Friday, October 3, 2014

The Corporatization of Higher Education Comes to IVC: "You would think my college would value this hard work"

The vision of the A-400 building. But inside, faculty
offices without adequate space for books. 
As denizens of IVC may have noticed, the A-400 building has been reduced to rubble and a long-awaited new A-400 is rising. Among the people who plan to spend the rest of their professional careers in the faculty offices of that building are the instructors in the schools of Humanities and their colleagues in Languages. For some veteran teachers like Rebel Girl that means ten more years, but others anticipate another 20-30 years at the little college in the orange groves.

Understandably, this building means a great deal. The development and planning process has been ongoing, with the usual challenges. However, the faculty office design process has been especially frustrating and disappointing (others would use—and do use—less mild terms).  February 7 was the last meeting on this issue with the faculty who would spend the next 10-20-30 years in those offices. Now the deadline is here and the options or the discussion or the input that was promised in order to make this work for the people who will work there has all but vanished.

But let someone who know how to say it better, say it.  Rebel Girl asks you to consider this letter, written by Professor Steve Felder and sent to Academic Senate President Kathy Schmeidler and shared here with his permission. (Emphases mine, says Rebel Girl).

Hi Kathy,

I attended the senate meeting today in hopes of seeking support from the senate in gaining faculty input for the furnishing design of the new A-400 building. I was disappointed both that we ran out of time and by the fact that you had the impression that Glenn [Roquemore, IVC President] was open to faculty input on this issue and was not going to enforce a particular standard. I believe this claim is false. While Glenn may be sincere in his claim, he is mistaken; there is no openness to anything but a few minor changes in the design.

Others can speak to their concerns (related to color scheme, etc.), but I want to represent an issue that deeply concerns me and some of my colleagues in the School of Humanities. It relates to the insistence of [Director of Facilities] John Edwards on outfitting each office with two enormous, L-shaped desks to be bolted to the walls. The effect of this will be that even though the new offices will be slightly larger than the ones we have now, we will have even less space for bookshelves than we have in A200. Claims that nothing can be done seem insincere. I have been to many community college campuses in this state, and I assure you there is no requirement for us to drop these two enormous desks in every faculty office in every community college in the state. 

I realize that not all disciplines rely on books to the degree that we do in the Humanities. I have no doubt that some disciplines communicate primarily through symposia, articles, etc., but for us, in the Humanities, the book is still the primary mode of scholarly discussion. To be a competent professional requires us to read, study, and re-read many books on a constant basis. 

Perhaps some assume that because we are not required to publish, as are our colleagues in the UC's and CSU's, that we don't need to read. This is absurd. In some sense, our work requires more reading since we are not able to specialize to the same degree they are. Just in the last 48 hours I've taught Euripides, Fashion Theory, Deconstruction, the Use of Lacan's concept of "suture" in film analysis, Hitchcock's Rebecca, and Sartre. Some classes, like World History to 1500, require an expertise that is incredibly broad: Homo Habilius and the Han Dynasty, Chaco Canyon and  Charlemagne, the Aztecs and the Abbasids, etc. The range of primary sources and theoretical approaches required to do my job is MORE intensive, and requires MORE reading than that required of my colleagues at UCI. You would think my college (and its administration) would value this hard work and support it. You would think they would WANT us to be readers, who were constantly engaged in our subject, continually revising lectures and assignments instead of repackaging the same tired old ideas from a graduate seminar we were in 20 years ago. Instead, one administrator actually told me that when the new A400 was completed I'd need to pack up my books and but them in my garage!
Admin to faculty: Put your books in your garage!
I park my car in my garage, and, as I've pointed out, I use my books, but there are good reasons for me not to take them home, but to keep them in my office.

First, my students and I are constantly accessing my personal library. Just today, before coming to the senate, a student working on a paper asked a question related to a quote he saw from Marcuse's Eros and Civilization. Fortunately, my copy of that book was two feet from my desk. Yesterday, my modern culture class got a little off topic and engaged in a discussion about how various mental illnesses might either disrupt or bolster Sartre's conception of consciousness as it's articulated in Being and Nothingness. Fortunately, my copy of that book, as well as the obviously related, Anti-Oedipus by Deleuze and Guattari, were in my office. This summer, while I was working through a passage in Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, a student questioned my interpretation of a particular sentence. On closer examination I acknowledged that the English translation was ambiguous, but that I thought by consulting with the German text we could sort this all out. During the class break (it was a night class), I walked to my office, looked up the passage in Das Unbehagen in der Kultur and discovered that the student was right and I was wrong! I was able to go right back into the classroom and my ability to correct my error was instructive for them and me on a number of levels. (Something similar happened three weeks ago with the text of the Iliad—for which I have multiple English translations and the OUP Greek Text, along with my trusty Liddell & Scott Greek-English Dictionary—and I was able to confirm that I was right . . . but I could have been wrong.) If my books are boxed up in my garage, or a storage facility (as are [film instructor] Jamie Poster's books), or the closet of the guest bedroom (as are [history instructor] Brittany Adams' books), none of this would be possible.


