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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Satirical yet sad ─ state of U.S. education

Making hard truths digestible
Contento and Ross’s College Leadership Crisis: the Philip Dolly Affair
Excerpt and editing by Carolyn Bennett
The authors call the Philip Dolly Affair a “funny” depiction of “‘whispered truths’, a first “campus novel” on an “entertaining culture,” tales spun from the vantage point of inmates (the students and staff). 

“We have over 40 years experience (together) as community college staffers,” Contento and Ross said in an early 2012 interview; “and we are dismayed at the changes that have occurred at our colleges. Once stewards of the public trust, so many community college leaders now follow selfish ambition. 

“We know for certain that little community college criticism exists [and] we wanted to write about the community college life in an entertaining—and yet instructional—manner. …” 

Reading College Leadership Crisis: the Philip Dolly Affair, the authors said, “you might be surprised to learn about ─ 

[t]he large salaries of administrators and feel compassion for the exploited part-time professors who work for virtually nothing. 

Perhaps you will be reminded of the extravagant costs of textbooks and wonder why faculty and staff must attend so many meetings.  

We question the corporate management practices that have taken over our colleges, and ubiquitous Ed Leadership doctoral programs, and the Organizational Learning that occupies every waking moment in every college boardroom.

Comment on fact and fiction 

In an article posted at World Socialist Web Site, Charles Bogle writes that the College Leadership Crisis: the Philip Dolly Affair “is largely successful in satirizing the corporate model,” exposing “the infiltration of corporate thinking and language into the community college culture. 

“Administration and faculty characters in the book accurately represent the ‘types’ found on community college campuses.… 

The title character is self-centered and corporate to the bone. Dolly drives a Cadillac to work, wants to privatize Copperfield (CCC) and worries about ‘stakeholder satisfaction’ and ‘future market penetration,’ as well as ‘brand recognition and sustainability.’  

The authors satirize the promotion of turning community colleges into four-year colleges, the ‘retention of students at all costs’ policy and the ‘student as customer’ mantra by likening Dolly (and similar community college CEOs) to [an earlier era’s] ‘fatigue-wearing dictators … who vowed love for the people, but grew rich and powerful at their expense.’

Destroying education and its possibility

Bogle points out that the Obama administration, “building on the education policies of the second Bush administration has changed the community college mission ─ with disastrous consequences.  

“The original mission of providing a quality higher education for students who either could not afford a four-year college or university or meet the requirements, or both, has largely been scrapped in favor of a competitive funding model that turns community colleges into little more than training centers tailored to corporate needs.” 

Meanwhile, back to the satirical Philip Dolly Affair, Bogle continues 

Bringing the commercial model to academia has attracted many figures from the corporate world. 

Having lost her position in business, [the character] Professor Julia Flowers, like many of her ilk, feels interacting with community college students is beneath her, and [she] teaches online courses whenever possible.  

At one point, she asks a colleague, ‘What’s wrong with these people? They’re half asleep. They can’t follow instructions, can’t read, can’t write, can’t come to class.... When I teach regular old classes [i.e., non-online courses], I have to interact directly with the, the, the students.’ 

Genre making Truth digestible  

Bogle concludes that, in the United States in recent years, social satire has been far too sparse and Contento and Ross’s effort offers at least a breath of change in bringing this genre “to the subject of higher education and its perversion.”  


Sources and notes 

February 29, 2012, Cerebral Writer interview with authors Jann M. Contento and Jeffrey Ross!

“College Leadership Crisis: The Philip Dolly Affair—a satire of contemporary American community colleges” by Jann M. Contento and Jeffrey Ross, Rogue Phoenix Press: Salem, Oregon, 2011, 263 pages (WSWS Charles Bogle), August 22, 2012, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/aug2012/doll-a22.shtml


Writer Jann M. Contento currently works in a community college setting in positions higher education have included offices of student affairs administration, athletics, and institutional research. Contento and has co-authored several articles on leadership and college culture.


Writer Jeffrey Ross, a former full-time community college teacher, has authored and co-authored several opinion pieces on community college identity, purpose, and culture. Ross is also a musician.


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