Yesterday, the student newspaper at the university where I currently teach published articles detailing the effects looming state budget cuts will have on staffing; the article appears here. I have noted that my visit to the institution is soon to end, so the effects will not apply to me, but a number of people whom I value will remain in place, or they will seek to do so, and they are likely to be affected by the coming changes; they remain of interest to me therefore. And I, perhaps overly affectively, read myself in the words the student paper has printed, given some of the specific statements made.
The paper notes that, for the English department (wherein I currently teach), a "two percent reduction plan could save at least $40,000 by cutting one temporary faculty position." I occupy such a position, making such a salary, and I have been told that mine will no longer be available to me. While other factors were cited to me as informing the decision to end my visit, I cannot escape the sensation that I am the first in a series of sacrifices, my blood the first spilled upon an altar where others will be offered up to sate the hunger of a lustful god. I have to wonder who will be pressed down into the red stain I will leave behind, since more cuts loom; the paper notes that "A five or eight percent cut [both of which have been proposed, given circumstances] could result in the loss of three or five temporary faculty positions respectively, which would save the department between $120 - $200 thousand [sic]." I will not be the only one to go, I think, and I know that many of my colleagues depend upon their positions, as I do but will not be able to do for long, to pay back the debts incurred in pursuing their educations and trying to make themselves good and useful members of society, as well as to feed and clothe their children. I know that many of them are at least as qualified to do their work as I am to do mine, holding terminal degrees and producing research and creative work of high quality while teaching in one term as many students as some higher-ranking faculty do in a year. And the classes that we teach are those most common to the college experience--indeed, some of the defining aspects of the college experience, underpinning the work students do later and perhaps being among the parts of their formal education upon which they look with joy and appreciation in the years to come.
There is, of course, a plan to address the staffing issues that such cuts would cause. The paper quotes the department's head as saying that some classes would see their sizes increase, while others would be consolidated into fewer sections (having much the same effect). Yet others would begin to be staffed by teaching assistants, which introduces some concerns. (I say this having taught as a teaching assistant--but I did so having already had teaching experience, which many of those who become teaching assistants do not when they begin their work. They are intelligent people, to be sure, but they are in large part less experienced than they might be and than they really ought to be to be assigned classes of their own.) The classes that they would be able to teach, by convention and by accreditation requirements, are those directed towards the least-experienced and least-prepared students, those who need the most oversight and attention of their own. Comments from other departments than English comment on the increased demands that would be placed upon assistants moved to the fronts of classrooms while taking full loads of their own. Even in mathematics, where there is often a definitive right answer and appropriate algorithm to apply, the assessment and instructional burden becomes onerous quickly, to the detriment of instruction; it will be far worse in the humanities, including English, where matters are much more provisional and much more fluid, and in which the explication of interpretation and understanding is the thing that must be reviewed. It already takes longer to assess a paper than a proof; it already takes far more effort. Demanding yet more of those who, less prepared to handle the burden, are asked to shoulder it will not work to the benefit of those most in need. The students, then, will be added to the sacrifices demanded by the lustful god; they will be left living, to be sure, but what kind of life they will be able to have is an open question.
I note that there has been no report of talk about reducing administrative bloat. There has been no talk of trimming athletics personnel. Hell, the school recently hired another coach (one whose previous-position salary, per USA Today (here), was more than $350,000--which would pay for, oh, close to nine of my positions--and I doubt that he has taken much of a pay cut, if any, to relocate). There has been no report of talk that anything other than instruction is to be cut. It should be clear, then, where the institution's focus lies--and it is not on ensuring that the classroom, the beating heart of the school, remains healthy. Instead, it is cut deeply and left to stain the altars of knowledge, consecrating them to the lustful god that is the root of all evil--and it is ultimately the children of this place that will suffer for it.