21.10.16

IT'S THE DISTRESSED MATERIAL.

When you admit unprepared students and call it access, what do you have to do to boost retention?  Regular readers know the answer.  At Illinois State University, the faculty are being mugged by reality.  And the administrators are behaving like administrators, bringing in consultants to push the new party line.
David Attis, the managing director of strategic research at [Educational Advisory Board], who presented at Illinois State earlier this year, didn’t deny that he advised professors to limit high-failure courses. But he said the comment was part of a larger conversation about rethinking courses with relatively rates of failure, withdrawal and students earning D grades so that more undergraduates finish them and earn credit to advance toward their degrees (many high-fail courses are gateway classes to certain majors).

That doesn’t mean handing out A’s, B’s and C’s, Attis said. Instead, universities are encouraged to run controlled experiments in which a pilot course redesign runs in tandem with a longer-running version of the course. Students in both sections are given the same final assessment, and their grades are compared. If students in the new course do better those in the old one, he said, it’s clear rigor wasn’t sacrificed -- instruction was simply improved.
Or, perhaps, the longer-running version of the course is doing what the high schools should have done (perhaps did do, but the Distressed Material blew it off).  Here's the consultant position.  But sometimes the truth comes out.
Attis acknowledged that some professors bristle at the notion of catering their courses to students, rather than students adjusting to meet their teaching styles. But more underprepared students are now attending college as result of access efforts, and universities both want and need to help them succeed.
Mike drop.

Some members of the Illinois State faculty, principally in the performing arts and humanities, have raised additional objections.
Should difficulty also be avoided in ISU courses?  If, for example, students do not like to read, should faculty dispense with having them read?   We may attract students’ attention with fun and games, but we will never secure their education (or respect) by replacing robust pedagogy with worthless proxies.

Another troubling recommendation advises that ISU courses/programs be utilitarian.  They should have practical application and lead to employment in the American workforce.  (This view bears a striking resemblance to the policies Wisconsin governor Scott Walker tried to implement at Wisconsin’s state universities.)  The PowerPoint from the provost’s office suggests that we “prioritize electives by focusing on student needs.”  Such a guiding principle essentially declares that the humanities particularly and liberal arts more generally have little or no support and role to play at our university, since the humanities are typically considered impractical and of scant utility, in other words, not what students need.
The Inside Higher Ed report notes that there's a problem of allocating scarce resources.
Faculty members in their op-ed also disagree with an EAB slide recommending a paradigm shift from “every discipline deserves equal investment” to “investing equally in all disciplines will lead to mediocrity.”

“The university must invest in a broad range of disciplines in order to prepare the next generation with the kinds of creative and dynamic thinking required to devise solutions for the economic, political, environmental and social crises of our times,” they say.
That's long been the tussle in a university: the heads of the strong departments want to be maintained or further strengthened; the heads of the weaker departments want a chance to compete for students.  But nobody talks about adjusting the sizes of the departments to the potential population of capable students.  Lowered expectations at admission lead to opportunities to expand budgets.

Because the authors of the faculty editorial tend to come from the performing arts and the humanities, they understandably question the utilitarian focus of much of the student success stuff.  At the same time, they demonstrate precisely the way in which those disciplines have broken faith with normal Americans.
That is, the study of literature, history, philosophy, art, or music affords us a way of knowing and knowledge fundamentally different--and therefore of inestimable value--from that offered by our culture of technological consumer capitalism with its monetization of everything, its winner-take-all competition, its impersonalization, its quantification, and its devaluation of anything which is not demonstrably efficient and mundanely useful.  Yet, the inefficiency of poetry or pure physics (that is, physics not tied to corporate and government grants and agendas) is an incommensurate gift and of great value.  It allows for creativity, for unexpected discovery, and for seeing the world from otherwise unavailable perspectives.
I suppose we should be grateful they didn't toss in a "hegemonic" or "Eurocentric" just for good measure.

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