Second, students benefit just from walking into our offices and encountering the overwhelming presence of all these volumes. For most of them, even our very brightest students, competence is achieved through Wikipedia articles and Googling. While Wikipedia and the hyperlinked exploration of various topics does have its place, there is another kind of engagement that is only possible with books. Some ideas and arguments can only be developed in three hundred pages. Some stories can only be told with the length of the novel. What students grasp instantly when stepping into our offices is that there is another way of exploring the world (of ideas) beyond online articles that can be digested in three minutes. Some ideas, some stories, require 10, or 15, or 20 hours of your time in order to fully engage them. Furthermore, some books and ideas demand you engage them with marks, and highlights, and comments in the margins. Some books want you to re-read them, at least parts of them, many, many times. Our students are not doing that. They are not native readers. This is a world to which they must be introduced. As libraries increasingly become computer, centers the office of the college faculty member is the last bastion of the intellectual for whom ideas are hard won through long hours of study and reflection. Our students not only need to borrow our books sometimes, they need to see us and our relationship to them as a vital piece of who we are and the knowledge we produce.

I understand that the "era of reading" is a relatively brief one in the history of our species, and one that is not likely to last. Still, it's an era with many benefits that we will lose to our detriment as a culture. I understand that ebooks are the wave of the future, and I own MANY. But many of my physical books have not been digitized, and even those that have would be expensive to replace. For this reason, I want to hang on to them. I want to keep them. When you bury me do what you will with the books I leave, but they will be objects that have transcended themselves. Yes, their transcendence exists in me and by them I transcend myself, but they also transcend themselves in the marks of my pen, the coffee stains from my mug, and the wear from my hands.

A-400 under construction
Yes, they don't deserve a place in the modern college infrastructure just because of their spectral nature, but they do deserve a place because of the kind of thinking and teaching they facilitate. The fact that IVC not only doesn't consider books as an essential feature of their architecture, but that they seem to be actually opposed to the idea of our having books, suggests something else is afoot. This is another sign of the corporatization of higher education in America. The administrators who prefer the current office design with the two giant L-shaped desks do so because of its power to fascinate them as corporatized subjects; they want our offices to look like the offices in every office building in Irvine. They don't want to work at a college; they want to work for a business. They don't want to live in a world of ideas that require hours of study and reflection; they want to live in a world where education is quantifiable and "success" can be measured. This is not the world of the Humanities. The world of the Humanities is a world of books and is, thus, a world they cannot understand and for which they feel hostility. Therefore, a giant L-shaped desk seems preferable to bookshelves. (I realize that not all administrators at IVC are like this, and that there are faculty who think everything I've just said is useless, antiquarian, and elitist. Thus, the divide is probably not administrator vs. faculty, but along the lines I've tried to outline here.)

Any support from the senate would be helpful. Giving us smaller desks need not costs the college/district more money (as Glenn suggests). Personally, though I know this is not an option, I'd prefer you put no furniture in their and let me and Jamie go to Ikea together and buy our own.

Please feel free to forward this to the academic senate (or to whomever you feel needs to read it). (The same goes for everyone cc'ed on this email. Please forward, post, delete at will.)

Your colleague,
Steve Felder

Guerrilla groundbreaking for the new A400 building earlier this year. Dig in.
the fairest blog in all the land

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well gee, the complaintniks are out in full force today! Looks like a great deal of time was expended putting this detailed essay together, time that could have been used for, say, office hours for students. Ya think? Seems like certain faculty are always complaining about not getting paid for their time on committees, while these same complaintniks just happen to have ample time for their blog. And they don't seem mind doing it for FREE!

Anonymous said...

In my business class at IVC I learned that workspaces are supposed to be designed so the workers can be effective - not imposed by others who do not understand the nature of the work being done. But I also learned about profit. Perhaps someone has a deal with some pals or allies and the office furniture being purchased will benefit them?

Rebel Girl said...

Hi there Anon @10:39!

Rebel Girl here! The person who wrote the post! One of the "complaintniks." You might think it takes me HOURS to write a couple paragraphs to introduce a letter that was sent yesterday, but actually it takes only a few minutes. Maybe you didn't read the post thoroughly enough to notice that.

