Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fly the ghetto skies

Initially this blog was going to be solely focused on he development of ‘Junct but after my little drama laden flight on Spirit Airlines yesterday I feel the need to share with the class.  First off, I will openly admit to being a cheap ass bitch.  When I was pricing out airfare to Lima a few month back I did in fact pee a little in my pants when I found a relatively cheap flight out of Atlantic City through Spirit Airlines.  Sure there were baggage fees but when I did a quick calculation in my head I realized that I was still saving roughly a grand.  

How bad could it possibly be?

The flight down to Lima was fine considering my expectations weren’t high to begin with.  The spousal unit upgraded us to ‘first’ class for the Ft. Lauderdale-Lima legs of the trip and while the seats were small and no food was served I was okay with this.  Personally I find airplane food sucks in general so might as well buy something I’ll actually eat.  Nothing is worse then feeling obligated to munch on dry ass crackers or way too salty peanuts because someone in some third world country is starving. So, I loaded up on snacks and beverages prior to each flight down and I was golden.
It was the flight home that things turned ugly.

Sitting in the Lima airport at 10pm I decided to burn what soles I had left in my pocket because I was far too lazy to do the exchange in Ft. Lauderdale.  I tell the spousal unit and new friend that hiked the Andes with us to watch my bags and I set out on my pre-flight ritual.  This particular time to get something salty to balance out the cupcakes I had gotten from Miraflores earlier in the afternoon (and managed to get through security) and some carbonated beverages.

When I returned, arms full of goodies I was a bit dismayed by the fact that the spousal unit had been excommunicated to a new seating area.  I asked about the change and he just said that the airline wanted everyone out of those row of seats.  At first I thought that maybe they were sectioning it off for the handicapped, elderly, what have you, but the seats remained empty all the way up until boarding.

The seating change however resulted in an interesting conversation with a couple of backpackers.  One was a guy born in Palestine that had to cut his trip short when he was pickpocketed in Brazil during the world cup.  The other was a blonde chick who had been out in the amazon and told us that the bugs actually could bite through clothing.  The guy offered up some anti-itch stuff to the spousal unit while we traded South American war stories.  I wish I had gotten their names to give them due credit.  The stories were amazing, but that is for another blog, another time.

Right before we board the plane Spirit makes an announcement about not bringing liquids on the plane. At first we think it’s a joke.  We’ve already been through security and customs, obviously there’s been some sort of mistake.  Sure enough we see them going through peoples carry ons and extracting bottle after bottle of water. We chug what we have despite knowing we’ll have to pee a million times on that flight.  That bottle of coke made with pure sugar was 700 soles, that’s like a million US, right?  We get on the plane, settle into our ‘first’ class seats of beat up pleather and prepare to sleep the flight away.

“Welcome aboard Spirit Airlines number ### we regret to inform you that the lavatory in the front of the plane is unavailable for this flight.  There is a malfunction with the trash unit and due to FAA regulations we are not allowed to use that restroom.  We are sorry for the inconvenience in advance.  Thank you.”


A malfunction with the trash unit.  We’re they afraid passengers would get sucked in like it was a sarlacc pit?

or crushed?

Put some duct tape on that bitch and call it a day.  Problem solved.

I cracked one eye open and watched one flight attendant as she entered and exited the ‘broken’ bathroom.  Initially I thought she was trying to fix the problem but quickly caught on that the only thing bombshell Betty was fixing was her retro makeup and perfectly coifed hair.  This pattern followed suit with several other flight attendants during the course of the flight.  The only difference was their lack of vintage flair.  At one point I was informed that even the pilots had used the bathroom.

Not even a half hour before touchdown they decided to come around with the customs forms and offer water at the low low price of five dollars for two bottles.  The catch was you had to have US currency and it had to be exact.  Their credit card reader was broken (this was the case on every single Spirit flight). 

Between the spousal unit and myself we managed to cough up 4 bucks.  The flight attendant gave an over the top sigh and acted like she was doing us a huge favor by allowing it.  She took the money, we got the two bottles of generic luke warm water.  Incidentally we had to slam that down because we had minutes until touchdown and still had to fill out customs forms.

