Friday, May 25, 2012

A river runs through student debt and academic integrity

In an email that invites us to invest "in our future generations by making a gift today at the highest level," the president of the university, where I am privileged to be employed as an instructor, writes:
Our graduating seniors are paying the lowest tuition rates in the state while our entering freshmen are charged among the highest. Because of the disinvestment by the state in state higher education, we must revamp our tuition structure yet again to assure affordability for all students, and we are counting on you to help this special university.
Right now our graduates face significant challenges, from average loan debt exceeding $25,000 to the difficulty of starting a career that utilizes our students’ skills and education in this economy. We have done well these past couple of years by increasing student aid and scholarship from your donations and from university sources. But, to ease the financial burden on our students, we must do much better.
For once, I would like the president to first issue an apology for the misguided expenditures, like this Taj Mahal, that have then translated to unnecessary fees for students, who then go on to amass debts.  It is not that the Taj Mahal alone resulted in all of the $25,000 debt he refers to, but a dollar here and a dollar there and soon it is real money, right?

But, of course, it has never been kosher to ask such troubling questions, even within the settings of universities, which are the places that we idealize as environments for "critical thinking."  And more so for somebody like me whose sincere attempts to engage in difficult and urgent topics led to my excommunication from the flock.  I suppose if you don't drink that metaphorical kool-aid that everybody else is drinking, ...

In those years when I was engaged with the "professionals" on campus who were behaving without any sense of integrity and accountability, one colleague suggested that perhaps I should recognize that some topics are off-limits--he was sympathetic to the faculty union, whose bizarre ideas I was questioning.  I asked him if he was suggesting that I could criticize the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where billions were being wasted and lives were being lost, but that I could not criticize what was happening locally?  And, by silencing me on the local issues, weren't they enacting their own versions of Bush's insane argument of either you are with us or against us?

It shocked me when he argued that it was one thing to criticize the policies on wars but not ok to criticize the union's policies.  Yes, that was his argument!

The lack of professional and academic integrity continues to shock me, even though one would think that after all these years I will be used to such behaviors.  Maybe I should worry when the day arrives that I am no longer shocked--that will be the day that I think I should quit--it will not be worth it if I ever become so apathetic not to be shocked.

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