(As before, I’m still not sure whether, in the metaphor, the factory is building monkeys or staffed by monkeys. Perhaps, really, we’re in the business of making educated monkeys, and the problem is that our administration views this as akin to making widgets. Anyway, the point is: Explosions! Chaos! Shrieking! Brachiating along the pieces of wreckage!)
We had our beginning-of-the-semester faculty meeting today, and I have to conclude that our department is in an abusive relationship with the university (and system) administration.
Why I’m convinced of this is the simple fact that we have little to no idea what will make them spank us, at least not in advance of being spanked.
Just about five months ago, at the start of the Fall semester, I noted:
We have as a goal helping students to graduate (especially “super-seniors” who have more than the minimum number of credits for graduation but who still need to take one or more courses that meet their major or general education requirements). However, given the ginormous budget shortfall, we must also reduce our enrollments from where they stand right now on the first day of class — before our official “census day” next month. Basically, this means that we can’t add anyone to our classes, and we are well advised to pray to the deity of our choice that a bunch of our students drop.
So, I’d love to help you graduate, but I can’t add you to my course.
As it happened, a bunch of students who were originally enrolled in courses in my department did drop. We thought, at that point, “Awesome! Maybe we won’t exceed our targets and be punished by having our funding for Spring slashed!” — for that was the threat dangling above our heads if our enrollments were higher than those targets (although going significantly under the target for a class would get your class cancelled, so hitting the target on the nose was really the only potentially safe thing to do).
Can you guess what happened once our total enrollment as a department eased down to meet our target?
We started getting calls from deans. The deans who were calling would say, “I have Jo Bleaux here, who has filed to graduate and who needs to take a course in this general education area to graduate. The enrollment system shows that [some philosophy course satisfying that general education area, which one or more of the originally enrolled students dropped] has a seat free. You must give Jo Bleaux a permission code to add the course, since it is university policy to get these seniors graduated!”
Did it matter to the deans placing these calls that we were looking at a credible threat to slash our department’s funding (with which we do things like staff sections of general education courses students need to graduate) if we added these students to our classes and exceeded our enrollment target? It did not. Indeed, when this significant downside was noted to them, they chided us for scheduling our courses in rooms that could accommodate so many students that we would exceed our targets — even though these targets (and the threatened penalties for exceeding them) were not announced until well after those courses were scheduled.
But the deans won. We added the students. We braced ourselves for the retribution.
Except this time, as it turns out, it was a good thing that our department exceeded its targets, owing to the fact that some other departments in our college apparently fell well short of their enrollment targets. Our excess ended up saving the college’s bacon by putting the college as a whole within breathing room of its overall enrollment target.
But, now no one is quite sure what’s going to happen with the over-under on enrollments, either for the college or the departments within it. As such, faculty are not allowed to give permission codes for students to add our courses. Instead, we’re being asked to compile detailed waiting lists (where the details provide information for triage), which will be used to direct some hopeful students to our college’s associate dean, who will decide who can add and where in a way that balances the needs of the college as a whole.
In theory, we may still end up saving the college’s bacon. But the college seems committed to ensuring that we don’t get punished (with a funding cut) for providing this aid.
This assumes, of course, that the administration doesn’t change the rules on the college in midstream.
If I didn’t love this student population and my departmental colleagues, I am not sure that this job would be worth the constant disequilibrium. I’m hopeful that my course will go well enough for the students and for me that we can cope reasonably well with the explosions and flying banana peels.
Oh, and it sounds like the cuts in the budget for academic year 2010-2011 will be significantly deeper than the cuts we have now. So that’s something to look forward to.