SO- What did we get besides what’s on the list?
Me *burnt out*- Stuff???

As we exited the plane bombshell Betty had the perfect resting bitch face as she said goodbye to the passengers.

“Thanks for flying Spirit!”

Yeah, you broke my spirit.  Thanks for that.

Next Installment???: Ft. Lauderdale Customs Mayhem

Monday, September 23, 2013

Destitute and death at Duquesne

I spent the better part of today posting articles from various news outlets in regards to Mary Margaret Vojtko’s death earlier this month on my personal facebook account.  By the time evening had approached I had gone through the comments threads, reading all accounts and opinions on what I can safely say is the official death of the American institution.  This however isn’t some new phenomenon, higher education has been on life support for decades and much like tonight’s Dexter finale the plug has finally been pulled.  Ask anyone in the teaching profession and they can tell you that our educational system as a whole is broken.  While there are unions attempting to band together contingent faculty I feel the effort is about a futile as placing a bandaid on a bullet wound.  Do I have a solution to fix the problem? No.  The only thing I can do is shed light on the situation with the help of my documentary partner Debra Leigh Scott.

I know there is an early post on this blog in regards to how I became part of ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America.  What I haven’t done was give my personal opinion.  I tend to reserve judgments and opinions on the subject for fear of saying the wrong thing, more so considering the film is still in production.  Even though I’ve reviewed reels of interviews shot over the the past three years I don’t know what the final product will be.  It still doesn’t have that voice I’ve been looking for.

When I agreed to take on the task of doing the tech end of things on ‘Junct I really had no idea how far in over my head I would be.  I was naive enough to believe a feature documentary could be completed in a year and under 10 grand.  Here we are approaching year four and I don’t even want to fathom what DLS and myself have put towards this film, let alone tally up the hours we put into it.  However, I don’t regret it.  While the majority of interviews are down right heartbreaking there is one little piece of me that truly believes this is the right thing to do.  The odds of two people trying to get out this message to the general public is staggering but we have to try.  I personally need to see this through.

If you asked me 3+ years ago the definition of an adjunct I would have instantly conjured up someone who had a day time professional job who taught an occasional night class because they enjoyed sharing their practical knowledge.  In fact I had one such Pathology instructor years ago who was gainfully employed at a rather large pharmaceutical company based out of Philadelphia.  It was hands down one of the best classes I had ever taken.  Not only did this man know his shit, he loved sharing his knowledge.  I ended up taking every class he taught at the local community college and he is now tenured.  That said, I was completely oblivious to the new definition ‘adjunct’.

Contingency faculty consists of 70% of the teaching force in higher education.  This statistic has been thrown around for as long as I’ve been working on the documentary.  These ‘New Faculty Majority’ are not remotely close to my definition in the previous paragraph.  These are individuals piecemealing a living, often falling well below the poverty line as they juggle courses from as many as 4-5 different institutions per semester.

How is this happening?

Colleges started to catch on a couple decades ago that it was far cheaper to pay for part timers.  Honestly from a business stand point that is brilliant and it’s becoming more prevalent in ALL professions.  A tenure track professor retires and an institution in turn hires three to five people in that person’s place.  There’s no longer a retirement plan to fund, no medical, benefit bills to foot thereby being a cheaper alternative for them.  There is also the ability to not hire people back if the adjuncts views and teaching methods aren’t aligned with the personal views / mission statements of that particular institution.  Let’s be honest, there will always be someone waiting in the wings due to the surplus of PhDs in humanities, but that is another story.  This is a no brainer for colleges.  Cheap disposable labor, what’s not to love?  

“Oh wait!  Let’s get grad students to teach.  We can save even more money!”

Why should you care?

