Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I have always been a good student, and I may be an even better teacher, but I have never liked school, in the social sense, and so my choosing to work in the academic system might be a bad fit. Once upon a time I had grand ideas of publishing and all that, but then I saw what it does to one's ego, and what one has to do to sell oneself, and I decided that being a really good teacher and maintaining a mediocre blog is happiness enough for me.

Still, hearing about the upcoming cuts at the University of New Orleans, and knowing that my being hired so recently (and for teaching lowly comp classes, at that) and not having published puts my job in jeopardy, I get edgy and realize that if I want this career, I'm going to have to do a whole lot that I don't want to do. Like attend really really log faculty meetings where tenured faculty say things and ask questions designed to disparage us lowly instructors.

Such was the scene yesterday at the Liberal Arts faculty meeting at UNO. I'd known about the meeting, but had forgotten, but my office-mate and friend Matt told me that it would behoove me to go. "They don't take attendance," he assured me, "but they notice who goes." So, in the interest of keeping my job, I went.

The meetings are held in a very large lecture room with stadium seating. One of the casualties of the storm has been janitorial services and apparently a key to the boiler room, so like the classroom I teach in, this one was strewn with candy wrappers, balled-up paper, and coke spills. It was hot, and extraordinarily stuffy, and the projector screen had been pulled down to conceal the missing bottom portion of the wall. Ah, the halls of the academy.

We'd heard that this would be The Meeting where they told us about the University's future, and the Chancellor was scheduled to arrive at 1:00. The dean of Liberal Arts thanked us all for teaching online in the fall, for continuing to do so while the school restructures its course offerings, and commented on the lack of housing for displace students and faculty.

There are two large FEMA trailer parks on campus--one on the Quad next to the student union, and one in the parking lot by the London Canal. Neither park has inhabitants, but both are guarded by someone in an SUV with tinted windows. The trailers were promised by November and then December and then January and most recently February, but nothing has changed. Not a single trailer has been hooked up to power or water sources. And no one knows when they will be. "I don't believe a word FEMA says," Dean Krantz told us. And we all nodded, knowingly. It is exhausting, this fatalism. It feels awful not to matter to the powers that be, and to know it. This is what that feels like. I now know.

But the trailers evidently cost an average of $35,000 EACH just to hook up. And the state has to pay 10% of that back. And we are a state-run school, as is LSU, who has been lobbying hard to get more money while we are "down." It has always been this way. LSU wants to be a flagship University. It wants UNO to fail. But to lobby for money in these times (in these times!)--blatant greed, the Chancellor called it. So LSU is lobbying against us and we are lobbying to get help and the state is hedging its bets and wouldn't it be better to just let us flounder so they don't have to pay back these ridiculous fees? Isn't that what is important--the money? I mean, screw having a research University in New Orleans. Screw 'em all, right? Survival of the f-ing fittest. God, it makes me sick.

So chancellor O'Brien arrives, and he is NOT my favorite dude. He's a business man, after all, and he's responsible for the ridiculous over-investment in UNO's business program (and, surely, for the inflatables at every UNO gathering,) but he is a good dude to have on our side right now. He seemed genuinely angry and genuinely worried for us and as if he genuinely cared that many of us will be losing our jobs soon.

The timetable is one month. Over the next month the University will do what Tulane did--it will restructure, cutting out certain programs and firing where needed. I think my job is as safe as they come--they'll always need comp teachers--but only if the enrollment numbers come up, and that is highly unlikely. Most of our students came direct from New Orleans Public Schools, and with no graduates this year and at least half of those students gone, who will come to UNO? So event though comp is a safe place, it's still likely, I learned, that I will be out a job come summer.

O'Brien kept saying, "waste and frustration" when he referred to The System, to trying to get money from the Feds. And I think a lot of folks probably read about New Orleans right now and think that we are a waste, that we should be frustrated, that we should take care of our damn selves. Well, as our Dean said yesterday, we simply have to stop acting like what happened to New Orleans was inevitable. It was not the hurricane that hit us, it was the flood, and the flood was a man-made disaster caused by years of waste on the behalf of the federal government. I grind my teeth when I think hard about it, and then I have to stop because I need to keep my head focused on the daily.

And that's what I will keep doing: I will be a damn good teacher, and maybe a better girlfriend, and I will take my evening walk past the hooting contractors and the piles of debris, and I will ramble on this blog because it is good for me, and I will take pictures of the things that just don't make sense.

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