The Exit Meeting
Subject: THE EXIT MEETING
Date: 22 Feb 1994 02:09:48 GMT
Organization: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
THE EXIT MEETING
I didn't realized until a few days before the January 15th dissertation deadline for the graduate school that I needed to have an exit meeting with the Assistance Dean of the School of Education in order to graduate. He had to sign the final copy of the dissertation after the other committee members had signed it. So, I made an appointment to meet him, Dean Jay Carey, for the exit meeting. I asked Phyllis Rodin, my mentor and best supporter of my research to join me on this joyful occasion.
It was strange when people began congratulating me on finishing up my dissertation. What were they congratulating me for? Was it for having enough money to make it through the system after a decade of struggle with the financial aid bureaucracy? Were they proud that I had conformed my behavior enough to sit through hours of boring and meaningless lectures? Or, were they congratulating me because now I was an official doctress and now I had the credentials to pursue an upper-middle class professorship which will enable me to then buy into the American dream? The only way I managed to get through school was that I found that if I brought my sketch book with me to class then when I became frustrated with the discussion, bored with the lecture, or feeling oppressed by the teacher, I would take out the sketch book and begin drawing and writing down my own thoughts.
I knew better than to feel elated by the "accomplishment." I thought of my African-American friend, Isis, who the philosophy department wouldn't allow to continue her degree. And I thought of Willow who the School of Education didn't accepted into the counciling Ed.D program because they didn't agree with gestalt therapy and that is what Willow expressed an interest in studying. No, there really wasn't any reason to celebrate because the Higher Educational System was oppressive to all those people who are not smart enough to enter into the higher education game.
For me, an accomplishment doesn't have to do with the Establishment measures of success, like economic status, education degrees, tenure professorships, but with the ability to move the human species into a radically new direction. My dissertation was written for this purpose. I never aspired to be a Doctor of Education so that I could be part of the Administrators of Americanism. The Doctorate was simply a byproduct of my work of creating a new Vision of Education which is why I have refused to compromise my Vision in order to fit into the system. If I had accomplished anything it was this: that I had not compromised and I had told the truth about the educational system the way I perceive it, as a corrupt, brown nosing system which makes people into friendly fascists.
My exhusband had taken a different approach to writing his dissertation. His real passion is writing poetry and working on literary magazines. However, he wasn't accepted into the creative writing program and being from a ghetto family, he didn't think he should pursue his love because the world is about how to make money and poetry is definitely not a lucrative profession! When he was accepted into the Communications Department to study rhetoric, he decided that that is the direction he should pursue because there were plenty jobs in that field leading to professorships.
Now Charles, exhusband, is at the stage of writing his dissertation. His committee didn't approve of his first choice for his dissertation topic, analyzing death in Mapplethorpe photographs, but they did approve of him expanding a paper which was assigned by his committee chairman. Needless to say, Charles is not very inspired to write his dissertation. Throughout our marriage, I tried to persuaded Charles to follow his passion and give up rhetoric. But he wouldn't listen to me. He said he was going to be the first one in his family to have ever received a doctorate, so he was going to get it. Plus, he was the only one from the ghetto where he grew up to have receive such an advanced degree.
When I saw Neal in the grocery store who is working on a degree in philosophy in he congratulated me on earning the degree. He said that when a fellow graduate student of his turned in the final copy of his dissertation, he felt higher than when he took a hit of opium and hallucinated for several days. He asked me if I was experiencing such a high. When I said no, I saw nothing to celebrate since I was now demoted into the category of an unemployed futurist, he looked shocked. But, then again Neal didn't realized that what I am advocating in my dissertation is a social revolution so that education is turned around by a feminist philosophy.