One of the greatest difficulties we’ve been trying to overcome is shaking the stigma of ‘white people problems’ with ‘Junct.  In the beginning it was difficult just getting anyone to interview.  One even balked after the interview when a simple release form was handed to them so that we could potentially use the footage in the final piece.  I can’t say I blame them.  I would be hesitant as well, knowing what little employment I had could be gone by going public in a film.  It was a rough beginning but once our presence was known more people started to come forward to tell their story.  The problem is the demographic thus far.  The interviews we’ve gathered have been primarily Caucasian females.  Ninety minutes of white women ‘bitching’ about their livelihoods or lack thereof isn’t a compelling documentary to incite discussion nor change.   My main concern is the audience is simply not going to give a shit.  Just about everyone, regardless of profession is suffering financially.

This is why you should care if for no other reason:

You aren’t getting your moneys worth, plain and simple.  You, the viewer needs to question where your money is going when paying the exorbitant tuition fees at the institution of your choosing. It’s obviously not going towards the people that are educating you. For myself personally I don’t mind paying a lot of money for something if I know it’s worth it.  Ten years ago I would have loved for nothing more than to get my masters in history or forensic pathology.  I embrace being a jack of all trades, master of nothing but realistically speaking a masters would be just about as worthless as the BA hanging up on the wall behind me.  Again, that is another story for another time.  Bottom line is educators are not getting paid their worth, they're stressed out and don't have the physical or mental stamina to maintain a good track record in the classroom.  They are not bad teachers.  Think about how good you would be at your job only making between 15-20k a year with no benefits or a retirement fund.

Start asking questions.

That’s all I want from this film.

...and maybe for these institutions to stop being dicks.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Huff Post Live

My partner in crime Debra will be on the HuffPostLive forum 'Higher Ed., Lower Wages' at 4:35 EST today:
Show some love by watching.

(Will be updating the blog some time this week)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

‘Junct Tour Days 6&7

Day 6 
DLS and I packed up and left Leia’s place somewhere around 10:30 for the next round of interviews.  We talked to a woman who is no longer tenure faculty, which may or may not be addressed in the final cut of ‘Junct.  What we focused on in that specific interview was life beyond contingency.  The second interview of the day covered alternatives including teaching abroad.  
While we had expected more of a round table discussion for the second segment of the day I think what we got was equally important.  It also reminded me that people are still not willing to come forward on camera for fear of losing what employment opportunities they do have and I respect that.  One woman in particular, while not wanting to be on camera, was instrumental in putting the word out about the interviews we were conducting.  Even though she was gentle and soft spoken I sort of thought of her as some secret agent working covert ops behind the scenes.  She was the one that made Cleveland happen for us.
Once we wrapped (and collected a parking ticket) we made our way to State College PA for the final interview of this leg of the tour.  After searching for a good 45 minutes I found a place to pick up something to hold the footage I had shot earlier that day.  Initially I wanted to pick up another 32GB CF card but when I saw the 4GB CF cards were selling for 84 bucks I decided against that.  The HDs I prefer were nearly 200 bucks so that was out as well.  I ended up purchasing a 32GB thumb drive for 30.  At this rate I will probably have a keychain of these little drives once all is said and done.  The hard part is going to be managing everything now that it’s spread out on multiple devices until I can afford a 3TB drive.

Day 7
Our last interview was scheduled for 11am and initially we thought we’d be there for an hour at most.  We ended up talking (mostly off camera) for well over two hours.  I was actually expecting another parking ticket by the time I got back to the truck.  Luckily that wasn’t the case.  After the interview we headed straight home.

While it was an interesting week I’m happy to be home with my husband and my dogs.
Now to go take care of that parking ticket...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

'Junct Tour Day 5

Left Maumee Bay around noonish today for Cleveland.  The two hour drive on 2 was pretty uneventful.  We passed by the Davis Besse nuclear plant again which we had been told by a local is one crack away from a complete meltdown.  That was comforting. Overall a boring drive.

