Feed on
Posts
Comments

There was an old joke in the Soviet Union that went something like, “yep, the workers’ paradise is great – we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” The irony that this charade occurred in the homeland of the Potemkin Village was not lost on them.

The same can be said of higher education: “students pretend to work and professors pretend to teach them.” Now, what I am about to say does not of course apply to all students and all professors, but if you were to take an objective step back and examine what happens on college campuses today you’d be pretty shocked. I read a paper recently that suggested that 1/3 of college students “regularly” miss class, and that of the remaining 2/3 that they spend about 50% of their time engaged in their classes. Thus at any given time we are seeing about 1/3 of student learning capacity being used. Let me ask what I once thought was a rhetorical question. How can it be the case that so many students do so little at college and they still remain there?

There are many answers, but I propose that a large reason is that we (meaning me and my fellow academics) are complicit. Just as there are millions upon millions of slacker students there are tens upon tens of thousands of slacker professors. I am sure that none of us will ever admit to it, but take a look around what happens on your campus and then come back to me. It is of course personal and professional suicide to denounce yourself and people like yourself as slackers – but it is moral suicide not to. Look around to observe how loose many college deadlines are, how many second and third and fourth chances are provided to students, how “average” now amounts to a B+ grade, how few people feel the need to act and dress professionally (I am guilty here too – but would prefer a world where all faculty wore a shirt and tie every day), at the proliferation of services for students all under the banner of learning assistance, and so on. To suggest that college is unproductive would be too sanguine (btw, a word that a good many of my students do not know (or could not know from context) – and this is a Top 40 National Research University).

It is possible to be a full-time professor at a University today and work very, very little. Look, I understand how pay works – if it were the case that we were all asked to work harder, perhaps our salaries would increase to compensate, but my point remains relevant when we are asking students to fork over $56,000 to pay for schooling. Our academic year requires virtually no work in May, June, July, August and parts of December, January and March. Even for faculty who work very hard (as I suggest many think they do) the amount of down time in the calendar year is the envy of any worker in Europe. Many of us write papers that no one reads, teach 2 to 3 classes each year (not semester) and it is perfectly plausible that the same tests and problem sets are given year after year, and the same notes are given year after year after year. This may even be unobjectionable, much the same way that online classes could be unobjectionable – if all of the freed time not needed to write exams and quizzes and new notes would translate into more time coaching students, doing research with students, designing new ways for students to engage, learning new technologies, and so on. But I don’t see that happening. Sure, the number of hours we are actually in class is a gross underestimate of what time and effort are required to teach a course – I would be the first to vigorously take that position. In perhaps the most famous illustration of what I am talking about, a news program in Tusacaloosa, Alabama (home of the University of Alabama) once did a feature on the rise of the “stay at home dad.” I wish I were a stay at home dad, there is nothing wrong with it. Except that one of the stay at home dads featured in the news story was a full-time tenured member of the University of Alabama’s faculty.

The older and crankier I get I am increasingly coming to the view that colleges are actually reducing productivity.

Why?

Because not only are our students being trained in bad moral and intellectual habits (indeed, any effort by a professor to try to inculcate them results in them being labeled a sociopathic tyrant) but they are being taught worse. They are being taught that the very foundation of Western Civilization is corrupt, exploitive, and oppressive. In other words, our young people are being taught to attack Western Civilization at every turn, with few people standing up to defend the very foundations that have allowed us to be where we are today. Intellectuals have always made hay by embracing this kind of ideology, but in the modern university that hay is increasingly being made in an environment that does not so much understand the civilization that it is acting to undermine.

So we in the modern American University put on one hell of a show for our visiting kings. We have beautifully manicured quads, incredibly well apportioned libraries and study centers, vibrantly decorated and lit centers of learning, the best technology classrooms have ever seen, we have students with SAT scores that would crush even the best students attending the Ivies three decades ago, we have professors virtually all of whom hold PhDs from elite universities, we have convocations, invocations, and celebrations of all kinds, we regularly pay homage to those that came before us and to the inscriptions on our bricks and buildings, we have ivy crawling up many a building … and all of that not only obscures the rot that is happening within, but also keeps it warm much like the compost heaps that dot the modern college landscapes. The only difference of course is that the fruit produced from regular applications of this fertilizer is not of the nutritious variety.

