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 December 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 with a respected academic press is the only valid measure of a teacher’s scholarly abilities and achievements in the field, where because of the pop-culture sales appeal of the subject so much of the research and writing is intellectually worthless).

In fact, the Boston University CIMS/Film Studies staffing situation is even worse than the preceding description indicates. 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. And if that sounds bad, I know worse than that. There are a whole other set of teachers in the film program who are teaching graduate students who are themselves only graduate students--though they generally don't reveal the fact to their students. One set of graduate students is allowed to teach another set of graduate students (without the teachers identifying themselves as such of course). These non-Ph.D.s and non-graduates of the film program are not teaching low-level undergraduate courses; they are not teaching small sections of large lecture courses; they are teaching juniors, seniors, and, most shockingly of all, other grad students who call them “Professor” and are none the wiser about their teachers’ lack of training, knowledge, Ph.D. degree, or fellow-student status. 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 sophomores, themselves being taught by non-Ph.D.s, by fellow second-rate grad students.

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; and a third group who are themselves only students a year or two or more further along in their studies than the grad students they are presuming to educate, evaluate, mentor, and grade. Can you imagine charging a grad student $50,000 to get their education by taking courses taught by another grad student? Can you imagine charging a grad student $50,000 to get their education by taking courses with teachers who have no demonstrated special training in, knowledge of, or publication record in the field they are teaching? Can you imagine charging a grad student $50,000 to get their education by taking courses with teachers who do not have Ph.D.s? Can you imagine charging a grad student $50,000 to get their education by taking courses listening to lectures intended for sophmore and other undergraduate non-majors, studying with them, sitting next to them for the entire semester in undergraduate courses that have deceptively been given a graduate-level designation? 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--at both the undergraduate and graduate level. 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, are 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 admit it to themselves. No one tells the grad students they will not only be receiving their graduate education listening to presentations designed for undergraduates, sitting next to sophomores, but that their teacher will not be a real teacher with an advanced degree but a non-Ph.D. or worse yet a fellow grad student who doesn't identify himself as just someone who went through the same slipshod educational experience a few years before, being taught by another non-Ph.D. or another second-rate grad student still in the program. Everyone's a critic, remember? The unspoken subtext is: "It's only film after all. Who needs special training and experience to teach it? Who needs an advanced degree to be knowledgeable about it? Who needs to be a scholar to be an expert on it? Who needs to be more than a current student to be qualified and certified to teach other grad students about it?" What secret contempt they have for the scholarly field they teach in, the art form they claim to revere. Though they'd never admit it, and of course can't themselves see it, they have the same contemptuous attitude toward the thing they teach as the art-hating Philistines they think they are so different from. The physicists and mathematicians at least respect the fields they teach in. That's why they put so many intellectual hurdles in the path of future teachers.

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 senior administrative ranks in the university are filled with individuals with no academic background or experience. (If a school regards itself as a business more than as an institution of higher learning—of the highest and most valuable kinds of learning, it appoints businessmen to run the show, to make hiring, promotion, teaching, and curriculum decisions. Faculty members, real academics, real intellectuals, real scholars, could never be trusted to do these things in the most profitable way.) Case in point: The Department of Film and Television is chaired by a former (and still current) businessman who has never researched, written, or published anything academic in his entire life. He’s a producer, a businessman who deals with budget and schedule issues. The College of Communication is headed by a Dean who is a former newspaper editor—another individual with no academic background or scholarly 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 single piece of scholarship. The university is run like a business by businessmen, by non-scholars, non-academics, non-intellectuals. 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? Is it any surprise they don’t understand the importance of someone teaching grad students in an intellectual discipline holding a Ph.D.? Is it any surprise they have no conception of what constitutes research, scholarly publication, or high-level teaching? All three of these individuals confuse scholarship with writing something popular, something that reaches a lot of readers in a mass-market book, magazine, or newspaper, and confuse great teaching with course popularity—and award promotions and pay-raises accordingly. Something a high-level thinker and intellectual writes that is read by other high-level thinkers and intellectuals and may change the field, brilliant and innovative things he or she does in the classroom to inspire and change students' lives, don't count—in hiring, promotions, perks, or pay. It’s one more way in which the students are being cheated. Call it the Boston University way: it's not about educating students; it's about saving money.

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, and even memos and meetings in which I've dared to take on the issue of misplaced administrative values, the administrative failure to understand what constitutes real thinking and real scholarship, bearding the lion in its own den as it were by telling administrators to their faces in what ways their values are misplaced and decisions are mistaken, but I can’t say I’ve reached any of them. In fact, all I’ve gotten for my trouble was a formal reprimand (in writing!) from my current Dean telling me that I should not have said what I had said and that there would be negative consequences for my having said it, threats from his predecessor to "dig up dirt" about me to get me fired if I didn't formally retract my statements and withdraw my memos, and years of pay hits, personal attacks, and a wide-range of professional retaliation from my Chairman. There are too many things to list, but suffice it to say that he has followed in the Dean's footsteps in attempting to "dig up dirt" to use against me by secretly and surreptitiously calling people I know outside of BU and asking them about me, and to put some bite into his retaliation has rejected my application for a sabbatical I was entitled to take, even as my Dean has chimed in on that front by telling me he would only grant me a sabbatical if I submitted my resignation first (you got that?), and that short of my agreeing to resign my position he'd personally make sure that I would absolutely never, ever get a sabbatical, then, now, or at any future date, which of course I haven't! It’s another aspect of the Boston University way: forget about respecting and honoring extraordinarily productive, nationally and internationally recognized scholars and teachers, or even giving them the semblance of fair treatment. Faculty who are foolish enough to dare to speak truth to power are punished to attempt to bring them back into line, or better yet, to get them to quit in disgust. (There's another illustration of that policy with respect to one of the most senior, distinguished professors in the entire university, in the “What’s Wrong with Boston University?” blog posting I mentioned above.) These and dozens of other similar acts, needless to say, aren't the actions of "loose cannons" in one or another college or department. Administrators, Deans and department Chairmen in my case and that of the other senior distinguished professor do not indulge in these kinds of thuggishness, make these kinds of threats (and dozens of others over a period of many years), and scheme in these underhanded ways against particular faculty members (like the secret phone calls made to people I know to attempt to gather information to use against me or, in the case of the other professor, scheming to undermine or discontinue an academic program without telling the director of it what is going on) without the full knowledge and consent of (and most likely without being explicitly directed to do so by) Boston University Provost Jean Morrison—and if they did do them behind her back and without her approval, they should be fired or disciplined posthaste. I wonder how long it'll be till that happens. I'm not holding my breath. Of course, being told to do these things by the university's chief academic officer only makes the treatment even more reprehensible. In that case, it's Provost Morrison who should be fired or disciplined. Let's see how long it takes Robert Brown (the university President) and the Boston University Board of Trustees to look into that.

I'll have more to say about the threats, thuggery, and punishments Boston University administrators are willing to resort to to protect their own institutional self-interest in future postings. These guys do not play softball.

[To be continued in Part 3]