Higher Education At Risk

I am not perfect. And, today I am have raised the white flag to say that a few rough patches of life have been overgrown. That uneasy feeling in public has grown stronger for many. 

This reflection is not about the boys in blue, nor is it some perspective on race. It has more to do with those out there who have ever submitted themselves to the very humbling experience of job hunting. Yes. I aim to do something besides classroom instruction these days where I no longer feel comfortable.

I am hunting for something new, something fulfilling, something comfortable. With job hunting comes the agonies of rejection. Because I teach in higher education, much like K-12, there is the ever darkening cloud of uncertainty. Uncertainty hits people in different ways. Some deal with it quite well. I do not deal with uncertainty very well. 

About two years ago, the state of Texas decided that guns on college campuses was a good idea. I happen to work on a campus where a “mass shooting” took place just a few years ago. (It was not quite that.)

In the days when carrying a firearm unto campus was not legal, I narrowly missed the gunman because I was in a hurry to get home that day. In August 2017, concealed handguns will be allowed on community college as long as students have the proper permit. I decry this law on so many levels, namely that, despite the powerful images media show repeatedly, an educational environment is one of the least likely places to have a shooting event. In our then 41-year history, the shooting on my campus was the first one. Technically, it did not even happen between “students” since the gun man was reportedly attempting GED credit. 

Since the passage of the bill in Texas, I have gone in to see a therapist, spoken with my college president about being closer to home, and now I want a job that does not involve students. Needless to say, I am dreading what many of my colleagues have been dreading – going back to teach gun-wielding students in the fall. Sure, roughly half of our students barely old enough to conceal a book let alone a fire arm, but there is the lingering uncertainty that drives thoughts and what ifs

My aim has always been to return to administrative duties, but it has been in the Twilight Zone kinda hard because, in addition to hearing the eerie music whenever I attempt to apply of a new non-instructional job within the college system for almost three years now, I never get an interview despite meeting so many of the qualifications. There was a time when I could get an interview each time I posted a resume or application. I dare not say the “A” (age) word since I know the noblest of HR managers would never discriminate in such a way. 

What could it be? I spoke to a senior level HR person and found that there have been some issues with the system used to apply. With things moving so quickly with this initiative, that change, and of course guns on campus, I decided to take the summer off to look earnestly at my options. 

Some university professors I have read about have left those institutions since the bill for four year schools went into effect in 2016. Nothing I have done so far to avoid what will unduly agonize me as a classroom instructor has worked even remotely. It feels as if I am in some sort of bubble that everyone else can see but me. 

Anyone that has been in my situation knows that it is a rather self-fulfilling prophesy if everyone around you sees or does not see something in you, yet fail to tell you. At some point, the marginalization is realized subconsciously by that person in the Zone and he or she begins to act in ways that fit whatever mold they had affixed to them already. I feel that I am entering that dark period of ostracization that people fear like the plague because the folks that do not avoid you have the overtly plastic smiles that let you know what you already know, but don’t know…officially. 

It is the age old Asch studies where everyone in the room is an actor choosing the wrong answer save the poor little guy who is not. This experimental initiation where the group conforms to some incorrect response, the pawn in the room changes his to fit the stimulus, thus falling somewhat seamlessly into the “mold” even though the group’s goal was somewhat dubious in the process. My aim here is not to alarm, but to allay the feelings of reputable others who I know have gone through what I have described. 

The mental carnage left behind is so devastating that those who have successfully come through such sub-human treatment simply do not talk about it, or they ignore the signs when others are coping through it or they simply do what statisticians refer to as fail to reject the human response to avoid any collusion with the less harmonious. So, my best bet is to leave higher education altogether. Too much uncertainty, too many chiefs at the legislative and external stakeholder levels creating policy without the expertise. Higher education is looking a lot like the K-12 classrooms I once left behind. No Child Left Behind is now at the front door of higher education. The red line drawn in the sand has someone just on the other side who is able to make his own decisions; should he be prodded along by another adult for something he voluntarily signed up to do? That line almost seems grey. Perhaps my paradigm fits an outdated moldy experience I had some years ago as a college undergrad trying to pave my own way.

The stress of all the changes moving at the speed of light is real. I have resolved to making it a point to apply for at least one new, non-instructional job in higher education daily. At the rate I am going, I should count every new cricket sound after each submission as a sound closer to success.

Finally, I am looking for the job where I have not resolved to looking forward to paydays as the new semesterly ritual in order to cope. “As long as I am getting paid for this,” is my new mentality.

Since the Colemen Report of 1966 that exposed a Nation at Risk, our schools, both higher education and K-12 institutions, have been under constant reform. I feel like community colleges have been undergoing reform with increasing vigor, vigor that is seemingly cyclical, forced, and disheveled.

I am not perfect. Neither is our education system. I think the day we understand the latter is the day we will have true progress.