My job, along with a dozen others' at our small private university, has been outsourced to a company that takes over information technology functions for institutions of higher learning seeking to save some money. Only half the IT crew at the University of St. Thomas remains, all as contractors for Ellucian. The IT help desk is now a 24-hour operation, with calls re-directed to Ellucian personnel in New York and India.
Without going into too much detail, let's just say that UST has been struggling financially for several years. For a while, its graduate education and counseling programs were its steadiest sources of revenue, but then even that started to drop off. Eventually you run out of classroom teachers willing to fork over $100K for a relatively easy masters degree to become counselors and principals, especially when there are no more openings for counselors and principals.
UST is certainly not alone in the struggle: Private colleges and universities all over the US have had trouble making all their ends meet their means, with the exception of the extremely well endowed institutions like Rice and Harvard. Four-year colleges and universities as a whole are losing market share to community colleges and those dreadful for-profit degree mills with no admission standards other than willingness to incur mountains of debt.
We IT wranglers hadn't heard anything lately about possible cuts in our department in quite some time. Then, in January of this year, with an hour's notice we were called into a mandatory meeting, at which the university president announced that Ellucian was taking over, and that we were all guaranteed two more months of employment, after which those who remained would become Ellucian employees.
My assessment of the situation, backed up by others in the department, was that I would be kept on, that indeed it would be downright stupid to try to maintain the Blackboard Learning Management System without my experience and rapport with faculty members helping instructors use Blackboard to its maximum potential for online and hybrid courses. Ellucian thought otherwise. But the transition team did not inform me of their decision until 12 March, three days before the big switch-over was to be completed. They also informed me that only one of the six on my team would be retained, and that they had not even hired a person to take over the training and instructional design aspects. So the database administrator who remains is now responsible for the whole shootin' match.
So, as of next Monday, Kayleen and I are both without income, without health insurance, and generally without prospects. In my five years at UST, the IT training game has changed big-time, and unfortunately I have not changed with it. We are not entirely without savings, thanks to Kayleen's cashing out her Texas Teacher Retirement System funds, but we will not need to use that pile just to get through this year.
For about 14 months, during which Kayleen and I had proper salaries, we were starting to recover from our combined years of un- and under-employment, paying down some long-term debts. However, as a wise man once said, "The best-laid plans of mice and men get fucked over by late-stage capitalism."
As I constantly remind myself, a dozen of my co-workers are also suffering, suddenly unable to make mortgage or car payments or to put their children through college.
It really chaps my ass that education has become so commodified, mainly because the whole capitalist framework has us all convinced that A Degree Is Absolutely Necessary To Be Hired For Any Real Job—or even to be a barista at Starbucks, where your masters gives you an advantage over the mere baccalaureates competing for the position.
In a previous post or two, I have griped about adjunctification—i.e., the trend toward hiring adjunct instructors on a part-time basis rather than tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts might teach a class or two at four different schools, working for piddly wages, with no benefits from any of them. People pursue doctoral degrees because they love research or teaching, not because they expect to reap riches from it, but they should be able to earn a decent living for all their dedication.
These are mere symptoms of the rot infecting education at all levels. It's not about producing productive, job-ready citizens of the world; it's about the bottom line. Students are just revenue streams. Kayleen could tell you some horror stories about the several tricks the University of Houston System employed to screw her out of getting a masters degree, and how much money they made in doing so when they made her repeat courses she had already passed elsewhere.
Meanwhile, UST is moving full-steam toward NCAA Division III athletics, with its new or revived baseball and tennis programs—sports on which even the big schools routinely lose money. Priorities, y'know.
This nation of ours is so thoroughly screwed.