“Higher education is not about knowledge or skills,” says Upstate Consolation University Executive Deputy Chancellor of the Committee on Investor Communications Marl Flaybiter from behind the large mahogany desk in his office overlooking West Campus’s scenic Green Parking Lot; “no – higher education is about respect.” A few years ago, on being appointed to his incumbency, Flaybiter began noticing how little respect graduating degree-holders from UCU were receiving when they entered the job market and presented their credentials to prospective employers. While escorting potential investors around Uppchoock-on-the-Lake, the small, northerly city where his institution is located, Flaybiter observed that many of the service personnel in the local coffee bars and chain restaurants were recent UCU graduates.
Flaybiter counts off the many types of prestigious UCU-granted degrees held by these disrespectfully under-employed new alumni: “At least three of those kids – bright kids – had come out of our Social Justice and Sustainability Programs; five or six had bachelor’s or bachelorette’s degrees in Women’s Studies, and others came from Adventure Education, Puppet Arts, Safe Space Organizing, Slut-March Planning, and Critical White-Privilege Sciences.” Flaybiter pauses to shake his head sorrowfully. “I just couldn’t bear to see those kids – I mean, those young people – so shamefully disrespected by having to work as baristas, cashiers, waiters, and waitresses while living in their parents’ basements and going to work in their pajamas.” As Flaybiter sees it, “The mismatch between the education and the job is, well, a tragedy, not just for the kids, and not just for the pajamas, but for the community.”
Flaybiter determined to do something about the situation. Acting with UCU’s Associate Executive for Student Partnerships of the Task Force on Academic Relations Lovaria Luttflitter, who has a large mahogany desk of her own in an office nearby, Flaybiter initiated an autoprobative study to figure out why the degree-employment mismatch was occurring and what could be done to ease the disrespect experienced by the recent graduates who could not find careers in their chosen fields. “We knew that the problem was not one of knowledge or skills – because UCU doesn’t teach those. It came down to perception.” What does Flaybiter mean by “perception”?
“Employers perceive degrees like Adventure Education and Critical White Privilege Sciences,” Flaybiter answers, “as meaningless and inapplicable to real-world situations, so instead of employing a job-seeker as an adventure educationist or a critical white privilege scientist, they only condescend to employ them as baristas and servers – except for one Canadian Studies major who became a manager at Tim Horton’s.” But what type of degree would potential bosses actually respect, so that they might also respect the graduates who have earned them and employ them in a way commensurate with their education?” Flaybiter yields the floor to Luttflitter.
According to Luttflitter, who holds a sub-doctoral degree in Academic Relations Taskforcing from Force Meat Technical Institute, and who is responsible for the Green Parking Lot (from which automobiles are banned), “The answer was so obvious that it even took me quite a while to see it – UCU needed a new, innovative degree-program or maybe a whole new, innovative department dedicated to the ecology of espresso production and the semiotics of over-the-counter employee-customer exchange. Deciding that things like that are suddenly necessary is one of the things that having a big mahogany desk enables a person to do.” But did not problems nevertheless beset the idea at its inception?
“We never talk about problems,” Luttflitter says, “but there were challenges to be overcome and, given the size of our desks, we knew we could overcome them.” And what were these “challenges”? “A lot of those words that I just used are pretty big and might be intimidating to business owners looking to increase their workforce. Barista sounds diminutive hence diminishing. We needed to find a more elegant and prestigious sounding name for the new degree. Espresso production sounds like manual labor and we were intent on avoiding anything like that. Baristocracy seemed propitious, and the degree-holder would be called a baristocrat, but those terms clashed with UCU’s commitment to equality and social justice. Barrister was already taken, by lawyers, if you can believe it! So we finally decided on baration and barator as impressive-sounding labels.”
Flaybiter returns to the topic, with enthusiasm: “And we wanted it to be a graduate degree so that UCU students could still major in Safe Space Organizing and Slut-March Planning and earn a bachelor’s or bachelorette’s degree and then go on to the master’s degree in baration and become a Graduate-Level Master Barator.” Funding for the new program came from the espresso-bar industry, which was happy to support an institution that would train young people not to be mismatched between their degree and their employment, and who would come to work for them. Space allotment and faculty hiring went smoothly, with the Dean of Arts and Sciences approving two new administrative positions, to be lodged in the program: An Associate Assistant Coordinator of the Committee on Strategic Employee Outreach and an Associate Executive for the Committee on Academic Climate, each of whom will have his own large mahogany desk.
In an innovative move, and after an intensive nationwide search, a large mahogany desk was hired to chair the program and to prepare the way to making it a fully fledged department. Two years ago, the Graduate Master Baration Program inducted its first class of twenty students. In another innovative move, it was decided that all students would receive Kindle reading devices and that all textbooks used in all classes would be in Kindle reading device format. “Unlike a traditional book,” Luttflitter explains, “the Kindle leaves one hand free, and people studying to be credentialed Master Barators find that to be extremely convenient.” Some of the courses that fellows of the degree program must complete are: “Deconstructing Latte Foam Art,” “Flat White or Mocha – Fighting Racial Stereotypes in the Coffee Pour,” and “Interrogating Critical Panini Theory.” (As an alternative to the last, students may take “Problematizing Interrogative Vegan Wrap Theory.”)
At the end of the Fall Semester, all twenty of those students received their degrees at graduation and claimed the prestigious title of Master Barator – fully half of them also receiving the honorific of Summa cum Latte. All twenty of those students were also already employed before receiving their degrees – and not one had been mismatched or otherwise disrespected in his new job. So successful has the Graduate Master Baration Program been in placing students in jobs that other colleges and universities have inquired about franchising it. As Flaybiter and Luttflitter see it, “By graduating as many Master Barators as possible, we are diminishing the likelihood that other people will have to serve themselves, thus increasing their leisure, and, with our graduates at last getting exactly as much respect as they deserve, we feel that we’ve really pulled something off.”