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Corruption in Higher Education

Can You Handle the Truth?

optimism-1

Adjuncts and graduate students, like most Americans, are optimistic to a fault, even to the point of doing themselves a great disservice.

Take, for example, tax protections for the inordinately wealthy. Many Americans vote to keep them in place and elect officials who trash the already suffering middle class in order to protect the top 2%. Americans don’t take a stronger stance against the widening income gap because their optimism has them convinced that they are one lucky break, one entrepreneurial idea, or one winning lottery ticket away from joining their ranks.

optimisticSimilarly, adjuncts and graduate students frequently step back from making waves in academia’s waters or ruffling the feathers of administrators for fear it will inhibit their chances of making tenure. And, of course, they never fight to end tenure and put everyone on a level playing field because they want to believe they’re one meritorious achievement from being granted tenure themselves.

It’s time for a reality check. Do you think you can handle the truth? Here it is:

You’re not going to get tenure!

Tenured professors are, at best, an endangered species and their numbers dwindle more with each year. Currently, they make up only 30% of higher education’s faculty and a percentage of that number are, in all reality, more administrator than teacher. The “top-down” management style that permeates America’s colleges and universities values administrators over teachers and enjoys keeping faculty in check by stripping it of job security. Plus, part-time labor can be paid less and isn’t entitled to benefits.

College presidents used to come from backgrounds of scholarship and public service. They viewed higher education as an opportunity to teach young adults about the world they’d soon inherit, train then to think critically, then send them out in hopes they’d make the world a better place. Research and scholarship, both seen as essential to the greater good, were revered.

keep-calm-and-get-ready-to-fight-2Today’s college and university presidents and the administrators they hire are a very different breed. Many have corporate backgrounds and are more focused on increased profits than the common good. Students are customers and the job of faculty is to give those customers the basic services needed as the customers pay their way to a “skills certificate.” Research and scholarship matter only when tied to large grants or opportunities for intellectual property copyrights.

The American public just gave control of the federal government to a party that is noted for its love of corporate elites, Wall Street banks and hedge funds, and union-busting politicians. Where in that quagmire will academics have an opportunity to rise without a fight?

And so, my instructor friends, it’s time to accept this truth: In administrators’ eyes, you are a way to a means. Admin loves that they can get highly-educated professors at a bargain-basement price. They don’t care that you have multiple jobs or that you struggle to pay rent and feed your kids. Admin doesn’t care that you’re one bad medical diagnosis from being ruined and dying in abject poverty. They’re just happy they can get caring people to work part-time with no benefits. Admin doesn’t care that students drop out at a higher rate when adjuncts don’t have time and resources to meet with them and provide guidance. They just rack up the tuition and living expenses already paid then move on.

 Admin sees adjuncts and students like tissues in a box – if you pull one out and toss it away, another will pop up.

So, if you stay silent and avoid taking a stand because you’re afraid you’ll blow your chance for tenure, hear this: It’s already blown! Your only worth is how much you save admin, not how talented or cooperative you are.

The world you’re in now is the only world you’ll have.

Isn’t it time to stand up and fight to make it better?

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Coico and CCNY: How Could Something So Right Go So Wrong?

On Friday, October 7th, CCNY President Lisa S. Coico abruptly resigned her position at the City College of New York, effective immediately, after the New York Times contacted officials regarding her administration’s handling of around $150K of her personal expenses.

As we all face issues with the corporate mindset overthrowing and contaminating the methods by which colleges and universities are run, many opine (including me) that things would be better if administrators, especially presidents, were recruited from within academia rather than the corporate sector. Many of us are of the opinion that academicians would be more caring and honest if given the opportunity to oversee an institution of higher education. At least we used to think that … before Lisa Coico.

Coico attended CCNY. In fact, she was the first alum to serve as president in the college’s 140-year history. Before her appointment, she had an impressive history of research, specializing in microbiology and immunology, and teaching. In addition, she was an experienced admin, having served as the Cornell Medical College Associate Dean for two years then their Vice-Provost of External Affairs, Government Agencies and Professional Associations while directing the Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program. In 2004, she left Cornell to become the Dean of the New York State College of Human Ecology, a position she held until leaving to become Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Temple University.

In 2010, Coico accepted the position at City College, with the understanding that she would expand the school’s science program and continue the strong fundraising that had become the hallmark of predecessor Gregory H. Williams. She got a sweet deal – a base salary of $400K plus perks, including a $7.5K per month housing allowance. That’s pretty great, even by New York standards. Not long after she took the helm, however, criticism began over her handling of fiscal matters and her strained relationship with the faculty.

Coico had a strong partner to help manage fundraising, the 21st Century Foundation, a non-profit that was employed as the college’s main fundraising vehicle. Somewhere along the way, however, that relationship went in a wrong direction. According to the New York Times, the foundation paid for some of Coico’s personal expenses, including furniture, housekeeping expenses, even fancy fruit baskets.

The question being investigated is whether Coico’s expenses were accurately recorded and whether some had been misrepresented.On October 9th, CCNY said it’s seeking a “comprehensive investigation” by the state.

According to an email between two school officials, the college itemized $155K of her spending into three categories: “college,” “personal,” and “iffy.” She was asked to return $51K of funds received because she didn’t receive approval prior to moving to New York.  She was asked to return an additional $20K that she used for the security deposit on a Larchmont apartment.  And, she was told that the $50K in furniture she purchased with school money was, indeed, property of the school. Apparently, she didn’t return the $20k used for the deposit, even when her landlord returned it to her after she and her husband purchased a home in Westchester City in 2013. It’s alleged that a lawyer representing the college instructed Coico to return the money in question, but the school discovered that she hadn’t returned all of the funds despite her claim to the contrary.

Lisa Coico seems to fit the profile of the ideal college president with a strong academic background and, it appears, no corporate ties. So, what went wrong? Does money and power corrupt so quickly and thoroughly? Is the answer limiting the amount of time someone can spend in college administration or is that more incentive for admins to grab what profits they can before leaving their post? I don’t know about you, but I’m left scratching my head, wondering how something so right went so wrong.

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