Master Fail! Why Academia is Responsible for the Dumbing Down of America

pile of books
“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Wow.  I’m sorry this happened.  Academia has to follow the states’ accreditation and they can’t seem to get their head out of their ass.”

This was the response I got from a friend after I shared with her an e-mail I received from the head of the department at the university where I taught “Introduction to Broadcast Journalism” this past semester.

My friend is a professor — one who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled: My kids call me Professor. In it, I described how, although I do everything professors do — create a syllabus, write lesson plans, create and grade exams, keep up with emails, and oh, yes, teach — academia denies me the right to the title, Professor, because I don’t have a Master’s Degree.

And now, after an amazing semester as an Adjunct Instructor at a major university, it seems that academia is denying me the right to teach at all.

At the end of the semester, I sent the head of the dept. in which I teaching an e-mail offering feedback on improving the course and the program, thanking her for the opportunity to teach this past semester, and telling her I was very much looking forward to the Fall term.

“Thanks for the feedback and your great work with our students. I ran into some credentialing issues with HR because you do not have a master’s degree. Do you have any plans to work on one?” she responded.

It seems that thirty plus years of working in broadcast journalism isn’t enough to qualify me to teach a course on the subject.

To be honest, I didn’t take it personally.  Her response was so brief, that it seemed almost apologetic.

I exhaled and thanked the good Lord for protecting me from an industry covered in so much red — red tape, that is — that it makes Valentine’s Day look like its albino bastard child.

“I will not be pursing my Master’s degree,” I responded. “It doesn’t make sense for me to invest time and money to obtain credentials for knowledge I already have.”

I wanted to add: “I find it absurd that the people who teach and grade the courses I would be required to take to obtain my Master’s will most likely be professors who have never stepped foot inside a newsroom, or written anything besides a thesis, analyzing the textbook definition of broadcasting and journalism.”

But realizing that I was targeting the wrong person with my message, a person who herself was the messenger of the ridiculous rules of the powers-that-be who ruled above her — I decided to keep that thought to myself, and use it as inspiration for this article.

I’m a firm believer that the fire of disappointed passion should never be allowed to burn a bridge I may want to cross in the future.

But I also believe that quenching that fire with an ocean of indifference, is equivalent to death by drowning.

I would love to teach again.  However, I refuse to let my experience in academia during the past six months remain silent, especially since that experience affects the very students that “education” in America claims to serve.

My apologies to the teachers and professors who work their asses off to pursue their passion, to those who have the necessary letters next to their names to be welcomed into the exclusive world of “higher education,” yet don’t get the credit, recognition, or salaries they deserve.  My respect for you is greater than it’s ever been.  Contrary to George Bernard Shaw’s popular quote, sometimes those who can also choose to teach.

As my strongest evidence that this is not an angry attack — or revenge — on an industry that rejected me, but a disclosure of what is wrong with that industry, I offer this:

My mother is a teacher by profession. She’s one of those people with a string of letters next to her name.  You can call her Dr. Besteni-Castellanos.

As for academia and the powers that rule it … SHAME ON YOU!

Shame on you for cheating students out of the right to an education from those who have spent their lives working in the industries those students are seeking to enter.

There are exceptions, of course.  I want my doctors and lawyers to have formal education and lots and lots of letters next to their names. The thought of allowing people with only life experience into these professions is frightening.

But when it comes to journalism, or any other creative career, if given the choice between a professor with formal education and no field training, or a person without post-graduate education who has spent her life working in that career, my choice is obvious.

To deny me, or any other person, the ability to share our knowledge and experience, simply because we haven’t had formal training in a classroom is like erasing Abraham Lincoln from the history books because he had no formal schooling whatsoever!

I do have a Bachelor’s Degree.  But I earned my Master’s at the University of Life known as a Newsroom.  Nearly 35 years later, I refuse to play by the rules of an institution that doesn’t recognize the value of what I have to offer.

“What about credit for life experience?” you ask.

Well, I asked that too.  And the answer is that they would happily consider life experience for half the credits I would need to obtain my Master’s Degree.  However, in order for those credits to be applied towards my degree, I would have to pay for them.

Bottom line: I would be paying for the experience I had spent my career obtaining.

Um, no thank you.

My mom, Dr. Besteni-Castellanos, didn’t raise a fool.  Neither did my dad, Dr. Felipe Besteni-Socvi, for that matter. (I know, compared to my parents, I’m a slacker.)

And so, I’m moving on.  Knowing that another door will open.

As my anonymous professor friend added to the quote that began this article …

“Academia is in a world of its own and will be swallowed by a black hole one day!”

I refuse to tumble into that black hole.

In closing, I would like to thank the students who allowed me to share my knowledge and experience with them this past semester, and taught me more than any book or school could ever teach me.

It was truly an honor watching your eyes shine during those “Aha! moments,” when the light of understanding illuminated concepts that you had been struggling to grasp. I can only hope and pray that I played even a small part in that.

My heart will forever carry the lessons that you taught me, and I will use them as inspiration to continue teaching beyond the confines of academia’s classrooms.

As always, I welcome your comments and rebuttals.

Author: Barb Besteni

I've been in a writer long enough to know that change is not only inevitable, it's what keeps us going. Don't fight it, don't fear it. Embrace it and have fun.

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