7 Responses to “The Potemkin Quad and the Implicit Contract”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Wow! Now that was a rant. And I bet you nailed every point. I think the massive subsidies funneled into college education in the last 30 years have allowed this to happen. I don’t think they (colleges, universities) could have been run this way for so long under normal market pressures.

  2. Tom says:

    While I love your rants, and would never try to attempt to argue your points, I think you missed the mark here. As much as you want to blame it on students rejecting western civilization norms, I think most of the fault falls on professors. You made all the points about professors’ complacency, then used the last paragraph to blame students. When I can get an A in your class (grades are teh only thing anyone cares about which coincidentally has become a neo-western civ norm), by studying last years final and memorizing every answer, that is a problem. I know the ideal is that all students should have a strong desire to learn, but unfortunately the competitiveness of the 21st century has made grades more important than learning. I would be interested to see the statistics of students who come to class/pay attention in class, broken down by major. Im sure we’d see the numbers much higher for Science and Math classes where comprehension of material is necessary (and this is coming from an Econ major). So yes, ideally students should want to learn, but when at the end of the day grades are the only thing that matter, students will only do as much as getting good grades requires (something that falls on the teachers).

  3. wintercow20 says:

    From my second to last paragraph, with emphasis added:

    “Because not only are our students BEING TRAINED in bad moral and intellectual habits (indeed, any effort by a professor to try to inculcate them results in them being labeled a sociopathic tyrant) but they ARE BEING TAUGHT worse. They ARE BEING TAUGHT that the very foundation of Western Civilization is corrupt, exploitive, and oppressive. In other words, our young people ARE BEING TAUGHT to attack Western Civilization at every turn, with few people standing up to defend the very foundations that have allowed us to be where we are today. INTELLECTUALS have always made hay by embracing this kind of ideology, but in the modern university that hay is increasingly being made in an environment that does not so much understand the civilization that it is acting to undermine.”

  4. Harry says:

    Great piece, WC. I did not think it was a rant at all.

    What do they do with all that compost? Does an associate perfesser haul it away in a manure spreader to be plowed down, or do they do no-till? Does it go to a field to be planted in Roundup-Ready corn?

  5. Harry says:

    A week or so Bill O’Reilly’s producer did a segment on Sex Week at Yale, and during the piece he commented that where he went to college, every week was Sex Week. After the piece, O’Reilly kidded his producer who had gone to another Connecticut college, and it turns out O’Reilly’s producer went to…Trinity! No wonder they could not catch the fleet-footed Rizzo.

  6. Harry says:

    WC’s rant ties in nicely with his previous post. They do not care a whit about productivity, and why should they when they can be stay at home dads working eight hours per week? One of my fellows became, after getting tenured at Florida State, got a job as the union president, and given his persistence in furthering fairness, has cost thousands spending billions on higher education. The idea of productivity is not in his Marxist lexicon.

    Why, when you work for half a year and get free meals at the faculty club, would argue for faculty productivity? You would not want your lectures filled, because that would be more papers to read and grade, which might add up to an extra ten hours of work per month, assuming you work for five months.

    This rant is not a shot at Rizzo, but a sympathetic rant, against the folks who believe money grows on trees.

  7. Harry says:

    Ever since the students took over Columbia University, I think it was ’68, there was a swift decline in the willingness of administrators and faculty to tell their spoiled students to do much at all. I was there, not at Columbia, but teaching nonetheless. All of a sudden, dope was everywhere, not just submerged in the deep underground. Everywhere academic requirements relaxed, sociology replacing calculus. This was the easy way out for every professor, who would otherwise have to fill out a mile of paper for every student that got less than a B minus.

    I cannot fault Tom for making his first priority getting A’s. Nor would it be entirely correct to point the finger at ’60’s radicals like Bill Ayers. Maybe it goes back to Dewey, feeling good about yourself, and feeling that whatever you feel is OK, especially if it does not mean much toil.

Leave a Reply

prealliance-bangalay