The day arrived for my exit meeting with the Dean. It was all very informal. As soon as I arrived, the Dean's secretary asked me to fill out some bureaucratic forms and a School of Education questionnaire. One of the questions was: What are your career plans after you graduate? I had to laugh to myself at that one since I had never thought of education in terms of career plans. Teaching to me is a calling and once one accepts the call, well it certainly is not a capitalist venture! So I put down that my plans were to create a global youth revolution in Cyberspace. It felt hopeless to think that I was going to become a tenure faculty person and live happily ever. I couldn't see any positive future for me if there wasn't a revolutionary writer's movement.
One of the Dean's secretaries signaled for me that it was time to enter into the Dean's office. The Dean had a number of secretaries in the front room who were responsible for doing the mundane bureaucratic work. Phyllis and I enter into his private office where there were comfortable chairs, plants, a good view of Marksmeadows the adjacent elementary school, and his personal computer. On the table was a copy of my dissertation. Immediately, one of the secretaries came in with a camera to take my picture posing with the Dean and with Phyllis holding a picture of Peter Wagschell who was the last director of Future Studies.
Earlier in the week, I had told Bob Wellman, my dear friend and chairman of my dissertation committee, that I had thought twice about wanting my picture taken with the Dean. The Administrators were those with whom I had been fighting for the last decade at Umass and now to have my picture taken with him felt like a picture of defeat. Yes, they had won. I was now a certified idiot who went into 33,000 dollar debt to get a piece of paper with their signatures on it. And no one reads dissertations anyway. That was a commonly known fact. They are written to sit on the library shelf and collect dust. I finally realized that it was a joke to think that anyone would ever take my research seriously. I knew that the Dean had not read my dissertation, but this was my last meeting with the Dean and I wanted to explain my work to him.
So I proceeded to give him a lecture about how racist, classist, and sexist Umass was even though the School of Education taught courses in social justice. I said, "It is a miracle I got through the system without compromising my values. The system was flexible enough to once in a while allow a radical to squeeze their way through, but now with the budget cuts eliminating most of the non-traditional programs, radicals will find it much more difficult to get through."
"Yes," he said. "But, once out, there are no jobs for people who specialize in nontraditional fields. We really shouldn't often have such fields because once students graduate there is no place in the system for them. This is one of the reasons why we cut such programs as Future Studies out of the curriculum. We do a disservice to students to allow them to go through school and then for there to be no way for them to get into positions of power. Academic programs have got to be responsible for the community and have connections with the outside world."
"Dean," I stated, "it seems that what we need is a system which allows for innovation. The people must start supporting creative research and making positions for revolutionary scholarship. Believe me, I have been what happens to people like me. Seekers of wisdom are not allowed to make it in this system. Take for example Phyllis. Phyllis is the wisest elderly crone that I know and she has been forced to leave the campus. Because it is difficult for wise women to find faculty positions in Higher Education, then they have to find employment in jobs which are meaningless to them and a waste of time which means that they have to do their real work on the side, or else they have to live on family income. So Phyllis has had to make her small apartment into an office space. She has no money to employ secretaries to help her with her work. It is a crime that Phyllis has been treated all these years like an outcast because her wisdom is priceless. She should be around young college students because she is an experienced teacher and they aren't going to find many women like her in this world. This university has told her that she is welcome to hang around, everybody loves her. However, she is not free to finish her dissertation in the department which means she doesn't have access to the media lab which she needs to complete her video work. The School of Education thinks she has been around here too long. It acts as if she is too old to mingle with the young people."
Dean Carey replied, "Well, it is a shame that Phyllis can not stay around the university anymore, but now that Future Studies is no longer a program there is no faculty person who can oversee her work in "Education for a Space Age." And yes, women do not have the same resources as men. I agree with what you are saying, but its going to be a long time before we have social equality. There just isn't enough money for that idea to become a social reality."
"Why not, Dean? It it because we are paying Administrators like you enormous salaries to maintain the status quo? Why doesn't the system let revolutionary thinkers into the classroom? If education would just embrace a revolutionary feminist agenda then we could revolutionize the economic arrangements. But if the educational system continues to simply reproduce ruling class values for the purpose of education for economic development to make the rich even richer, then education will continue being to be a great lie which corrupts the souls of the youth.
