05 March 2010

The Dead Parrot of Graduate Studies

“This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker.
This is a late parrot. 
It's a stiff. 
Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies.  
Its metabolic processes are of interest only to historians. 
It's hopped the twig. 
It's shuffled off this mortal coil. 
It's run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible! 
This.... is an ex-parrot.”
One could pity Noreen Golfman, Ph.d.

Theoretically, that is.

One could  - entirely in the abstract, mind you - actually manage to find some measure of sympathy for the good professor as she copes with the crisis besetting her academic charge, the School of Graduate Studies at Memorial University.

But that sympathy could only exist in the absence of the facts.

You see the university administration froze the grad studies budget for new students.  Starting this fall new graduate students won’t get any fellowship cash from the university.  According to Golfman, about half the university’s masters and doctoral students rely on the estimated $12,000 to $15,000 to help pay for their studies.

Grad Studies is facing a budget shortfall of about $2.0 million a year.  Supposedly the shortfall is the result of a 60% increase in enrolment within the past year.

Note the word:  enrolment.

That is slightly different from the words that appear in the Telegram story on the mess where the word “application” is used. A 60% increase in applications wouldn’t matter since those applications could be turned down in the absence of funds.

A problem exists because someone – maybe Noreen Golfman as dean of graduate studies – or some group of someones allowed enrolment to increase at such an insane rate in a single year.

Freezing spending is not, as Golfman claimed, “sending the right signal about being fiscally responsible.” Rather it sends a signal that someone or some group of someones was so utterly incompetent that they let the situation develop in the first place. The university administration had to freeze the thing in place or face catastrophe. 

As an aside:  what are the odds, incidentally, that Golfman didn’t make this decision all by her lonesome?

The implications are far more serious for the university than the mere inconvenience to a few thousand students. 
"It means that it will be very difficult to attract graduate students to the university this coming year because when you're a graduate student you apply to different universities and see who is going to offer you the best package," [faculty association president Ross] Klein says. "It affects the stature of the university because the graduate programs are one of the things that raise the stature."
You can tell Golfman understands the magnitude of the shag up because she has been bullshitting so heavily in the Telegram and to other media like the CBC:
“We will get control of our budget and hope to move forward with more support, but we couldn't in conscience go forward at the growth rate we are without knowing if we've got the money to do it.”
As Golfman knows, though, she and her colleagues did "go forward at the growth rate” knowing that they didn’t have the cash.  There isn't any indication anywhere that the funding levels were cut, tightened or otherwise altered until after the enrolment part of this fiscal fiasco.  Make no mistake, though: if there is a mess,  Golfman made it.

That isn't what you will see her acknowledge anywhere, though.  Nowhere does the bullshit about this flow more heavily than on Golfman’s own weekly blog Postcards from the edge

Golfman tries blaming the media for the current flap:
A freeze by any other name would not be a freeze. That’s of course why the media love to use the word: it signals exactly what freezes are, an act that seizes everything up.
She tries a minor play for sympathy:
“Forgive me, but I am somewhat preoccupied with the word freeze right now…”.
She tries to obfuscate by relying on the extracts from the Standard Book of Bureaucratic Bullshit:
Our staggering growth in the last couple of years has outrun our more limited capacity to support it, and so we are doing some intense focusing on how best to move ahead while staying committed to both the university’s Strategic Plan and the many students who are currently in our programs and require reasonable, long-term funding through the healthy front ends of their programs.
There is a mysteriously capitalised pair of phrases that seem as if they were cut and pasted whole from someone’s hastily typed notes on how to torque the whole shite-pile:
She tries to blame the media – slow news week – and then turns the whole thing into a commentary on “how basic communication works in our society”:
In a world of tweets and twerps, you know just how quickly the facts can be distorted. Just put a few nouns and verbs out there and watch how suddenly the message gets transformed into something quite different from its original meaning and context.
Ah yes, the ever popular “I was misquoted”, not by the usual culprits the news media but by the faceless crowds on facebook and other social media.

Golfman only accepts responsibility for a poor choice of words:  “I admit the memo used the phrase ‘temporary freeze,’ and if I had my time back I’d trade the word in for something softer, like ‘temporary hold’ on fellowship support for new, incoming students.” 

However in her bass-ackwards version her mistake was for telling things as they were – it really is a freeze – rather than employ the sort of mind-numbing drivel one used to find in news releases from Eastern Health about breast cancer testing.

And of course, Golfman would be remiss if she didn’t resort to the old academic stand-by, the supposed ignorance of those who have not been exposed to the rarefied intellectual environment of the average graduate school:
The whole world of graduate studies, as is the domain of research, is also a bit mystifying to the general public who, if they haven’t done a graduate degree, understandably find the whole notion of giving students money to study a little odd.
Only someone with the unadulterated arrogance to believe that could also try the extensive line of sheer foolishness Golfman has been peddling the past day or so in an effort to deflect attention from the rather obviously unsound fiscal management that led to this fiasco in the first place.

Golfman, of course, is the only one who has been avoiding facts, let alone distorting them. Her efforts to massage the message have been so amateurish, so lame, so pathetic that anyone with the IQ of a cup of warm spit – let alone the crowd at the university – could see what is actually going on.

The only thing Golfman succeeds at doing is giving the people of Newfoundland and Labrador a textbook example of how to bungle.   If she didn’t cause the problem in the first place – and she shouldn’t be off the hook for that one yet -  then she has certainly buggered the response to the crisis. 

But what is perhaps the most unforgivable sin in a string of Golfman’s unforgiveables is her mangling of the sacred canon of Monty Python:
(I am starting to feel like John Cleese defending his not-so-dead parrot, but I digress, again.)
Fans of the show will appreciate that while Golfman may like to think she’s playing Cleese’s part, she’s auditioning  - rather badly - to replace Michael Palin.  Cleese was the customer who;d be sold a bill of goods.  Michael Palin was the shopkeeper who tried every manner of deflection and bullshit to dodge responsibility for the fraud.

Oh yes, and the parrot was, unmistakably, and without question, dead.

One can only hope someone in the university administration will step in, like The Colonel, and put an end to Golfman’s miserable efforts at sketch comedy before more damage is done to the university.

Norwegian Blue bonus:

The audio of the dead parrot sketch from the Live at Drury Lane album.  Those with a penchant for trivia and other things will note the sketch originally appeared in a Python episode titled “Full frontal nudity”. [dead link deleted]

Revised 27 April 2017 to correct typos,  clarify sentences,  and to advise that,  after the Grad Studies Fiasco, Golfman won a lovely promotion.