Thursday, January 29, 2009

Back to School or no room at the inn

In my quest to keep brain and body alive, long time readers of my other blog will remember that I returned to college when I retired waaaay back when. It's been an interesting saga and I won't bore you with a repeat of the good, the bad and the just plain terminally dysfunctional. But this week at SF State was a new low in mega-mess.

The budget was cut to the bone while tuition has been increased by 10 percent. There were some protests last year but most kids really didn't get it. Well, now they do. Students and instructors reported to SF Weekly of chaotic daily scenes taking place as spring semester commences; roughly 75 lecturers teaching 290 classes have been cut for budgetary reasons in the past two semesters alone, and students - many of them needing just a few more classes to graduate - are packing the hallways, sitting in the aisles, and attempting to cajole and wheedle their way into classes that have doubled or tripled in size. Good luck on that!

Now, I can't complain about the cost. I got in under a special program for the over-60 crowd, so my fees are minimal. However, my class selection has dwindled from minor to zero; all art classes are reserved for full fee paying, graduating seniors. No exceptions allowed. I'm not complaining that it's young people only. I feel sorry for them. This is where the budget crunch hits home and I suspect that those who survive the coming economic firestorm won't be so cavalier about higher education in the future - assuming that higher education, as we know it, actually survives.

"You want to see bedlam? Come to my class," said anthropology instructor Sheila Tully. Her course on sex and gender is capped at 140 students with a 10-student waiting list. Nearly 200 people showed up for the first day, and three quarters of them were seniors who needed her class as a general education requirement. "The whole concept of a four-year college has been thrown out the window," added Philip Klasky, an instructor in the American Indian Studies Department. "In my department, students have 30 percent fewer courses to choose from this semester. They can't matriculate, they can't graduate. My classes are capped at 50 and I have 20 [more] students trying to add each one. What am I supposed to do as a teacher? Add 20 students and have them sit on the floor?" In every class I went too, the teacher made it perfectly clear that there were no exceptions, no additions. What a world!

But getting required courses has become something of a luxury for students - many are happy just to get any courses. Students must keep up a certain courseload to be eligible for scholarship money (much of which isn't coming, anyway, along with promised work study jobs), grants, or health care. Unable to get into any of her desired classes, senior Honora Keller said that "paying a state school tuition has gotten to be like a really expensive gym membership. The only classes open end up being kinesiology. You end up taking, like, three of those just to make it to 12 units."

Junior literature major Samantha Adame was lucky enough to get into her preferred lit class - but found 100 fellow students in the room along with her. In the past, that class would have been capped at around 30. There's only one instructor and one grad student, by the way.

But wait - there's more! In the midst of finals last semester, the J. Paul Leonard Library was closed for retrofitting. The notion of shutting the campus' main library during finals week angered students - but not as much as returning to campus this semester and discovering that our current economic morass had frozen construction (construction that was estimated would last until 2011, even during better times). As a result, a handful of books and some computers have been moved to a large, military-like tent "annex" a few blocks off campus at Winston and Lake Merced.

Now, this (unfortunately) exceeds my worst expectations. When I found out last semester that the library was going to be closed for retrofitting, I crossed my fingers that they (1) had a good plan, (2) had an alternate place for both books and students and (3) actually, you know, have ENOUGH money to see the plan through.

Maybe I should have crossed my fingers harder because what I saw fit none of the above. The second hand book store at SF State is in the basement of the HSS building. The second, smaller "library annex bubble" is located there. I saw noisy, crowded rooms, no place to sit, few computers and a whole horde of confused students. In fact, while I was looking for second-hand books, many students came into the bookstore looking for computers, xerox machines, pay cards and more questions than the poor bookstore person could possibly handle. I took several foreign students over to the administration building because (1) they didn't know where it was and (2), that's where they could get some of their questions answered and some needs met.

But what's truly bizarre is that, in order to obtain needed books, students must submit requests to the school 24 to 48 hours in advance and then return later to pick them up. Any university student lucky enough to have the benefit of a great library knows that you often find five useful books for every one you ventured into the main stacks to seek. Truly, SFSU's current library situation sounds abysmal.

"We have to pre-order the books a day in advance - and that doesn't include weekends. You can't even get books on weekends," says Dillon Martin, a junior anthropology major.

That sounds like a lot of work. No wonder students needed to pay 10 percent more.

I have been going to classes just to check the teachers out. Some of the art teachers have been too busy to meet with me in the past so this is a good way to see if it's really worth it to continue in my current low-fee category or bump up to paying full tuition just to get access to classes. I already taken most of the requirements for the art history major and I might just decide to get that degree and call it a day. So far, NONE of the studio art teachers have appealed to me.

Would you want to take classes from teachers who are described in the following ways (on the official website no less?)

P...makes paintings, drawings, and installations that are concerned with a prolonged preoccupation with the nature and tragedies of masculinity. He is known for imagery of brutish males such as boxers and wrestlers. (men only need apply?)

and a priceless example of art speak:

. More broadly, my research focuses on issues of artistic agency, the intersection of modernist aesthetics in the colonial and postcolonial world, and the visual culture of contemporary Asia.

This is the description another teacher's work....elemental, primordial quality about much of his work that suggests a particularly strong affinity to an environment born of volcanic processes. (Me man, You woman? Let's go make volcanic love).

Some of the other descriptions are less pretentious but really - what a shame that art has borrowed the trappings of pseudo intellectualism. But if the budget cuts continue, there won't be an art department.

Reference: SF Weekly


Bill Stankus said...

Terrible, terrible.

Years ago I taught in an university art department. During the first week of the semester I would ask, "Why are you getting a degree in art?" There were numerous academic reasons for the question - but now, the question would seem to include the statement, "Why bother, what will you need a watered down major for in a world not wanting art."

tangobaby said...

This long email just got worse and worse as it went along! What a sad, silly comedy of errors and if I was a graduating senior, I'd be beside myself. How upsetting!

At least I know you'll be free on Fridays. ;-)

kloeamongtheturks said...

Wow. Things haven't reached that stage down here in SoCal at the community college level. Yes, classes are fuller, and some sections were cut. But we were already on a skeletal schedule.

What I don't understand is that some of my students STILL don't seem to appreciate going to school. The don't come to class prepared, or don't come at all. It may be that this is a high school mentality, and reality will hit. I just don't want to be taken for granted, as I really knock myself out as a teacher.

Sorry about the bloated egos you're encountering. No excuse for that.