Teaching from miles away: my perspective on the TBR budget cuts

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I have a routine. Get up early (a rarity for me), shower, dress, walk to the office (when weather permits), print out lesson plans, copy handouts, take a quick moment of Zen relaxation, and then I teach my class. Sounds mundane, perhaps, but I look forward to those mornings every week.Generally, the students look happy enough to see me, and we tend to have a good time, despite the fact that I doubt many of my students enjoy all of my rigorous writing assignments. The students-my students-understand why they are here and what they need to learn. I imagine that holds true for most of you reading this. University students deserve to be proud of their achievements, and to be proud of the determination that will lead them on to success.

This afternoon, pouring over the proposed TBR budget cuts (and the ones already in place), I caught the first tingle in the air that signals a storm brewing. I found a pie chart, included in a lovely, upbeat power-point slide show delivered by some suit to the TBR council. On the slide demonstrating the expenses of running a university, a pie chart illustrates all of the different costs. I focused on the largest slice of the pie, which dwarfs all of the others: instruction. That’s right: professors’ salaries make up over fifty percent of the costs of running a school.

My palms began to sweat.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the proposed budget cuts devised by current TBR chancellor Charles Manning, many of the State schools are planning on incorporating a new business model. This business model is quite similar to that of the University of Phoenix. What does this mean: online classes and lots of them. The plan also proposes to cut programs from schools when another university offers the same program. These are dangerous games these shysters are playing.

So, I imagined a new Tuesday/Thursday routine. Get up, leave off the shower, shuffle downstairs to my office and check to see if my students have emailed their work. No need for a moment of Zen relaxation. No pleasant greetings from my students. No hearing about their weekends. No asking big questions and receiving big, surprising answers. Just a lot of staring at a computer screen.

As composition is a required course for many freshmen in just about every university in the country, I doubt the program at Tech would be cut. But I, for one, know I couldn’t teach a successful composition course online. Sure, I could assign and grade papers without ever seeing my students, but I devote time in class to teaching students writing habits. The biggest thrill of my whole week is introducing a big topic without prepared notes and seeing where the discussion goes. My students and I usually surprise ourselves with our insight.

So, I’m complaining about my job security and the risk of having to teach online courses. Whoop-te-doo. Poor me. Allow me to readdress the subject from a more generally accessible angle: the TBR is robbing you, and they are robbing you blind.

Most of you, dear readers, are university students. You are the elite amongst your peers. University life is integral to your development as an informed and thoughtful citizen. By attempting to turn our school into a more profitable business, the TBR has illustrated that they don’t care about your goals, dreams.your life.

I hate to admit it, but I often listen to the idiots on right-wing talk radio. Their small-minded, blatantly racist rants make me angry, and I use the anger to motivate me to fight harder for what I believe. I love to listen to these morons talk about education. Often, I hear gems like, “college is good and everything, but its more important just to learn stuff and read books,” or, even better, “I’m tired of all these people taking my money for welfare and student loans.” And the way they talk about college teachers, what with our ivory towers and whatnot.hilarious, and oh so sad.

Reading books is not the equivalent of attending a university. Why? Teachers, that’s why. Ever stop to think about how much time your professors spend up late reading your work, answering your emails, and brainstorming on ways improve the service they are providing you?

Why do we do it? It isn’t for the “sweet” pay, I’ll tell you that much. And we don’t do it so some hyenas in suits can figure out how to cut our numbers to decrease overhead spending. I care deeply about each and every one of my students, regardless of how hard they work or how much insight they provide. It gives my life purpose, and I would be lost without my students. Utterly lost. Let’s be frank.I used to flip burgers and drink all the time. That was my life. Teaching put an end to all that, and I’ve improved exponentially as a person. I’m happy, productive, fulfilled. I even got engaged this weekend!

I’m not going to let the TBR urinate all over my happiness. I’ve never worked this hard for anything in my life and I deserve to have students to teach, and I’m talking real teaching: face to face, down and dirty, jumping in to group discussions and answering hard questions. Did I turn my life around and find my calling so some batch of greedy pigs can force my school to fire me or make me teach fake classes online?

I’m joining the Coalition to Save Our Schools and I’m attending all the relevant meetings, protests, etc. Please stand up for your right to earn a real degree that can’t be sneezed at. The TBR is bilking you with one hand and destroying the prestige of your degree with the other. Did you move to Cookeville and suffer through dorm life, make new friends and cram for tests so that you can have a degree comparable to someone who took some classes on their computer in their pajamas? Get informed, read up on the TBR’s proposals, and find out what you can do. Andy Smith here in Henderson Hall is a good person to talk to about joining the Coalition, and the Coalition has a Facebook page.

I’ll see you at the meetings.