Published on Labor Day, 2016. These are additional notes to my blog post at Bryan Farley Photography about my association with Brooks Institute.
I started working for the Brooks Institute of Photography marketing and admissions department after I moved away from Santa Barbara. I worked as a remote staff person for nearly five years. I had lived in the Santa Barbara area for twelve years before moving to the Bay Area. I graduated from UCSB; Brooks was probably the 4th college in the area behind UCSB, Westmont, and SBCC.
Outside of Santa Barbara, Brooks had a good reputation with photography instructors and photographers. Many high school photography teachers recounted summer seminars at the Brooks campus when the Brooks family owned the school. Photographers knew that Brooks prepared students for a photography career. Brooks was a serious place for serious students. If I heard one criticism, it was that Brooks students were overly technical. (It was not much of a complaint. Brooks graduates know much more about certain aspects of the industry than I know.)
By the time I started working for Brooks Institute of Photography, CEC had infused money so that BIP assembled and maintained an incredible staff and facilities. (We had a motion picture studio.) It was an exciting time to start working at Brooks, but the Chicago area parent company never seemed to understand what they had purchased. If ignorance is a defense, CEC corporate leaders could have pled not-guilty when Brooks students claimed to have been misled about job opportunities. CEC did not appear to understand the art college market (or marketing for that matter). As far as I could tell, CEC did not recruit our graduates for employment. To "corporate," we were just another CEC school, so if our marketing materials were better than the those from CEC Beauty School or CEC Medical Assistant School (probably not real names), we should be grateful. CEC did not seem to realize that we were competing with art colleges that had better marketing campaigns and (often) lesser programs. CEC also did not seem to realize the implications of bad marketing and bad publicity.
On the other post, I mentioned the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. Santa Barbara had been an innovator in off shore oil production. The oil spill helped launch the environmental movement, yet the region remained a Republican stronghold.) President Reagan's ranch was in Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara elected Republicans to Congress from WWII until 1996 (and Walter Capps). Even President Nixon, a Californian, signed The Clean Water Act. Santa Barbara was a tight-knit ethical community with a long term memory. Santa Barbara had fought big oil. CEC might have been big business (with big promises), but CEC wasn't big oil.
Santa Barbara saw right through CEC.
Educators often focus on educational objectives or goals. For-profit education companies, especially those traded on a stock exchange, focus on profit. This distorts the primary goal of an education institution. Instead of focusing on educational achievement, the executives answer to investors. Investors want profit. While student achievement might be important to an investor, student academic achievement is not the primary focus of the company. This becomes especially problematic when publicly traded education companies receive most of their funding from the government. CEC was one of the education companies that showed how these conflicts hurt students, tax payers and investors.
How are executives rewarded at companies like CEC? During the first three years that I worked at CEC, executives were paid well, even while the company was being investigated. See page 10 of this SEC filing. In addition to salary, executives were awarded stock. The longer SEC filings disclose the lawsuits and investigations, so the compensation committee knew many of the problems. Did it stop the high compensation? The US Senate report on CEC several years later also details some of the standard operating procedures.
The executives at CEC were rewarded, even when their schools failed to perform. Those same executives would not continue to be rewarded today would they? Impossible!
While the for-profit education industrial complex helped themselves, it is unclear how they impacted the professional artists career. Art has never been. In John Szarkowski's 1978 book Mirrors and Windows "American Photography since 1960, he discusses how technology created challenges for the professional photographer. In 2005, some of us may have imagined that technology shifted to our side, but we were wrong. Did CEC contribute to this problem? Perhaps.
By 2005, something else shifted. Photography became "women's work." When I visited high school photography classrooms, I noticed that more girls than boys were taking photography classes. Once photography became a job for women, it was easier for the tech industry to create companies that hired male computer scientists instead of female visual artists. Is it a valid concern that CEC "preyed" on low income students and veterans? Perhaps. Is the tech industry known for their innovative hiring practices? Not so much.
I can relate to the Brooks graduates who found a job market that did not match their qualifications. I am still waiting to be recruited for my UCSB Women's Studies degree and rape prevention education experience. Is it UCSB's fault that I have a degree that didn't lead to a job in my field? Companies want diversity, but don't recruit people with disabilities. Do we give CEC credit that they hired me? How many other companies have recruited people with my background?
Even as I write this, I have wondered if some of the places where I have worked since Brooks were actually testing me. Were they placing me in questionably ethical situations to see if I had actually been the person who challenged a large for-profit educational company? Could I choose the right answer between two wrong choices? Could I support the students, even if it meant I might lose my job? Would I support the students' First Amendment Right, even when I looked bad?
... or, was I just putting myself in bad situations?
I may never know. I did not know what to do when I worked at Brooks and I don't know now. (How did Snowden know?) It is difficult, and I don't just mean emotionally. There isn't a book "What to Expect When You Are Whistleblowing." Who do you call? Where do you write? Who do you trust? How do you find a job afterward? For every Snowden, there are probably hundreds of others who failed because they just didn't know who to call or someone didn't answer the call.
At Brooks, many of the staff tried to save the school. I don't know whose whistle finally got through. It could have been any of the staff, students or family. People cared.
People wondered why I stayed at Brooks, especially after I received my Master of Education. I listed some of the reasons on the other post. I met amazing people. Besides Jim McNay and all the photojournalists I met through him, I met David Litschel. Litschel, the Brooks Provost, had helped start an international photography educators organization. People knew him throughout the world before the internet became widespread. Litschell was also a photographer and author. (I have one of his books on my shelf.) Ralph Celevenger taught nature and wildlife photography. You have seen his iceberg photo. Bill Robbins is a surfer/photographer who let me visit his Food Photography class. Many of the other Brooks instructors helped me learn more about their subject. I learned which books to read and what museums to visit. Even though the parent corporation acted selfishly, the Brooks professors and staff supported each other. Brooks faculty, like Greg Cooper, also helped prospective students who showed an interest in visual arts. There are many others I have failed to mention, but I remember.
Through my Brooks connections I often met experts in the field. A few times I met people who "wrote the book on that." The main time was with Dave LaBelle. I mention my time with Dave a few times. The first discussion is here. Dave wrote a couple important photography books. I was fortunate to present with Dave also. I also met San Francisco State professor Ken Kobre who wrote "Photojournalism: A Professional's Approach." McNay told me to attend monthly meetings in the Bay Area so I could learn more. To help me create the JEA portfolio workshop, McNay referred me to the University of Florida's John Kaplan who wrote "Photo Portfolio Success." (Kaplan was also a Pulitzer Prize Winner.) Through NPPA, I met John Harrington, a photographer who wrote Best Business Practices . (I still don't follow his advice enough.)
I met industry leaders, many of whom were willing to help scholastic photography. Not only did I know the products, but I met the people behind the products. I also met the people behind some of the iconic photographs. At one of the JEA photo critiques, I met Rich Clarkson. He is a legendary sports photographer. I briefly met Bill Frakes and Lee Miller's son too. I didn't know these people existed when I started at Brooks. (Frakes and Miller are two of my favorite photographers now.)
I am also grateful to everyone at JEA, especially Mark Murray and Bradley Wilson. I knew that I liked them as soon as I met them. I stayed because of them too.
But I probably stayed for the reason most of us stayed. I stayed for the students and the pictures. Both leave a lasting impression in our life.