When we got into Cleveland proper I made a b-line for the rock and roll hall of fame.  It was pretty damn cool and it made me want to start shooting music videos.  I think my absolute favorite item in the HoF was a hate letter the Rolling Stones received during the beginning of their career.  The girl called them 'British Pigs' and to go home to England.  Honestly, I couldn't stop laughing while reading it.  The temporary exhibit was dedicated to The Dead.  Two top floors of the HoF was Jerry-fied.  I wish I had pictures of the place but they didn't allow any sort of media to be taken in the museum.

From the museum we grabbed a quick bite to eat before meeting up with our Cleveland liaison Leia (sp?).  She's a super cool chick that reminds me so much of my mom.  Even her home reminds me of my mom's place back in Jersey.  We've spent probably the better part of the night talking about just about everything under the sun as people filtered in and out of the house.  In fact I can still hear her and D in the other room chatting away while I type this blog.

I could probably stay up all night listening but I know we have more interviews lined up in the morning.  When we wrap up around 1 tomorrow we'll be packing up and heading to our last stop of the tour, State College PA.

To take a line from the dead:

What a long strange trip it's been.

UPDATE:  What I forgot to mention was our hostess took us out to a little downtown area in Cleveland Heights that was filled with bookstores, metaphysical shops, thrift stores and tea shops.  It was nice getting the five cent tour from a local.  Plus I picked up a copy of: Easy Riders, Raging Bull.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

'Junct Tour Day 4

We ended up having a late start today but that was a good thing.  In the AM we managed to catch up on the social media promotion as well finish off reel 015.  There is nearly 2 hours of footage in the can from Pittsburgh.  If we hadn't had such a late shoot today I would have started to work on the Toledo footage.  I suspect there's a good hour and a half of footage there.

Our first interview didn't begin until 4:30 with a support staff member at (college omitted).  The man is a driver for the college shuttle and it was interesting because of the pride he took in being part of that institution.  It was visibly obvious the man cared deeply about his school and those that attended it.

How many people in this day an age can honestly say they take pride in their work?

From there we headed uptown to interview two people in their early twenties about what options they had as far as higher education vs trade school is concerned.  The girl, 23, is very enthusiastic about spoken word and hip hop and wants to incorporate that skill in a way to get the word out about the occupy movement and hot button issues. The guy was essentially tossed into the role of contingent a few years back with little to no experience teaching.  Both are interviews I will never forget.

Afterwards we ended up hitting Tony Packos for Hotdogs and Chili.  I'm already regretting it.

I know I've ben promising video blogs along the way but unfortunately I've run out of hard drive space on the laptop as well as the 500 gig external I brought with me.  So look for a super blog sometime the beginning of next week.


'Junct Tour Day 3

We ended up shooting 2 more interviews today in Pittsburgh before hitting the road for Toledo.  Our host, the fantastic Penny filmed with us in the morning and she arranged the second interview with one of her bosses.  It was actually nice scoring the interview with someone who is an administrator getting his take on the adjunct labor abuse issue.  I think his take is really going to improve the over all flow of 'Junct and I'm noticing it isn't just one class of people whose hands are tied, but multiple.  We need to keep following the chain up until we find out who specifically is responsible for this sad state of affairs.

My vision for the film is for it to hit hard with parents of college students.  I want them to see this film and realize that the 50-60 grand they are paying per year is not going to their child's college education and that the money is simply being pissed away.  I believe not all kids when they get out of highschool are destined for college.  Mind you I am not taking some elitist stance where only the rich or privileged should attend college.  What I'm saying is not everyone is suited for college.  If you are mechanically savvy you don't necessarily have to pursue a degree in higher education.  There is no shame in going to a trade school to become an electrician or a mechanic.  We need people with these trade skills.  We are always going to need these people.

I also want to drive the point home that these part time contingent educators in many cases are only repeating this vicious cycle semester after semester because they love their job.  They love sharing the knowledge  they have attained over the years and it's honestly a crime with how they are repayed for the knowledge.  I know for those of you that have been following this issue over the past few years I'm pretty much beating a dead horse but 'm doing this for those not in the know.  How could these educators, who work at several different campuses per semester be able to give ample attention to their students?  Especially when they have no means or time to meet them?