If you have a complaint about the hours I spend at work or on committees, please see my dean or me. For the record, my car was the last car in the faculty lot last night as I peeled out of there at 11:00 PM. I was there last Friday until 6 or so. No, I don't teach on Friday. I was working in my office, surrounded by my books. My committees include two TRCs, the faculty association and a couple of special event production committees.

Regarding how long it takes Steve Felder to write a letter, you'd have to ask him. But I have been most impressed by the nimbleness of his mind and suspect his composition process is swift. Regarding his work ethic - yesterday when I arrived on campus just before noon, he was already at work and he taught through the day, ending at 10:00 PM.

Please notice that I am using my name and Steve's. If you tell us who YOU are, perhaps we could chat about it IRL, as the kids say. Our book-filled offices are adjacent to each other. Mine is A-239. Meanwhile, back to grading papers! In my home office, surrounded by books. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I have never understood why we cannot simply use the desks and bookcases we already have. Or, if necessary, buy our own at this point so there is enough room for the texts we need. They are designing these offices for people like them, not us. At this point I would rather buy my own furniture so I can get my job done for the next few years until I retire.

Anonymous said...

It is a ridiculous conversation to even have to have. Complaintniks? We are professors who want to have books in our offices? Is that really that odd? It's not like we're asking for a personal massage chair or a yoga room...

Roy Bauer said...

10:39, my office is near Steve's. It's plain to me that he is an extremely conscientious and hard-working colleague. He spends a great deal of time patiently speaking with students. Further, he was busy teaching last night and thus he must have written his remarks quickly, which is not an uncommon ability among the folks in the Humanities. I write most posts on this blog and I never spend more than a few minutes on them. (BTW, Steve does not write for the blog. We asked him if we could reproduce his letter here.)
Finally, 10:39, you seem to suppose that any professor who complains is, ipso facto, unconscientious and money-grubbing. That view is absurd on its face.

Anonymous said...

This also is not the humanities blog. There are three major contributors to the blog, two of whom are employed as humanities and English faculty. But, their views sometimes do/don't represent the opinions of their school. This isn't their objective nor should it be understood as the humanities blog. This is a watchdog for the district run by individuals privately. Let's not forget that. Simply because these two individuals are well loved by their colleagues (and they are), doesn't mean that humanities and English faculty are spending "ample" time on this blog. Perhaps they are spending some time reading it, just as you are 10:39. It's often hard to get information (whether from a perspective you agree with or not) at IVC.

Anonymous said...

I know the money doesn't work this way but it does sound like you could save money on the new furniture no one wants and give the F & M crew and raise and hire more. If the office are larger and people do not want the new furniture because it doesn't serve their needs, why force it on them?

Roy Bauer said...

Thanks, 12:27. Just to be clear, there have been three contributors to DtB. Rebel Girl and I contribute regularly and, in recent years, Red Emma contributes only very occasionally. Red, however, has not been an employee of the college for many years, having offended the powers that be by writing a satirical piece for the OC Weekly that targeted the district & its curious leadership (2002). That ended his professional association with IVC. But that's OK. He keeps quite busy editing a literary journal, teaching for UCI, and producing a literary interview program for KPFK.

Anonymous said...

How interesting. The faculty does not want to spend what is no doubt a considerable amount on the new furnishings , prefers the venerable old desks and book cases they have and is even willing to buy their own, but the institution is forcing them to spend the money. Wait until the taxpayers hear about this one. Don't your have any thoughtful leadership on your campus? Can't someone intervene and say what a minute, let's make this work for everyone? In my experience, few administrators understand what we faculty do, especially in our offices. They imagine we do what they do but we don't. I'd recommend taking your case to the press. They'll eat this stuff up especially if you have dollar amounts. Even in Orange County. Everybody is re-purposing and recycling these days even fiscally conservative Orange County. Has anyone told your board? Your chancellor? I love it: Faculty pressured to spend money they do not want to spend. Is it a crime for a project to come in under budget? Good luck!

Anonymous said...

In an institution of higher learning, disdain for learning might masquerade as humor or business as usual, but it is disdain nonetheless. I am sad for IVC and for you.

Anonymous said...

Steve's piece was wonderful. His style was graceful, yet delivered on his point. His students are fortunate to have such a literate, sensitive and collegial leader. Bravo. And thank you.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a project coming UNDER budget instead of spending all the money given just because it has been allocated. I like the idea of using what one already has, especially if it is working. Sounds like your institution is on auto-pilot, a a very poorly programmed auto-pilot. Good luck.

Andrew Tonkovich said...

