Origins Tumultuous Years page 7

 
 

During these years, President Cyert at Carnegie Mellon University addressed the faculty on institutional strategies to deal with current financial conditions. He stated university policy as putting money and other resources into strong programs, combining or modifying programs that had potential for being strong, and elimination of programs that were weak and without potential. I reacted favorably to his announced strategy because at the time, the Design Department had a cohesive dedicated faculty and it was doing an excellent job of educating students. In my view, Design was a strong educational program. Two years later, it dawned on me that no one had asked President Cyret for his definition of strong. Administrative actions revealed that modification of a program, for example, meant minimizing English literature, and maximizing technical writing. His definition of strong had nothing to do with educational quality, but it had a great deal to do with an ability to generate grants and research which brought income into university coffers.

The first ten to fifteen years of this period saw educational institutions and faculty on the receiving end of generous income. There were funds for experimental programs, enrichment of curriculum, new equipment and buildings. There was relatively little stress and numerous job opportunities. The favorable conditions began to change during the early sixties with the student activist movement and social unrest.

During the years of plenty, administrative supervision was relatively lax. Teachers had more say about program development and there were ample funds for equipment and reasonable operational budgets in most cases. Departments had travel budgets or travel funds were available to them. At state universities, salaries were higher than art schools, and benefits were generous.

Most teachers had a strong sense of vested interest in the program, and this was especially true at art schools. Today there are ample financial aid programs that allow more students to enroll at universities than previously. Traditional curriculum has been modified to better reflect current social, political and industrial conditions. We have many more minority students enrolled than ever before. The majority are completing university and successfully moving into the mainstream of society. Women are better represented in administrative as well as teaching positions. While still not reaching full parity with men, there has been significant improvement in salaries for women. Universities have become important research centers which is a boon to graduate education. It also brings industry and education together for the mutual benefit of both, and creates a favorable balance between theoretical and applied research. With the aid of computers and other new technologies, there have been tremendous strides in expanding knowledge and learning potential. All of these changes represent important advances in education.

However, there has been a price for this progress. Teaching as a profession and academic values have been trampled in a most roughshod manner by legislators, trustees and administrators. Managership has replaced leadership and fiscal efficiency dominates educational effectiveness at most institutions.

Substituting business values and practices for academic ideals and procedures often results in short-term gains and long-term problems. Over a period of time, education suffers from business oriented decision making. Excellence has been undercut, redefined and even eliminated as standards have lowered. Because of inflated grading and inconsistencies by teachers in evaluating students, grades have become a meaningless criteria of student ability and accomplishment.

Excellence is claimed and exalted by every educational institution; there is a veneer of academic freedom, procedure and values. Education of youth is proclaimed as the single most important function of the institution. What is public relations and what is reality are very far apart resulting in a double standard operation at far too many educational institutions.

Excellence is often improperly identified because of questionable grading practices or by irrelevant criteria such as an ability to generate research income. Academic or artistic excellence is seldom encouraged or rewarded, particularly in the student financial aid programs. While excellence in education is professed as a goal, too many actions and practices seem contrary to that objective.

How existing financial resources are used and allocated is frequently prejudicial, misdirected, inefficient and fails to encourage productivity and excellence among teachers or students. Allocation of disproportionate institutional resources to programs generating the most research income at the expense of programs that bring in less or none weakens the overall educational environment and strongly suggests future problems. How states allocate funds to public universities, and the conditions governing their use can be greatly improved.

Legislators establishing budgets in two year increments rather than one could greatly facilitate university planning and operation. If states allocated funds to the universities without requiring remittent of unexpended funds at the end of the fiscal year, it would encourage saving, planning and more effective use of available funds.

Contrary to policies at private institutions which charge tuition by the semester, public universities establish tuition through charging by the credit hour. This policy encourages large numbers of part-time students. The policy leads to a majority of students spending five to seven years obtaining a four year degree. The practice is inefficient and wasteful for the institution. It is equally detrimental to the best interests of educational programs and students.

From the seventies to the nineties when financial conditions were at the worst, moral integrity in administration was violated with regularity. Situation ethics were characteristic of these years. Sometimes it was only “stonewalling” or hiding behind bureaucratic process. Other times it was lying, either directly or by omission. Within my own experience, I was lied to by Presidents, Deans and Department Heads. Even when lies were brought into the open, upper administration dismissed the matter as being commonplace and not of serious consequence. Abuse of position existed at all levels including teachers as well as administrators. Even when pointed out, it was rarely corrected.

There is no question but what much of the pressure and corruption that occurred during this era resulted from a variety of financial conditions. But the situation was compounded by poorly conceived policies, overreaction to social reforms, hidden priorities and a lack of foresight which reflects ineffectual leadership.

These tumultuous years represent a period of radical change in post-secondary education. In hindsight, the changes could have been much better handled with less damage and greater positive results. However, as with many realignments, the pendulum swung too far too fast leading to imbalance between existing situations and new ones. Consequently, numerous academic values and practices have been lost or corrupted. Now is a time to review, to resurrect that which is relevant to present educational goals.

The problems included educational structure without departments or leadership, weak curriculum, a liberal arts emphasis with minimal requirements in the major, under staffing and inadequate operating budgets and space. In far too many instances, Graphic Design at state universities was a student declared major with few standards for admission, retention or graduation.

 

My Teaching Years continued >
 

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