Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Part 1—Academic Horror Stories

Part 1—Academic Horror Stories
Tales from the Trenches

"If Professor [name withheld to protect the guilty] was in class an hour all last semester, I’d be surprised. I don’t think he was there that long!" 
—A Boston University Film Studies undergrad

* * * 
“He [a film professor whose name is being withheld] pushes “Play” 
and goes down the street to have a beer with his T.A. Then we say anything we want for fifteen minutes after it's over. That's class!”
 —a Boston University Film Studies grad student

* * * 
“He [a film production professor] told me the scene made viewers 
have to think. He didn’t like that. Everything should be explained and easy 
to understand. He told me I had to change it and make it simpler.” 
—a Boston University Film Production student

* * * 
“Are you kidding? He never heard of creativity. 
Everything has to be done according to [i.e., our writing must conform to] 
the rules he gives us or he won't approve it: Three-act structure, 
inciting events, big ending, all that stupid stuff.” 
—a Boston University Screenwriting grad student

* * *     
"I wanted to write about Lena Dunham, I had all these ideas, 
I was really motivated, but Professor [name withheld] 
told me it wasn't a scholarly subject 
and wouldn't let me do it."
—a Boston University Film grad student  

* * *  
"He [the Director of Film Studies] told us that if we worked 
with you [Prof. Carney], he would refuse to work with us. 
We'd be punished." 
—a Boston University Film student

* * * 
"He [a Boston University administrator] told me 
not to take your [Prof. Carney's] course. He said bad things about you."
—another Boston University Film student  
* * *
"This sure isn't what I thought it was going to be."
—a Boston University Film Production grad student

* * *
“I feel like I’m back in high school.”
—a Boston University Film Production undergrad

For a number of years, current and former Boston University film students have come to my office (or, less often, since they learned that my new Dean and other B.U. administrators have asserted their right to read the emails students write to faculty members, have written me emails) relaying horror stories about the education they are receiving (or not receiving) for their enormous expenditure of tuition dollars. Not one or two students; not a dozen; but scores upon scores upon scores of students, semester after semester, year after year, who have told me how deeply dissatisfied they have been with the way they have been treated by their professors, with the lack of intellectual challenge in their courses, or with the egregiously unethical behavior and unprofessional comments of the Boston University administrators they have interacted with or written to to file formal complaints with. (To illustrate the prevalence of the complaints and the fact that I am not in the least exaggerating their number and frequency, I might note that every single one of the statements I've included in the heading to this page, along with dozens of others I don't have space to include, was said to me in a single year.)
They have described being berated and publicly humiliated by teachers when they expressed views different from theirs. They have told me about being insulted in class by the teacher, receiving sarcastic personal criticisms of their work, and having their grades lowered if they expressed opinions different from their teachers. 
They have described classes where the teacher devotes half, or considerably more than half, of class time to having students sit in the dark watching crummy movies—with the teacher not even present. They have told me about teachers who don’t really “teach” anything, but turn their courses over to “discussion.” 
They have described courses with no intellectual or artistic content whatsoever—entire courses where all the student is taught is how to work a piece of equipment or software, something they could have learned by spending a few hours reading the manual. They have described teachers who explicitly discourage artistic expression, and force them to use “three-act formulas” to create screenplays that are guaranteed to be brain-dead, and paint-by-numbers shooting and editing methods guaranteed to create a boring movie experience. They say it’s like being back in high school—except for the fact that filmmaking in high school was actually a lot more fun, and the teachers were less narrow-minded and dictatorial.
Graduate students have told me about the shock of discovering that their classroom experience consists of sitting next to undergraduates, freshmen on up, and many of them not even film majors, in undergraduate courses fraudulently given graduate-level designations. They have told me about taking courses with teachers who lack advanced degrees, who have no special training in the field they are teaching, and who simply aren’t qualified to teach what they are teaching. 
They have told me about being punished by certain teachers if they express the desire to work with me on projects, or being told that they will not be receiving a letter of recommendation for a job or a summer position from the Film Studies director if they choose to have me as their thesis director. 
Students at all levels and in all programs have told me about having been misled at Open House and Visiting Day events about the facilities and opportunities available to them and lied to about post-graduation job prospects.
To cap it off, student after student has come to my office telling me about being treated disrespectfully by a faculty member simply because the student took a course with, or expressed admiration for, a faculty member that the first faculty member didn’t get along with. They have told me about being yelled at, pitted against each other, and told not to study with, or work as T.A.s for, a faculty member some other faculty member dislikes.
When I have informed administrators about these and other problems (including how the faculty evaluation system has been deliberately and consciously misused by several administrators to conceal these facts from the senior administration), or expressed serious concerns that students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels are being defrauded of the educations they are paying so much to receive, the only administrative response has been to swear at me, call me names, ask me why I don’t quit if I don’t like the way things are done, lower my evaluations, and savage my pay. 
Oh, I almost forgot: There have been some other responses. B.U. administrators also told me that if I didn't shut up and stop writing about these things they would personally destroy me by making internet postings slandering me and my work on the official Boston University web site to undermine my professional stature and reputation outside the university, and furthermore that if I didn't accept the banning and censoring of my official faculty web site (where I had expressed a few general, veiled concerns about some of these problems without actually naming any specific teachers or courses, as well as some general concerns about how film students were being cheated of the educations they were paying for) that the university would bankrupt me by taking a series of legal actions against me. The university lawyers would tie me up for years in court and annihilate me financially if I didn't shut up about the problems I was documenting. Pretty thorough, eh? Pay cuts, censorship, thuggery, personal threats, internet postings to slander me, and legal actions to bankrupt me--all just to intimidate and shut up a single faculty member. That's how Boston University administrators, that's how the Robert Brown administration and those in it, respond to information about pedagogical, ethical, and professional problems. What a bunch of nice guys I work for. [My spring 2013 blog postings have more than anyone wants to know on this subject. If you are interested (and can take it), start by reading Parts 1 and 2 of “Ten years of Administrative Retaliation for Speaking Up…” If it were a movie, you’d say it lacks a happy ending.]
Yet, even as all of this is taking place, in what I can’t help thinking of as a kind of cosmic joke, I receive numerous requests from prospective students who are unaware of any of the preceding facts, and want my advice on how to get into the Boston University film program (sometimes expressing the desire to study with me). Other inquirers want more general information: What schools have good film programs? What questions should they ask when they visit the school? What should they look for (and look out for) in the course offerings? How can they tell a strong school from a weak one?
I write replies to almost everyone who inquires, but because of the large number of inquiries I receive, and my desire to give students the best possible advice, I have decided to devote a series of blog postings to this subject, in hopes of providing information to the largest number and widest range of prospective students and to cover the topic much more thoroughly than I am able to do in an email or phone conversation. The postings begin on the next page with a letter I received from a prospective student. —Ray Carney

As a side-note, I'd mention that I reported all of the problems I cite on this page (and many many others) to Boston University administrators, many times, over a period of more than ten years, but was only told words to the effect of: "If you don't like the way things are done, why don't you quit?" In short, I was the problem for having reported these things. It was easier to ignore them and blame me than correct them. Such is the BU attitude toward the education of students, and reports from faculty members.

Continued in Part 2—“The Economics of the Education System 101”