Monday, January 23, 2017

No Knowledge No Experience No Problem

Everyone's a Critic
More Academic Scandals and Embarrassments at Boston University 
Defending Students' Rights to Get the Education They Are Paying For


The posting below continues my account of my attempts to defend Boston University film students' rights to get the education they are paying so exorbitantly much for, and in many subtle and unsubtle ways being deceived about and cheated out of. — Ray Carney

We’ve all heard the plaint from the would-be waitress about how in the world is someone to get their first waitressing job if restaurants only hire waitresses with experience? Here’s a new solution to an old problem: Forget waitressing and become a film professor in the Boston University program.

The previous posting described how graduate students take undergraduate courses deceptively re-numbered and listed as graduate courses and how the lowliest undergraduates and most senior grad students are simply thrown together in the same classroom. If that state of affairs, which negatively impacts the educations of both undergraduates and grad students, is not intellectually fraudulent and pedagogically destructive enough, another dirty secret of the film offerings is that the overwhelming majority of teachers teaching these undergraduate-courses-masquerading-as-graduate-courses are individuals who have no special training in, demonstrated research skills in, important publications in, or special knowledge of film. We’ve all heard the ironic put-down “everyone thinks he a critic”—well, the Boston University film program has taken the irony away and made it official policy. Anyone who wants to teach a film course is allowed to.

“Grow or die” is a bureaucratic axiom as applicable in academia as in the rest of corporate America. Administrators who “grow their programs”—who increase the number of teachers, courses, and students—are promoted and rewarded; those who don’t find their programs eliminated, folded into others, or are offered early retirement. (See the November posting “What’s Wrong with Boston University?” for more on this subject and the high-handedness and rapidity with which the university eliminates programs that aren’t growing.) The Director of Film Studies understands the principle as well as anyone—clearly more than the professor in the previous posting did. Five or six years ago (I’ve lost count), he announced a vast expansion of the film studies program and even gave the new program a new name: “The Cinema and Media Studies” program (institutionally abbreviated “CIMS”). And he did it in the way most calculated to appeal to the administrators over him so as to ensure future promotions and pay raises for himself—not by doing the intellectually respectable thing: by hiring more film professors to teach the new students in the new courses (an administrative no-no, since that costs money) but by allowing more or less any full or part-time faculty member in any department who wants to to teach film do it. They may have been professors of history, psychology, Spanish, French, or German the year before, but with the stroke of a pen, they became professors of film—even though nothing else changed about them. Virtually without exception, the new members of the Cinema and Media Studies (CIMS) faculty have no cinema or media studies degrees; no education in film history, criticism, and analysis; no knowledge of contemporary critical issues; and no published books on film (as I point out on another blog page, "Real and Pretend Thinking in Film Studies," the publication of a single-author book is the only valid measure of a teacher’s scholarly abilities and achievements in the field of film studies). In fact, it’s even worse than that. I know of several “film professors” in the CIMS and Film Studies programs who do not have Ph.D.s in any field at all. Their most advanced degree is a master’s degree from BU’s own film studies program. Their only academic credential is that they are former master's degree students in the program they are now elevated to teaching other grad students in. These non-Ph.D.s are not teaching low-level undergraduate courses; they are not teaching small sections of large lecture courses; they are teaching juniors, seniors, and grad students who call them “Professor” and are none the wiser about their teachers’ lack of training, knowledge, or Ph.D. degree. To add injury to insult, I can testify since I had some of these glorified former students in my classes that they are neither the best nor the best educated former students either. Let it be remembered, as per the preceding blog posting, they are students who themselves received their classroom education taking deceptively re-numbered undergraduate courses, sitting next to underclassmen, listening to lectures designed to be understood by sophmores.

These are then the overwhelming majority of individuals now teaching both undergraduate and graduate students in the BU film program. One group of people with training, experience, and knowledge that does not include film studies; another group with no Ph.D.s and no academic accomplishments or meaningful publications at all. Can you imagine the physics department, the math department, the philosophy department, the French department, the English department allowing this—letting anyone who wanted to, Ph.D. or not, experience, knowledge, graduate training, and scholarly achievement in the field or not, teach not only undergraduates but graduate students? Well, the film studies/CIMS program has no problem with it at all. Come one, come all; and voila, you're a film professor. The previous blog posting described one way students, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, were being deceived and cheated; this is another. The vast majority of their teachers are not qualified—though the students are the last to know it. No one reveals these facts to them at orientations and open houses or on the university web site postings—and the faculty themselves are sure not going to blow their own cover by revealing their absence of qualifications, if they even see them. Everyone's a critic, remember? It's only film after all. What secret contempt they have for the scholarly field they teach in, the art form they claim to revere.

If one asks how can this happen, there are many answers, most of them having to do with money. Boston University is a notoriously “cash-poor” school. The endowment is miniscule, barely existent, compared to private universities of similar size and age. After decades of student-hostile administrative policies (many of them traceable to an arrogantly authoritarian university president named John Sllber who ran the university for something like thirty years and was guilty of absolutely breath-taking abuses of power and expressions of outright contempt for all but a handful of the faculty and students), many alumni, not surprisingly, have refused to give anything after they graduate. Expanding the film studies program creates dozens of new film courses; film courses generate enrollments; enrollments generate tuition dollars. Grow or die. What part of it’s about the money don’t you understand?

But another reason this kind of intellectual scandal can take place is undoubtedly traceable to the fact that the highest administrative ranks in the university are filled with individuals with no academic background or experience. The Department of Film and Television is chaired by a former (and still current) businessman who has never published anything in his entire life. He’s a producer, a businessman who deals with budget and schedule issues on films and TV shows. The College of Communication is headed by a Dean who is a former newspaper editor—another individual with no academic background or experience who spent most of his professional life dealing with schedules and budgets. (The editor doesn’t write the stories, he assigns them.) And the Senior Assistant Dean, the Dean’s right hand person who attends to most of the daily functions of the college, is someone whose major professional experience prior to assuming her post in the College, to the best of my knowledge, was in the military. None of them has a Ph.D. (In fact, several colleagues have told me that the Senior Assistant Dean doesn’t even have a Bachelor's degree.) None of them has ever researched, written, or published a piece of scholarship. The university is run like a business by businessmen, by non-scholars, by non-academics. Is it any surprise that they don’t understand what’s wrong with faculty who aren’t credentialed, published, trained scholars in the field they are teaching in. Is it any surprise they don’t understand the importance of someone teaching grad students holding a Ph.D.? It’s one more way in which the students are being cheated.

I’ve written memos and held meetings with these and other administrators in which I have attempted to explain the embarrassment of a university faculty being so egregiously unqualified, uncredentialed, untrained, and unaccomplished in doing the job they are doing, but I can’t say I’ve reached any of them. In fact, all I’ve gotten for my trouble was a formal written reprimand from my Dean telling me that I should not have said what I had said and years of pay hits from my Chairman. It’s the Boston University way. It’s not about the education, it's about the money.

[To be continued in Part 3]