Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this week.

THE WITCHES OF BREASTWICK (2005)
Jim Wynorski directs another fabulous tale of tits and women and... whatever the plot was. What do you want? It had Monique Parent, Julie K. Smith, Stormy Daniels, and Glori-Anne Gilbert in it. Of COURSE I liked it. Who needs a plot? *** stars.

SHALL WE DANCE? (2004)
Well, it was cute. Richard Gere, as a man who wants to learn ballroom dancing but feels guilty about it, is actually pretty good. Lisa Ann Walter manages to totally outsexify both Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon. But it's the kind of movie Audrey Wells always writes; it's cute, it's not challenging, it presents women with a close enough version of realistic emotions that they fall for it, there are too many characters, and every single thing that happens is obvious. I'm willing to give it *** stars, but that movie needed at least another draft and a better director.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1925)
Rather humdrum version of the classic L. Frank Baum novel. It has even less to do with the books than the 1939 MGM version does (at least that takes the same basic story). In this version, Dorothy is wooed by two farmhands in Kansas; then she's kidnapped by men working for Kruel, the Dictator of Oz, who know that Dorothy is actually the trueborn queen of Oz, hidden in Kansas. Kruel's Wizard, who is really a charlatan, helps the farmhands (who have tried to prove the Wizard's powers by disguising themselves as a Scarecrow and a Tin Man) and the heir to the throne, Prince Kynd, to win the day. Also features a "comical" black farmhand who dresses as a lion. Kind of a waste, even with Oliver Hardy in a very early role as the Tin Man. **1/2 stars.

DON JUAN (1926)
Warner Bros. used their Vitaphone system to create this, the first film with synchronized sound and music (not live music, recorded orchestral music). It was the success of this film, a major production, that emboldened Warner to do The Jazz Singer, which included songs and dialogue. But besides the historical interest, this is a truly great film. John Barrymore plays the Spanish lover, who is taught by his father (also played by Barrymore) that women will only bring him death, and that he should just use them for his pleasure and discard them when he is done. And then, of course, he falls in love (with Mary Astor, so who could really blame him?). There is political action, too, as Don Juan runs afoul of the Borgias while in Rome, and there is some great swordfighting action. One of the true gems of the silent era. **** stars.

THE FLAG: A STORY INSPIRED BY THE TRADITION OF BETSY ROSS (1927)
Francis X. Bushman plays George Washington, and Betsy Ross designs the flag. Then there's some stuff about the British one day becoming our friends, which is an indirect thank you to the Allied Forces of World War I. It's only 20 minutes long, but still boring and overdramatic. Patriotism is romantic, yadda yadda. ** stars.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Overwhelming Cost of Higher Education

80 people at Northern Illinois University makes six-figure salaries. Of those, only 13 are actual professors; the rest are all administrators, college deans, and President John Peters. About 85 percent of NIU's budget goes to salaries. 85%. As a student, that's distressing news, and especially as an English major. Most of the rooms where English classes are held resemble high school classrooms from the 1950s. Many classes are taught by instructors and student teachers, and not by actual professors. There are only two smart classrooms (rooms featuring a computer, a projector, and actual carpeting) in all of Reavis Hall, where the majority of English classes are held. And unlike the faculty who make $100,000 a year or over, I'm paying to be there. 75% of the student body of NIU relies on financial aid; there were 23,000 graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in the last school year, 2005-2006.

So, this answer to this disparity between the cost of education and the quality of education is what? Well, if you're the administration of NIU, it's apparently to keep voting unanimously to increase President Peters's salary (every six months this happens). Oh, and to raise student fees by about $76 dollars a person. And to raise tuition fees by 10%. And to do, basically, anything but put more money into the classroom or into the salaries of the professors who teach the actual classes. No, let's put more fences around the grassy areas while cutting even more student parking areas. Why is NIU's answer always to make life as difficult as possible for students?

The student body is buzzing around NIU right now in anticipation of a very, very slight increase in funding. Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor who is proving to be much more intent on keeping the Illinois Department of Transportation flush with operating cash (he did, after all, double the road tolls for anyone not using I-Pass) than on actually helping people, is proposing a $40 million increase in the state budget for higher education funding. Of this, NIU will get a mere $1.2 million (or, going by 23,000 students, about fifty bucks per student). And President Peters had already decided where this money should be immediately spent: on improving salaries for faculty and staff.

Gee, I wonder which salaries he's talking about? Peters told the NIU paper, the Northern Star, last year that he would "fight for pay increases [for professors] whenever I can. I’m not in favor of decreasing salaries." He also said that more professors should make $100,000 or more. And yet, he keeps accepting pay increases for himself. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, full professors at NIU make about $78,200 a year; instructors, who are carrying more and more of the class load for these professors, are at about $32,000 (or less, if they are newer). Many instructors have second jobs; I know one that has to supplement his income by working at Borders. I don't see Peters fighting for these people at all.

Student opinion is mostly that the money should be used to keep student fee increases at bay. But the fact is, instructors really could use a raise; this is their career, after all. And the way most educators are paid in America is a disgusting joke (the same for firefighters, police, soldiers, but that's another post for another time). There is an enormous influx of students every year, but the opportunities at NIU are getting worse and worse. More and more classes necessary to graduate are being closed; parking areas are being given over to faculty and staff (even the metered spaces are gone); everything is being improved except for the ability of students to get to class and the ability of instructors to feed their families. What is NIU going to do about the serious problems it keeps ignoring?

Maybe Blago can shift some of the money from the tolls towards education. I wouldn't mind paying the tolls so much if I knew the money was going to something more important than the unneccesary "road improvement" projects that IDOT keeps inventing to keep itself busy. I might even start paying the full amount...