Crunch Time For Small Colleges

belushi_in_animal_houseA few years ago I made an important mid-career decision to go back to college – this time, graduate film school.

My choice was Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film & Media Arts, which is now nationally ranked, perhaps Top 5. (USC remains the “Harvard” of film schools. Chapman is “Dartmouth.”) Boasting a new $41 million facility, 34 notable professors and over 900 students, the film school is extremely competitive, too; only about 1 out of 4 applicants are accepted into Dodge College.

Earning an M.A. in Film Studies is no small feat. The Thesis itself is a backbreaker. Half of my academic colleagues never finished – the long thesis process of research and scholarly writing killed them.

The next chapter in my career, I believe, is to teach film, tv and media at the college level. The desire is to mentor filmmakers. (I use that inclusive term to also define those wishing to work in television, video and media production.) The rationale is to give back, to guide a younger generation that has grown up immersed in media.

(When I was coming up as a wet-eared 20 year old network promo producer, there were few mentors to show us how. It was sink or swim. Perhaps they should change the job title from professor to swim instructor.)

Teaching, really, has no age limit. The academic world rewards experience, knowledge, ability and a terminal degree. You can be 63 and still be teaching. (As long as you have good health and mental agility.) But in television, you’d be a dinosaur primed for extinction. Heck, make that 43.

Fast forward to 2009, my efforts to transition from a producer-director with a long career (and a degree) to becoming a film/television professor seem to be travelling on a very rocky road. These are tough times in academia.

For example, here in California the state budget crisis (negative $21 billion for 2009 alone) means that $5 billion is about to be slashed from education.

Second, scores of colleges and universities outside of California are hurting too. Endowments have taken a HUGE hit on Wall Street. (Harvard just lost $8 billion in investments.) Donations have dried up. Budgets have either been frozen solid or sliced to the bone. Travel stipends have been slashed.

With the cost of a 4 year undergraduate degree now often topping $100K – and up to $200K at many private universities – student enrollments (and retention rates) have taken a major hit. This upcoming Fall 2009 term will speak volumes as to where education is financially. It may not be a pretty sight; you might want to cross your fingers and close your eyes.

Third, these various factors have combined recently to become The Perfect Storm that affects the filling of open professor slots. According to the Chronicle for Higher Education, even tenured professors at major universities (Arizona State was cited) are being laid off. Retired positions are going unfilled. Progressive plans to expand a department or program have been scuttled for the near future. The academic job boards are littered with strikethroughs. A visit to the Cal State Fullerton website cites numerous faculty positions cancelled.

Finally, truth be told, the consideration process is maddenly s-l-o-w. (I work in television where deadlines are often quick and sacred.) Resumes, references, letters of interest, transcripts, educational philosophy and teacher evaluations – they all have to be sent in a packet. In the end, a search committee often selects who gets a shot, who doesn’t.

Then you wait. And wait. For a position that was publicized in September that may not be filled till the following July, 10 months later.  I will admit that I have learned tons of patience recently. That’s the bonus, and the residue of being forced to wait for an answer, of stepping into a laborious review process as willing participant.

In the end, however, there is something that I am pretty confident about: The right opportunity at the right university is going to open up. Crunch time, or not.

As my college basketball coach, Dewey Short, used to say, “It’s always too soon to quit.”


3 thoughts on “Crunch Time For Small Colleges

  1. Craig – informative summary of the situation — thank you. I agree – the right situation will open up. Are you and your wife open geographically, or is So Calif your focus? (so I can keep my eyes and ears open appropriately…)

    • Thanks, Gloria. Open geographically. Looking for the right opportunity. Once I land somewhere, plans are to pursue an MFA degree in Screenwriting – probably from University of New Orleans. Had good talks with them already.

  2. Craig,
    Great thoughts. I think you “hit the nail on the head.” In every situation God prepares for what He is preparing us for. I am excited to hear what God is going to for you.

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