Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Guy In Charge Has Too Much Power

For those of you who read my previous article, I was going over how it was evident that my school (The Art Institute of Vancouver or AI for short), being a private institution, had its big grubby hand in your pocket the whole way through. I talked mostly about the first quarter and all the fees involved.

I cover more of that here, but this article mostly pertains to the overall running by the program heads and how a bad egg at the top makes it rotten for everybody.

For the first three quarters, the experience was pretty decent. Most of the teachers were fantastic and really knew what they were talking about. About the time the fourth quarter rolled around stuff started to change, and not for the better.

For some reason I can’t fathom, the really great teachers that everyone liked started getting fewer and fewer classes to teach, and were being replaced by other new teachers, a couple of them decent but more than a few that had the credentials but were obviously just there for a pay check. One prime example was our Motion-Capture class. Our teacher was a guy with a ton of experience; he even worked on the mo-cap for Gollum in Lord of the Rings! I had high hopes for learning a ton from this guy.

Unfortunately his head just wasn’t in it. He showed up late most days, and we spent the quarter doing tutorials right out of the program help files. The part that really got to me was when I finished an assignment and ask him to come check it for me to see if there’s anything I could improve on before submitting it for marking, he gives it a cursory glance and tells me it’s great. THEN when I get the assignment back, I have a whopping 64%. And not to brag or anything, but my mark happened to be one of the higher ones for that particular project. And we didn’t get assignments back for weeks after submission. That teacher didn’t return after that quarter but many students failed and had to cough up almost another grand to retake the course anyway even though it was admittedly the fault of the teacher, but the administration wasn’t about to give up the opportunity for more cash.

Most problems were in that there was no real blanket standard for achievement. In the first level animation course we got a guy who pretty much graded A’s all around. And then the guy who did the second level failed almost everyone because they weren’t good enough. Now I understand that in any given class a few people are going to fail for various reasons, but 3 quarters of the class failed from this guy and had to take it again. Oh, and he was the only animation teacher of that level so the students had no choice but to have him again. And it’s not like he was just a tough marker, the guy was just a jerk. He humiliated and insulted his students on a weekly basis. Almost every student had a real problem with him.

Did they let this guy go? Of course not. I always wondered why a school would keep a guy around that was getting such bad reviews all around until I found out later that he was a close personal friend of the animation department’s academic director (I’m going to call him the AD from now on). Furthermore they were working together to overhaul the entire animation program, which it admittedly needed some work, but why was it not just done right the first time? After all the superiority of the Art Institutes Program was show you sucked us in to this education in the first place.

After butting heads with the administration on more than one occasion (I’m one of those people to go to bat for others if I perceive an injustice, not just my own issues) I graduated AI and got hired right out of my portfolio show with one of the highest paying jobs ever achieved by a student from that campus. Almost double the junior wage for someone in my field. Not to brag but to point out that I went against many of the things that the guys on top told us to do to maximize our chance to get a job. For example our AD told us to specialize in one thing. He literally came in to one of our classes one day and told us pretty much exactly what to do for a demo. I, being the stubborn ass that I am, instead made a Demo Reel showcasing a number of skills. I got a great job after grad. Just saying.

After grad I checked up with a few of the teachers I thought I learned the most from at AI and it turned out none of them were teaching there anymore save one. Most had just had it with the AD and left and another wanted to stay for the students but was just given fewer and few classes until he was fazed out altogether. Imagine my surprise when I also found out that all their replacements were more personal friends of the AD and the guys who were no longer working were ones who disagreed with him. The one amazing teacher who was still there was one of those teachers who pretty much holds a program together, by teaching multiple classes and really caring about the students and going above and beyond the usual instructor call of duty. He openly disagreed with the AD on several things and it was rumoured that he was going to leave, whether from him quitting or the AD dismissing him, but the general consensus from almost all the students was that if he left, so would they.

I had a lot of problems with the money grabbing, student victimizing, and inflexible nature of the administration at AI, and while I learned what I needed to know, by taking advantage of the genuinely good instructors and trying to go above and beyond the course material, my overall experience is not my fondest of memories.

I chose to attend AI because of the work that was shown from an amazing group of students under a different academic director. By the time I got there that AD had moved on and been replaced by the one we were stuck with, who hired his friends and changed the program around us, uncaring of the fact that he was ruining our education.

The worst part is that I chose to go to the Art Institute because it had such a great reputation in the States, and I figured it would be the same at a Canadian campus, but it seems that it was an entirely different entity and the administration played by their own rules to line their pockets, to the detriment of the students, and the schools overall reputation. It just goes to show that who’s in charge makes all the difference in the world, and schools should really be careful who they put in power positions.

1 comment:

  1. form
    Zach, first of all, congratulations on your new position--well done. I have worked in the for-profit for several years and have several thoughts on your post.
    - School standards are set by the accrediting bodies (programmatic and institutional), but these largely pertain to graduation rates and job placement. Curriculum and instructional practices are set by the company and enforced by the campus. Clearly, they were lax in your case. Sadly, this is not uncommon.
    - Instructor assignments are often personality dependent (predominately by the administrators, specifically the department chair and Dean). This occurs everywhere, though, and your experience was rather typical. The difference is that I, too, suspect costs were a determining factor. The for-profit schools are under siege of many fronts, losing income and reputation, so cost controls are often paramount.
    - Advocate. Since you are a success, consider offering formal feedback to the campus, AI, and the accreditors. Such feedback is taken seriously and for the latter organizations requires formal responses from the campus. This will help reform the industry and aid future students.
    - Lastly, despite the listed frustrations, view your overall costs from a perspective of your return on investment. Although less than optimum and largely due to your own persistence, you did obtain an exceptional position with a high salary. Ultimately, your campus selection provided credibility for your profession.
    - Best of luck to you