I am tired of being an outsider of the system which treats me with contempt and callousness. Education as taught in this school should be about life-long learning as a way of life, but it is not. Now that I have graduated, I have no more university privileges. I can't even use the interlibrary loan or the gym for exercise. Without an ID, it is as if my membership to the club has run out. I have been a member of the club for more than a decade. The little sense of community that I do have centers around the university. But now, it is as if I have been kicked out. My library job that I had for the five years is no longer open to me because I have graduated and I was happy with my job there as a library guard. It isn't fair that the dullest and least creative minds are the one's who get the jobs while the true teachers are without students. It all boils down to this: the system is doomed! The School of Education is a dysfunctional institution. Even the physical architecture of the School of Education is schizophrenic. Half of it is on one side of the campus and the other side is here. There is one central place where people come together to discuss issues in education. It is one of the most alienating and unfriendly places on campus. It isn't an organization which produces holistic thinkers who have learned the joys of seeking love and wisdom. Rather it is an organization that trains teachers in sophisticated methods of brainwashing techniques.
The Dean's head started to bob around like those car-bobbing heads that some people use to put in their cars in the 70's. Then he shook my hand and said that he must cut the conversation short because here was another doctoral candidate waiting for her exit meeting. As I passed a woman, who was a member of my graduating class, whom I had never laid eyes on before, I felt extremely empty. There was no true colleagueship at the School of Education. No one knows or cares what research the other is conducting. There was no forum for one to express one's ideas or a journal in which to published one's findings. The School of Education was just an assembly line and I have passed the final examination. Now I was being lifted off the conveyer belt and thrown into the garbage as a reject.
Last semester, I was horrified when I heard at a Civility Commission meeting the chair called the students "customers". I asked him to please explain to me who were the "customers". He said, "The students, of course. The university provides a service to them." Was calling students customers only offensive to me? Somehow, I didn't want to be a customer. But the masses have no idea what the role of the scholar is. It was indeed a sad state of affairs when scholarship becomes a consumer product. Now, having earned a doctorate in Future Studies, the Dean had just told me I had produced nothing which the public wanted to buy, so, what would be my future: homelessness, starvation?
When I arrived back to the house from the exit meeting with the Dean, I called Mother to tell her about the wonderful news. She said my job now was to take a job in whatever I could so that I could start paying back my student loans. Even if it was a job at McDonalds, once I got my foot in the door she believed I would be able to rise into a more prestigious position within the corporation.
I told her I was thinking about doing child-care work again for six dollars an hour, but I didn't know how I would be able to pay for rent and food with that kind of work. During the course of the conversation, she told me the story of my five year old niece. When Daddy told her he didn't have any friends, she got upset and said that he did have friends because he always had God and Jesus. "Where did she learn that?" I asked. Mother replied, "Your sister takes her to sunday school classes." I laughed and replied, "When I was with her six months ago, I told her I didn't believe in Jesus, but in the Goddess. I guess those ideas didn't stick with her!" Mother gasped and replied, "Libby, how could you have told her such a thing? That's like telling her there is no Santa Claus. No wonder your sister doesn't like you taking care of her. You will never get a babysitting job if you tell children things that their parents don't want them to hear even if you believe them. You better wise up if you want to have a roof over your head!"
"Well, then, Mother, do you think Clinton will appoint me to the position of Mistress of Education so that I can begin to implement my theory of education? I wrote him a letter when he was first elected about my ideas about what needs to happen to education if it is to become a liberating force. But, of course, why would a President listen to me, a nobody woman scholar? His plan is for people like me to pay off our student loans by becoming policeperson in the poor neighborhoods. I guess that would mean that I would need re-training to learn how to shot a gun at the young criminals who don't follow the American dream. Now, Mother, can you see me out there in a police uniform pointing guns at the students who I ought to be teaching the Neutopian Dream?