People beyond the walls of academia need to know this.  They need to have this information so they can make an informed decision about their future and/or their children's future.

So that leaves the question:  Where do we go from here?

Tirade aside, we drove to Toledo late this afternoon for the next round of interviews.  The downtown area is so desolate I had to wonder if maybe we came across the set for season three of walking dead.  The place was empty on a Monday at 5.  The last time I saw anything of this magnitude was Atlantic City in the late 80s.  It was unreal!

Immediately the decision was made to look elsewhere for lodging for the night.  We popped across the river and began to head northeast on 2 skirting Lake Erie.  After driving for a good 45 minutes I realized where we were when I saw the cooling tower of the nuke plant.  I had been there a couple years earlier on a road rally to Detroit (A rather long story better told in person because I like flailing my arms around when I speak about it).  Knowing there was nothing for a good 35 miles east I turned around and headed back towards Toledo.  We pulled over at a place called Maumee (sp?) State Park and rented a cabin for the night (the pictures can be found on the 'Junct Tour event page).  This place is amazing!  I'm not saying that because of the free wifi either!

Holy crap!  It's already 1.  Night folks...more adventures tomorrow.

Tomorrow I plan to explore the park before heading back into Toledo proper for more interviews.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

'Junct Tour Day 2

Shoot went well today. We met up with a few people at the United Steel Workers HQ a little after noon today. Two of them were union reps and the third was an adjunct from one of the local universities here in Pittsburgh. It was a very interesting interview as far as how this 'odd couple' like partnership emerged between the steel workers and educators. My impression of the USWs stance on the matter is a zero tolerance policy and that it's complete bullshit.

DISCLAIMER: These are simply my observations and not necessarily USWs stance.

After we wrapped with the USW people we interviewed 2 former students that are with the occupy Pittsburgh movement. One was seriously in debt and had no degree to show for it. The other had contemplated an advanced degree but realized it wasn't feasible giving his current financial situation and lifestyle.

After we wrapped another Occupier joined in the conversation. The guy, whose name escapes me right now, is a world traveler and has this amazing knack for recalling historical events. His specialty is dealing with the Lewis and Clark expedition (mainly it's origins). He's currently trying to turn Bruno (sp?) Island into a recreational park/ historical site. We talked for nearly 3 hours about the local history of Pittsburgh as well as climbing Fuji and Machu Pichu.

Nearly midnight here and I'm now rendering out over 27 gigs of footage that I shot today. We are staying on in Pittsburgh until late afternoon in the hopes of getting two more interviews and then it's off to Toledo.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

'Junct Tour Day 1

First off apologies for not having a VLOg set up for tonight. I haven't had a chance to transfer what little footage I shot today to my laptop for editing.

At some point during the trip I will upload that footage.

Overall, today was pretty uneventful. I left jersey a little after 11 and got to DLS's place in Philly about 12:30. The drive to Penny's place was more or less a straight shot from Philly. We made pretty good time, arriving a little after 6.

The first order of business, after being properly greeted by Prince (a Saint Bernard whose snout is bigger than my two dogs combined), was dinner. Our host took us to a place down the street called Café Sam (link to be provided later when I'm not blogging on my cell). The food was quite good and just the right size as far as portions are concerned. On the menu for me was lobster bisque and angel hair pasta with snails. Honestly, I was torn between the snails and the calamari up until the time the exceptionally perky waitress asked for my order.

After dinner we came back to the house for dessert. My awesome husband had picked up fresh strawberries for me to take on the trip. We had them along with Penny's favorite chocolate from England and something that's like Baileys Irish Cream (but better). I have to get the name of it again.

Tomorrow we'll be interviewing Penny in the morning and then we'll be heading out to interview a union rep from the steel workers at their headquarters. I'm hoping for a cool looking factory with big pieces of equipment that take up a couple stories. We'll be wrapping up the day talking to occupy organizers here in town.

Bring on day two.

Friday, May 18, 2012