29.10.13

MAKE HIGHER EDUCATION HIGHER.

Wall Street Journal columnist Lyell Asher asserts, When Students Rate Teachers, Standards Drop. It includes the expected stuff on professors, particularly untenured faculty, easing up on students to get better end-of-semester evaluations.
But it isn’t as if most teachers are consciously calculating the grade-to-evaluation exchange rate anyway. Lenient grading is always the path of least resistance with or without student reviews: Fewer students show up in your office if you tell them everything is OK, and essays can be graded in half the time if you pretend they’re twice as good.

There’s also a natural tendency to avoid delivering bad news if you don’t have to. So the prospect of end-of-term student reviews, which are increasingly tied to job security and salary increases, is another current of upward pressure on professors to relax standards.

There is no downward pressure. College administrators have little interest in solving or even acknowledging the problem. They’re focused on student retention and graduation rates, both of which they assume might suffer if the college required more of its students.
Some of that is the standard beer-'n-circus nonaggresion pact, some of that is the consequence of offices for retention and completion that justify their existence by reminding professors of their existence, that is, if they're not actively enabling the slackers.

Mr Asher notes, enabling is a choice.
Colleges can change this culture, in other words, without spending a dime. The first thing they can do is adopt a version of the Hippocratic oath: Stop doing harm. Stop encouraging low standards with student evaluations that largely ignore academic rigor and difficulty. Reward faculty for expecting more of students, for pushing them out of their comfort zone and for requiring them to put academics back at the center of college life.

Accrediting agencies could initiate this reform, but they too would first have to stop doing harm. They would have to acknowledge, for example, that since “learning outcomes” are calculated by professors in the exact same way that grades are, it’s a distinction without a difference, save for the uptick in pseudo-technical jargon.

Then the accrediting agencies should insist that colleges take concrete steps to make courses more uniformly demanding across the board, and to decouple faculty wages and job security from student opinion. The latter is an especially critical issue now, given the increase in adjuncts and part-time faculty, whose job security often hangs by the thread of student reviews.
Yes, and creating additional tenure-line jobs, particularly in introductory courses, is even more important.  The faculty owns the curriculum, not the diversity office, not student affairs, not the retention and assessment weenies.  Leaving the introduction to the university in the hands of individuals who may not even have an office for consultations looks amateurish.

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