim CTCR was eliminated unethically and possibly in retaliation for expressions of dissent against recent changes in the school’s administration.

Here is how PNCA framed the issue:

The June 17 contract written for the co-chairs of the program required 13 qualified students enrolled with deposits by August 15, 2016 for the program to go forward. As of August 15, while 17 students had been admitted into the program, just five of those students committed to the program with deposits, and only one student actually enrolled.

But even the PNCA's press release hints at disarray.

The MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research was originally ​ launched in 2012. At the time, the founding co-chairs of the program were hired with a three-year contract.

In 2015, in response to feedback from students about the accelerated nature of the program, the Graduate Curriculum Committee (a standing committee of Faculty Senate), re-envisioned the MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research as a two-year program and as a dual MA/MFA degree.

Once the Graduate Curriculum Committee approved a two-year CTCR program, a search committee was formed to hire a chair for the new program. The founding co-chairs did not reapply. A chair was hired but withdrew in spring of 2016.

In brief, the program started as a one-year program. After moves were made to change it to a two-year program, the incumbent heads decided not to apply, and the person who was hired to run the two-year program then had second thoughts.

But Hyperallergenic notes other issues:

In April, Hyperallergic reported on a series of protests by PNCA students and staff after a group of adjunct professors was unceremoniously left without work for the coming school year.

Perhaps Mount St. Mary's and PNCA are outside the norm, but all universities, whether for-profit or non-profit, are faced with the task of getting enough money to keep the doors open. Sometimes this means that the college president is pretty much a fundraiser and that's it. Sometimes it means that the schools use adjunct professors and teaching assistants to keep costs down. And sometimes it means grade inflation.

So, what's the solution?
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