This just in from Admin: Stevenik's argument - and who wants to argue, especially with Stevie Nicks? - has too many big words. It assumes a level of what Humanitiesniks call civic engagement, analysis and critical thinking just not welcome in some parts of our campus, district, county and state. It lacks a requisition number. We got a good deal on that furniture, which also includes various special military hardware features, including ground-to-ceiling paper clip launchers, student-seeking surveillance drones and hidden cameras. George Orwellnik, about whom we have heard but never actually read (because he wrote books!) is reported on Google to have said that the future is a boot stamping on a human face - forever. This is discouraging and seems to be meant to offend and harm the shoe business. Thankfully, we now have Photoshop and can make this kind of unpatriotic sentimentnik go away - forever! Education is quantifiable and success can be measured. Education is quantifiable and success can be measured. Education is quantifiable and success can be measured.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Steve's points (if a bit long winded). But regardless of whether this is a Humanities Building or not, the larger point is that those who are most affected by decisions should have a significant role to play in the decision making process. After all, administrators won't be using these faculty offices (most of them probably have their own comfy spaces, which I bet were designed/decorated/furnished to their own specifications). Since faculty will be occupying these offices for many years to come, then why not have faculty decide on the design and furnishings of these spaces? It's a no brainer. But then, again, it's IVC....oh well.....

Diane said...

Remove all the books! Remove all the professors! (adjuncts, too!) If you can't communicate an idea in 140 characters, it's not worth expressing. Get with the 21st century and stop behaving as though the world and the people in it have any intrinsic value other than serving as consumers.

Unknown said...

It is shocking enough that it has taken so long for IVC finally to replace the dilapidated old A buildings (will any of those old pieces of shit not be replaced?). They were horribly decrepit over 10 years ago when I last taught there regularly. I'm an Assoc. Prof. at Cal Poly—primarily a teaching oriented university—and I have room in my office for five packed floor to ceiling bookshelves. That the replacement building has one-size-fits-all offices designed to be shared by two professors, and that the offices constrain bookshelf space below margins of usability for the faculty who would occupy those offices is a gross insult to those hard working faculty. I surely am sorry that this college I loved continues to languish under a long running oligarchy of incompetents.

Unknown said...

I don't know why my post showed up as "unknown." The Cal Poly professor formerly from IVC (adjunct for many years and a student back when the A buildings were new) is Ken Brown.

Roy Bauer said...

Hey Ken!

Rebel Girl said...

Hi Ken!

Anonymous said...

10:58, from what I understand, some complain that they're not included in the decisionmaking process. They complain when they're emailed, its an email barrage and too much to read. They complain when notices are left in their mailboxes, they never check their mailboxes and don't perfer that mode of communication. They are apathetic when it comes to scheduled meetings, their "pride" and sustained grudges with some continue to get in the way. Instead of stepping up to the plate and participating they revert to their blog where they seem to have ample time to complain some more, They complain that the meetings are scheduled when they're supposed to be teaching. They complain the meetings are scheduled during their summer break and don't bother to make it in. They complain that they don't get paid for their valuable time spent in meetings. They complain, complain, and complain knowing that because of their lack of participation, eventually someone else will have to make a decision for them. That is precisely their goal because it enables them to shift blame, point fingers, and add more useless "see we told you so..." content to their blog. Next, they will run to their pals at the newspaper who will do a series of hit pieces on how IVC administrators are out of touch and incompetent. The hard life of the complaintnik, indeed...

Anonymous said...

2:53, not to mention how the admins are hurting the students and therefore need to be replaced.

Anonymous said...

The hostility you have toward faculty is palpable. I don't know who you are, but I seriously hope you are in no management position over faculty. If you are, there is no wonder that there are such tensions when you have such derision.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 2:53,

George?? Linda?? I think it's George. What cmte. is he on?

Whoever you are, why don't you come and ask the faculty reps on this committee about their participation? You will find that they participated -and at the certain point - the process began to exclude them and ignore their input. At a certain point there is the creation of the spectacle of the manufacture of consent. That's what has happened here.

Regarding your other points about faculty participation in meetings: we do participate and we have continued to do so, but we also teach and cannot leaves our desk as others do in order to make a meeting. Many of us who do not teach at IVC in the summer, work elsewhere.

Regarding the meetings about this venture, the last one our faculty rep was invited to was early last February. The committee may have met since then but we were not included.

One last word about committee work: We all serve on committees as part of our contract. I believe that the committees that you may be complaining about relate to those that seek to address problems with, uh, certain programs. Say, the scholarship or commencement programs. The problems with those areas are well known to many of us who have been around for years. The college needs to hire professionals who know how to run the programs instead of asking us all to make it work in our spare time - and then when we try (and WE HAVE TRIED) - ignore what we have done. It's not working. I don't ask people to help me grade papers or control my classroom. Hire professionals.

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