Universities are failing at their mission. At Inside Higher Education, Brooks Kohler suggests professors have good reasons to resist recent curricular and pedagogical fads.
In America, after the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the creation of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, emphasis was placed on math, science, and foreign language studies, as these three disciplines were deemed crucial to national security. Move forward 10 years and by the late 1960s one out of seven Americans was employed in the defense industry, military spending had risen from 1 percent to 10 percent of the gross domestic product, and corporations were increasingly profiting from an infusion of money from government contracts.
Perhaps so. On the other hand, in those days, the focus of college preparation was to identify gifted students to enroll in the lab sciences and calculus. Today, the gifted are on their own. Deal with the consequences.
America had slipped into post-industrialism as jobs moved away from manufacturing toward more office based and service type employment opportunities.

The end result of shifting from assembly line to office tech, resulted in a college degree becoming a necessary component to a career, and as universities and community colleges began to accept more and more applicants, higher education began to trend course loads to part-time instructors.
It's wrecking faculty morale. Not everyone is as well-positioned to walk away from it as I am, but everyone is free to gripe.
At worst, more than a few professors feel they are becoming little more than a retention tool, a gimmick or novelty act whose entire future depends on whether or not one can “get with the program” of algorithmic evaluation, spreadsheet printouts, and constant barrage of software programs designed to make keeping track of grades easier, as if a pen and pad were inherently inferior, and all the while the academic is asked to maintain a classroom atmosphere that is not only educational but also so entertaining that even the most mind-numbing of subjects can compete against the fixative trance of the portable handheld device.

Ironically, the analog education one received before the Digital Age, an educational model that emphasized literature and writing, is admired for its fine attention to detail, as detail is considered to be hallmark of success. Yet that style of learning, though suitable for Fitzgerald and Stein, will not work in world where students are groomed as future customers and national security is commingled with corporate wants that drive the areas of study that schools find most lucrative.
Perhaps, though, the second thoughts of UNLV president Neal Smatresk, headed for Northern Texas, might be a harbinger of better things to come.
Smatresk's biggest regret remains the years of delays and false starts on the UNLV stadium project. His greatest achievement, in his eyes, is convincing state education officials of the need to build a four-year medical school at UNLV. However, it will be his successor that will need to convince Carson City to fork over the cash.

Smatresk says his greatest surprise is the attention given to coaches instead of academic deans.

"If we had paid as much attention to what the quality of the incoming deans were, as we were for a football or a basketball coach, I know this institution would already be at least on a peer with Harvard or anybody else. The level of scrutiny over athletics is a conundrum," the out-going president said.
I fear that a serious effort at UNLV, or at most of the mid-majors, and at more than a few land-grants to become more like Michigan or Wisconsin or Northwestern would produce only legislative scrutiny. "What, you want to pay that economist $400K a year to teach two Ph.D. seminars?" It's worth doing, though, as the current dispensation leaves many people ill-served.
There are two types of workers in the finance world. There are the polished Ivy League guys (and they are mostly guys). They tend to have the big money jobs and interact directly with clients. Blond WASPs with the house in Connecticut.

The other type is the crazy smart person (more women in this group), who came from working class or immigrant backgrounds. The Italian guy from Brooklyn who, by an unholy amount of  brains and determination, got himself into Cooper Union and now creates the computer systems that run the company. The Irish dude from Staten Island. The Jamaican woman who worked too hard to ever get married. They tend to work in the back office in operations or IT or documentation. They don’t have the pedigree to interact with clients. They always hit a glass ceiling after a while.

Because Steve and I love the underdogs, we admire the crazy smart, ambitious people in the back office and refer to the others as “Third Basemen,” as in “Born on Third Base.” The backroom types aren’t perfect. Many have chips on their shoulders. A few aren’t exactly nice people. But you have to admire them for their grit. Scrappy fighters all of them.
Yes, and the scrappy fighters deserve better, or better preparation. The current academic caste system has failed to deliver where it matters most.
The growth of educational credentialism has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people who believe that their college degrees…entirely irrespective of any actual accomplishments that they have made or actual knowledge that they possess…have given them preternatural wisdom and hence they right and duty to control the lives of their less-enlightened countrymen.
We could be reading about Obamacare, or about the financial bubble, or about any of the business fads that have laid many a firm and more than a few non-profits low over the past forty years.


David Foster said...

I recently reviewed the autobiography of Gerhard Neumann, who started out as an auto-shop apprentice in Germany and wound up running the entire GE jet engine and power turbine business, which he played a major role in creating. Neumann tells of a guy named Bud Bonner, a shop foreman with no high-school degree, who he promoted serially until eventually Bonner was GM of the marine & industrial gas-turbine business. When Neumann nominated Bonner for a Corporate VP title, he expected pushback, and he got it: "Our personnel people felt strongly that a degree from a reputable institution of learning was a minimum requirement for someone to become an officer of the General Electric Company.” Happily, GE CEO Reg Jones overruled the personnel people, and Bonner got his promotion.

I'm afraid this would be a lot less likely today in most companies (and even more so in the government and "nonprofit" worlds), meaning that we are deprived of full use of the talents of people like Mr Bonner.

Stephen Karlson said...

Quite. And look what those geniuses, whether they are MBAs with glossy presentations, or JDs with well-crafted talking points, have done.