So the phone rings, and naturally it’s my old pal Lars Abraham, Pre-Retired Professor of English at Seattle State University.
“How’s it hangin’, Lars?” say I.
“Droopish,” says Lars.
“Seattle State just got a $2.62 million grant from the Department of Education to fund student support services,” says Lars.
“Having a hard time seeing the downside here, Lars.”
“The grant will fund a new Center for Support Excellence that will add to existing student support services such as the SelkieCentre advising and academic center by providing student peer mentors and tutors who will be available to work with transfer students, first-generation college students and those who work while attending college. Digital tools will be used to help off-campus students access mentors, tutors and advisers through video conferencing, bringing critical services directly to those in need of them.”
“My God, Lars, you sound like a press release.”
“Tim, Seattle State already has seven student support centers, eight tutoring stations, and three entire buildings devoted to mentoring and peer support.”
“And now it gets even better? I grieve for you, Lars.”
“Let me explain something, Tim. What is the ostensible purpose of these student support services?”
“To help students pass their classes with high grades and get their degrees. Am I right?”
“And how much of this $2.62 million is going into the classroom?”
“Zero, but that’s not the point, Lars. This is about critical services.”
“Let me tell you a few critical facts about life at Seattle State. Eighty percent of our courses are taught by adjuncts hired semester by semester. They teach between 120 and 200 students each term and are paid $2250 to $2500 for a class that generates between $20,000 and $35,000 in tuition alone, plus state funding. They have not gotten a raise since Gerald Ford was President. Many teach five courses here and another three or four at other campuses just to keep themselves in Pop-Tarts.”
“So they weren’t good enough to get real jobs. Cry me a river, Lars.”
“Tim, they have jobs identical to yours and mine, they are just being screwed. And so are their students. Conditions deteriorate every day. Class sizes get larger. There’s no chalk in the rooms.”
“The buildings are quite literally falling apart. Last week an outdoor ceiling on the lower level of the English building collapsed.”
“WHAT? That would never happen at UTA. Was anybody killed?”
“A student was pinned in the debris, but he managed to drag himself to safety.”
“Oh, then, no harm no foul.”
“The entire area was cordoned off with heavy barricades, protecting people from the remaining ceilings. But the barricades block the fire exits. Yesterday we had a false alarm and I rushed down six flights …”
“As fast as you can rush at age 85 …”
“And then I found myself trapped against a barricade by the crush of the fleeing populace. Somebody pushed the barricades away from the wall, but for a moment I was convinced I was in a production of Les Misèrables.”
“I’m still not seeing the problem here. So conditions are a little Darwinian. But you’ve survived to call me about it. How bad can it be? $2.62 million is about to flood in.”
“And it will flood into units of the university to help students excel in other units where it gets harder to excel all the time because they receive less support every day.”
“Well, aren’t you Mister Paradox.”
“Tim, will it ever occur to any administrator or donor or funding agency that it might be easier for students to succeed if they were not packed into decaying classrooms, and taught by people who must work overtime to stay at poverty level?”
“Lars, I’m not hearing any new ideas here. You’re kinda backward-looking, I hate to say. No administrator on Earth is going to get a better next job by showing how they ‘funded education’ at their previous campus.”
“And a better next job is evidently the mission statement of the modern academic leader, Tim.”