Consider these news items:
- “At Western Michigan University, it is considered harassment to hold a ‘condescending sex-based attitude.’…Tufts University in Boston proscribes the holding of ‘sexist attitudes,’…
At Northeastern University, where I went to law school, it is a violation of the Internet-usage policy to transmit any message ‘which in the sole judgment’ of administrators is ‘annoying.'” source
- “Purdue has a $313,000-a-year acting provost and six vice and associate vice provosts, including a $198,000 chief diversity officer. It employs 16 deans and 11 vice presidents, among them a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief…U.S. universities employed more than 230,000 administrators in 2009, up 60 percent from 1993, or 10 times the rate of growth of the tenured faculty…
UConn has a $312,000-a-year provost and 13 vice, deputy and associate vice provosts, including one overseeing ‘engagement’ who makes almost $275,000 a year. The university has seven vice presidents and 13 deans. President Susan Herbst, who receives a $500,000 salary, has a $199,000 chief of staff…
Purdue’s brand spending, led by Teri Lucie Thompson, a former insurance executive who is the school’s $253,000-a-year vice president for marketing and media and chief marketing officer.” source
- “The concern is enhanced by the perception that administrators, administrative expenses and ancillary operations have expanded relative to the academic mission. (p 4)…”These ‘contingent,’ ‘itinerant,’ or ‘outsourced’ teachers grew by 40 percent or at eight times the rate of tenure track faculty. (p 10)…
At Cornell over the past thirty years [adjunct instructors have] expanded at eight times the rate of tenure line faculty (p 22)…Essential professorial duties have ballooned to appropriate increasingly larger portions of the day. The emphasis on outside research funding forces an endless cycle of proposals and reports. (p 27)…
The academic life no longer is a vocation in the sense of a calling to study and educate but a profession to be pursued for pecuniary benefit and intellectual stimulation. (p 57)” source
- “Florida Gulf Coast University actually banned expressions deemed ‘inappropriate.’ Did you hear that one? I’ve always hated the expression ‘know what I’m saying’ Does that make it a violation of the speech code? Or is it racist for me to suggest that it is? Know what I’m saying?” Or any of the university articles by Mike Adams.
- Watch to the end!
From these and other well known facts, we conclude modern universities have these main functions:
- To provide facilities and means to produce world-class, useful research, research which is funded by government and industry.
- To provide facilities and means to produce make-work, nearly useless and even harmful research, funded primarily by government.
- To provide entertainment for the nation, mainly through men’s football and basketball programs which are stocked by low- to no-pay athletes.
- To provide employment for an ever-expanding bureaucracy of deans, associate deans, assistant deans, provosts, assistant provosts, vice presidents without number, diversity officers, and so on.
- To allow the burgeoning administrative staff to experiment in social meddling, such as inventing speech codes and orientation programs.
- To give employment to adjunct teachers (who perform the bulk of instruction at many places).
- To provide facilities and opportunities for students to socialize, “hook up”, and organize various activities.
- For students to, within four to six or more years, earn a “degree.”
- To allow some students to learn a trade.
- to allow some students to spend three to four years exposed to the best that was thought and said, and to prepare for a future career.
All these were on my mind when I read Robert C. Koon’s piece “Dark Satanic Mills of Mis-Education: Some Proposals for Reform” in the Imaginative Conservative:
The “higher education system” in the United States has metastasized to the point that the body politic will soon be unable to sustain it. Tuition and fees have grown at more than three times the cost of living in the last two decades, outstripping even the rise in the cost of medical care. These enormous costs reflect the burden of a tenured professoriate that is increasingly well paid and decreasingly burdened with identifiable classroom duties. At the same time, the value of the education that it provides is vanishing, even when measured in terms of the financial bottom line. Only a minority of college graduates secures a job that in any sense “requires” a college-educated holder, while total college debt now dwarfs the aggregate of consumer debt and approaches that of all mortgages. At the same time, it is harder and harder to maintain with a straight face that students are—by engaging with pop culture studies, turgid French semiotic theorizing, or left-wing activism—acquiring the intangible and ineffable values of a liberal education, as classically understood.
No need to continue: examples like these can be continued indefinitely. There’s no shortage of books, which come out roughly monthly, which contain the same and worse. All authors offer a fix, and while the details of these fixes differ, they may all be classed as tweaks: keep the system as it is, but sand off an edge here, clean up some grit there. They also share this trait in common: none of the fixes have the slightest chance of working. Ask a Dean to give up power? Fire a Chief Diversity Officer? Eschew adjuncts? There is a better chance of Chuck Schumer turning Republican.
