My first employer after graduating from college was a culinary school that sits in the heart of downtown Baltimore. Back then (the mid 90’s) it was called “Baltimore International Culinary College.” Now, it is “BIC,” or “Baltimore International College.” I guess they decided to drop the “culinary” from their moniker when their hospitality management program, which at the time was run by my former boss, started growing like a weed.
Your first “real job” is often a lesson in ups and downs, and mine was no different. My role was to coordinate job placement. My desk was in a huge open space shared with the registrar’s office. I had a computer, but no internet. That wasn’t so odd then – this was a year or so before internet use became an everyday thing and we were all in a Facebooking and Tweeting frenzy.
But can you imagine running a job placement program without the net? I compiled weekly job opportunity bulletins based on what employers sent me by phone, fax, snail mail and drop-in visits. I called new restaurants and hotels or stopped by local eateries with “help wanted” signs and talked to them about the school. I met with students and marked up their resumes with a red pen.
In a world of Monster and Craigslist and online resume and job services by the gazillion, that all seems archaic. But then, it was just another day in the office.
The students I helped had a very different college experience than my own had been. They had academic classes, but several times a week they spent from 7 am until mid-afternoon in the kitchen. They studied pastries and soups and stocks and all sorts of weird food items that to this day I can’t really pronounce. They had to wear a perfectly cleaned and ironed uniform each day – chef’s gear for the culinary students and pants or skirts and jackets for those in the hospitality management program.
Those kids did the dress code thing so much better than me. At 24 and in my first “grownup” job, I cursed a blue streak when I put on my own “work zombie” gear. Some things never change.
I left the culinary school after a year-and-a-half. I liked it there, but there wasn’t much room for growth for a girl who still burned toast, and the pay sucked. I hadn’t thought about the place in years, until my much younger cousin went into their baking and pastry program recently. She positively glowed about her experience there, especially her semester abroad at their center in Ireland. She just graduated this spring.
And then, I see this: BIC May Lose Accreditation .
It seems the school is slated to lose their Middle States Accreditation in August if they don’t pull a miracle out of their butts. For those who don’t know, this accreditation is a huge deal in higher education. Without it, you can’t award students federal financial aid to attend your programs. Many other colleges and universities will not award transfer credits for courses from your institution if you aren’t regionally accredited. Regional accreditation is like admission to the “in club” for colleges, only based on the academic standards of their programs and the way the school is managed rather than on whether they’re hot or not.
This bums me out on many levels. When I worked there, they were operating strictly as a trade college and didn’t yet have this accreditation. I was part of the self-study process they were undergoing so they could get the damn thing. My part was researching and pulling together statistics on what alumni were doing with themselves after graduation to go into my bosses part of the self-study report. Were they working as chefs or hotel managers, or saying ‘do you want fries with that?” The school was awarded the accreditation shortly after I left, and I felt like I’d been part of something good.
I had thought the school was only improving in the last decade or so, but it seems that’s not the case.
If they lost the accreditation and the outcome forced them to close, Baltimore would lose a landmark. BIC is a unique and special place, in spite of its flaws. I remember the dining room run by senior students, where staff and others living or working in the city could go for lunch and try foods they might never order in a restaurant. That was where I experienced pate and any number of other hoity-toity dishes that looked to me like jiggly horror movie props. The wiggly food scared me, but those who are into that sort of thing raved about it. And the students I worked with came back from their semesters at the Ireland Center with the experience of a lifetime under their belts.
I have many fond memories of that job, as far as jobs go. I remember commuting by water-taxi, ending my long work days with a ride on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. I remember students getting reamed out for sneaking off and wandering around Baltimore’s notorious “Block” (think porn shop and strip club central) in their school uniforms. I remember two of my favorite chef instructors opening a new restaurant near my home where I spent many nights enjoying delicious dinners and good company.
I remember being terrified of my boss, who did his best to come off as stern and unyielding, until I realized that he moonlighted as a clown who made balloon animals and had a heart of gold under his crusty curmudgeon facade. I ended up having him not only attend my wedding, but give the prayer at the reception.
BIC – then BICC – was the last place I worked where I didn’t rely on the ability to be online to do more than half of my job.
I’m sad that they may lose what I was the teeniest-tiniest part of helping to gain. But mostly, I’m sad for the students. Generations of future chefs and resort managers who might have enjoyed the Baltimore experience along the way may not have BIC as an option. Graduates may find that their degrees lose some of their clout.
If there’s a way to get it together in time to avoid this, then I hope BIC does so.