Trickle, trickle, dribble, drip. One day in October, I was talking with a student after class when we heard the unmistakeable sounds of water. A few steps down the hall, we heard the gush that could only be a broken pipe. Our admin argued successfully with the facilities folks who wanted to put in a work order (!!) but even with their prompt response, the torrent took out a bunch of ceiling tiles while my student and I watched in horrified fascination. It took a month for those tiles to be replaced. The whole ceiling still looks stained and provisional.
Meanwhile, administrators prioritize student retention and recruitment over all other goals. The result? Money is found for lavish student activity centers and gyms while faculty are laid off and classroom facilities turn into scenes from Brazil (the movie, not the country).
The corporatization of the university is so far advanced that it’s probably unstoppable, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up about it. Two little examples from beyond my campus:
Exhibit 1: I just went to check the links in my winter syllabus. I always include a couple of links to guides on nonsexist language usage. When I clicked on the one from the University of Minnesota, the old link redirected me – to a page on how to present a unified brand image for the university! It looks like this:
Lovely, but where are the women? Previously, there were university-wide guidelines for avoiding sexist expressions. Now, the university merely refers us to the Chicago Manual for guidance in all matters of style unrelated to its brand. Nowhere could I find the old guidelines (though a few individual departments offer brief tips on nonsexist usage in student papers). It’s all about the brand. None of this has any bearing on the university’s Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, which is outstanding; I’m betting no one consulted them.
Exhibit 2: Clarissa’s Blog reports that upper-level administrators at Clarissa’s public university in Illinois are drafting a dress code for its employees. Here’s the proposed language:
32.7 DRESS AND PERSONAL APPEARANCE. All University employees are expected to portray a professional image to students, parents, and the community at large. An employee’s dress and appearance shall be neat and clean. At a minimum, the standard office dress code shall be defined as business casual. Apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements. In addition, apparel shall not be of an indecent, suggestive, provocative, obscene, or defamatory nature. If applicable, employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts. The University may direct an employee to leave work and/or change clothes if he/she is are found in violation of this provision.
Will I be required to bring dry-cleaning receipts to prove that I clean my clothes on a regular basis? Do I need witnesses to testify that I do my laundry often enough to satisfy these losers? And who will teach my classes if I’m ordered to leave for “violating the provision”? The administrators? That, surely, be fun to observe. Maybe now, whenever I’m too lazy to prepare a class, I should just show up dressed “obscenely” and be sent home to rest.
Oh, and she says it reminds her of the bad old days back in the USSR.
The very idea of a dress code is to turn professors from idiosyncratic, original – if slightly frumpy – people into corporate drones. Clothes may not make the man (or the woman), but I sure think more clearly in comfortable shoes. It’s an interesting contradiction too, to say “apparel needs to be free of slogans or advertisements” but also “employees are encouraged to wear their university logo shirts.” University branding, anyone? If my uni comes up with a dunderheaded policy like this, I think I’ll need to buy some of those sweatpants with the university’s initials appliqued onto each butt cheek, just to test whether “indecency” or “suggestiveness” trumps the tomcat-like urge to mark everything with the university’s branding.
I have to wonder if the broader intent of such silly proposals is to be a diversionary tactic: Keep the professoriate busy with idiotic dress-code proposals and perhaps they won’t notice that their compensation is being slashed while their workloads balloon. Certainly my institution’s top honchos are very adept at forming unwieldly committees that either 1) lack meaningful faculty representation (if its task is important), or 2) keep scores of instructors tied up in busy work, often for a year or two, only to discard or disregard the committee’s product or recommendations.
These diversionary tactics are one way to suppress dissent against the advancing corporatization of higher ed, in which students are seen as customers and instructors are inconvenient expenses, useful only in generating “weighted student credit hours,” which is a measure of tuition income. It’s also a means of distracting professors from the way in which the casualization of academic labor – its delegation to people like me with no possibility of tenure, significantly lower wages, and a high chance of being unemployed next year – is undermining the ability of the entire professoriate to do its best work. Instructors who are busy fighting silly battles over basic dignity in working conditions have less time to refine their teaching and pursue their research. And those who are squeezed for time are more likely to seek individual, dog-eat-dog solutions to their own precarious situation, rather than investing in solidarity with other instructors and staff.
I’m off to a meeting now, myself, but this one is for union rabble-rousing. Professors do not have collective bargaining at my school. Now that incoming Governor Kasich is threatening to run over us with his “bus,” we’re going to need it.