What intrigued me about Koons, and the reason I highlighted his article, was the unique solution he offered, which may be summarized thusly: forget ’em. That’s my crude language. Koons was far politer.
The idea is sound. Ignore the old system, which hasn’t any hope of being repaired, and start again. Let those who wish pile up debt, collect “womyn’s studies” “degrees”, and be taught by adjuncts at Behemoth U. But for those students who actually want to learn, we have to do something different. Nothing radical. Just return to the roots of what a classical liberal education was meant to be. (There are some colleges, like Thomas Aquinas, that have already begun.)
Here are Koons’s main proposals:
- “Disassemble the existing system. De-fund state universities.” I’d add that if we want research as a society, then by all means, let’s have it. Done by professional scientists at research institutes (preferably privately operated) whose duties do not include teaching, except perhaps for guiding apprentices.
- “Eliminate or ignore accreditation. The regional accrediting bodies are little more than higher-education cartels, ensuring that students can go to any college they like so long as they are all the same.”
- “Encourage the development of small residential colleges that collaborate through the Internet.” This eliminates the trappings of office. Professors should also, as they used to, be the administrators. What a radical thought! Update Faculty as administrators avoids this all-too-common nonsense. Strike against whom?
- “Create disinterested, double-blind evaluation of student learning.” I see this, but don’t love it. There isn’t a system invented that can’t be gamed. I say let students and families decide which teachers and colleges they like.
- “Abolish distribution requirements, the pseudo core curriculum of the present system, and replace them with a true core curriculum. This would eliminate most of the politically correct hurdles students face: requirements in multiculturalism, social justice and global learning, for example.” Amen.
- “Abolish or reform the Ph.D. In the liberal arts, replace the Ph.D. with the M.A., or a new doctorate in Liberal Arts, dropping the requirement of ‘original research.'” This won’t be needed, given his idea below.
- “Ban the use of temporary, part-time, and non-tenure-track teachers.” Except in the case of illness or death, etc. “Eliminate the distinction between tenure-track and non-tenure-track instructors. Give everyone who has the responsibility for teaching students equal status in departmental and college decisions.” Amen again.
Saving the best for last, after mentioning the wide availability of free or low-cost books and other materials (colleges are “stampeding” to get on-line), this:
[W]e need to create a national society or collegium of scholars, backed by the resources of far-sighted philanthropists. The society would offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the classics of Western civilization, based on a battery of formal examinations and interviews. We would invite the graduates of traditional colleges and Internet universities, along with those who are self-taught or who have acquired their education through informal networks and private tutors, to seek these formal qualifications.
What a fantastic idea! Back to the groves of academe. I’d only change his idea to deemphasize the “degree” part, given government control and regulation of that word.
We’re only at the sketch stage here. Just what would this collegium of scholars look like? Would there need to be a physical location? Who’s paying? What’s the process? What should we require? Who knows? But let’s start talking.
Stay tuned as in the future we together work on this.
Update If there are scholars interested in discussing this seriously, please use the Contact Page above to send me an email. I think we’ve got something here.
Update I earlier reviewed Academically Adrift here: â€œWe find disturbing evidence that many contemporary college academic programs are not particularly rigorous or demanding…Students often embraced a ‘credentialist-collegiate orientation’ that focused on earning a degree with as little effort as possibleâ€¦12 percent of coursework was devoted to other subjects that included courses on their transcripts in areas as diverse as golf, tennis, and ‘ultimate Frisbee.'”
Update I earlier wrote a series University Professors Teach Too Much which is relevant. ” It would be better for all if these professors were not made to toil the five to seven-plus hours a week required to competently teach classes such as ‘Pre-college mathematics’ and ‘Introduction to reading’ to ill-prepared, largely unmotivated high school graduates.”
Update Katie’s link below emphasized: College, Reinvented: The Finalists. “When we invited readers to imagine what kind of college they would create if they could start one from scratch…”
Update NYT talks of “MOOCs”, the latest buzzword to breathlessly describe books with batteries, i.e. massive open on-line courses. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
Update New York Times, as always, unable to see the joke, but recognizing the problem. ” Mr. Ellsberg, 35, graduated from Brown University and spent years trying to translate his expertise in post-colonial critical theory into a paying career.”
Update One idea that’s working: The Great Books Honors College (entirely on-line).