“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit,” says Princeton philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt in his celebrated 2005 book On Bullshit. We see far too many examples of this in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) upper management and Board of Regents, and it seriously shortchanges our state and tens of thousands of our college-age residents.
CSCU and its Board of Regents have been in existence for over ten years, and this imbroglio of ever more bloated administration and money waste and general embarrassing foolishness flails onward.
Former Gov. Dannel Malloy kicked off this disaster with his operative Mark Ojakian as first lieutenant; Malloy is now Chancellor of the University of Maine system where he is currently fighting off a faculty-wide no confidence for pulling the same cronyist and transparent corporate nonsense he pulled in Connecticut, i.e., hiring poorly vetted and borderline candidates as presidents. (When he met them he thought they were such nice guys!)
Malloy and Ojakian are both gone from the CSCU system (thank goodness), but the harm lives on. The current board and management continue questionable and corporate-driven practices and tactics, never listening to in-state higher ed professionals or long-term faculty and staff. Why bother when pricey consultants hell-bent on the latest corporate cant can be hired at immense expense?
And so the BOR and Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) administrators cling to their immersion in exactly the sort of Orwellian double-speak and poppy-cock that Frankfurt dissects in his book. Some glaring and very much up-to-the-minute examples of Orwellian double-speak or just plain manure:
- “Centers of Excellence.” This is current corporate “consultant speak” for what we usually call offices or departments. It (“the COE model”) is a euphemism for what in truth are stripped down, centralized, and at least partially dysfunctional offices with too few “generalists” and of course way too many chiefs above them. The CSCU Human Resources system offices have been forced to adopt this term by god knows whom. We know what scholar Frankfurt would call this. Many within the system agree, especially given the very shaky performance of Human Resources and its “Centers of Excellence” this past few years. (Just listen in to faculty and staff meetings. You’ll get an earful.)
- “Co-requisite.” This term has a legitimate meaning which is well-known in academia, but the current CSCU system office has twisted it (again, with nefarious and extremely costly consultant support!) to mean a regular college level course with completely voluntary extra help which students can opt into or not, as so moved. In short, the “co-requisite” is not requisite at all, and students may not be penalized for skipping it nor may they be pressured into taking advantage of it. Again, this is pure manure. On top of that, it is just further evisceration of developmental education at the community colleges (which is equivalent to cheating our most disadvantaged students, yet again). Dear system office: please use the term “co-non-requisite” so that the manure output is reduced.
- “GPA.” We all know this famous acronym: grade point average. But the wisdom of the CSCU System Office folks has brought us a new use: “GPA” as shorthand to refer to the “guided pathway” advisors they have furiously been hiring for the past year (on limited funding, and where future funds will come from is a mystery). Using “GPA” to refer to advisors instead of grade point average is asinine in that the acronym will only further puzzle students (and everyone else) at the already very confused community college system.
- “Unprofessional.” This is the word regents and administrators routinely level at faculty who question anything about management ideas or decisions. Listen to top brass at You-Tubed board meetings whenever faculty members say something controversial. Too many board members and top level managers only want to hear obsequious happy-talk from faculty. The BOR meetings now routinely briefly showcase saccharine anecdotes; a few star students and/or events at the various campuses are spotlighted while the wider student body and statistics are ignored. Again, this is exactly the sort of cow manure that philosopher Frankfurt points out is sadly prevalent throughout our society.
- “Shared governance.” This honorable concept is a vague memory within most units of CSCU. The system office managers have successfully destroyed shared governance across the CSCU system and especially within the community college system; there are merely shards of a sort of Potemkin Village version that can be pointed to when accreditation agencies come to call. Faculty voices are listened to briefly (if at all) with a frozen smile, but nothing faculty says has any real power or direct pipeline to administration. Administration can and does completely ignore faculty concerns and input unless they serve administrative purposes (which are mostly cost-cutting plans and doling out easy A’s freely to keep all students in the system for as long as possible).
- “Raises for adjunct instructors.” The great bulk of teaching in much of higher ed today and particularly at community colleges is done by underpaid adjuncts, and this is true in all the Connecticut community colleges. When the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges (4C’s) negotiated with management this spring, it was agreed that adjunct faculty would get a certain pay raise. Now CSCU managers are reneging on the full amount agreed upon. This is abusive, and is especially egregious in that CSCU managers are also trying to force adjuncts to take an online teaching course without pay! In short, they want underpaid adjuncts to work partially for free! This of course is a more manure, but par for the corporate mindset course. Will system head Terrence Cheng address these issues, or will he be party to this abuse of the least powerful faculty members in our system, the ones who do the huge majority of the actual teaching? We are waiting to see what happens on both counts: Will the adjuncts get their promised raise? Will they be compensated for a required online course? Or do we live in a land of manure where the word “equity” is thrown around freely and meaninglessly?
There are more items that can be added to this list, but the steaming pile above is large and malodorous enough. One might hope that there could be better oversight of CSCU by the governor and Connecticut state politicians, but the fact is that we are in the land of Mark Twain and P. T. Barnum, both of whom would chuckle cynically about what is being spewed by the CSCU board and managers. And as Harry Frankfurt clearly states, “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”
No wonder huge numbers of faculty, staff, and students are deeply dismayed by CSCU’s leadership these days. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Christine Japely has been a full time professor of English at Norwalk Community College for more than 20 years.