Today, an open discussion, with the promise of much more to come, on the astonishing amazing I-can’t-believe-he-said-that article “Dear Parents: Everything You Need to Know About Your Son and Daughter’s University But Don’t” by Ron Srigley in the LA Review of Books. It is a must read. Go there first then return here for the discussoin.
Srigley identifies the symptoms besetting so-called higher education, but I don’t think he has the identified the disease. That being so, his prescription, such as it is, is not likely to cure what ails us. Regular readers know that my suggestion, a sure fire treatment, is to nuke ’em from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure that the contagion does not spread further.
Here are some excerpts from Srigley I thought most important:
… I want to talk to you, the parents of the students I am supposed to teach…I suspect that you, like me, are part of the problem…Why wouldn’t I inflate Susan’s and Bill’s grades…if doing so comes with the added perk of preventing me from catching hell from students, administrators, and you for ruining the party by refusing to say that two plus two equals five?
#2 This one had me pumping my fist in the air in agreement.
And the fact that universities, in the interest of increasing enrollments (= money), are willing to flatter you and your children so shamelessly about how wonderful and intelligent you all are should tell you that you are being played. This isn’t even political correctness and the therapeutic culture anymore; this is a straight-out scam.
#3 (Entertainment all the time. What did we read about bicycles in the library?)
During one class a couple of years ago, I dimmed the lights in order to show a clip of an interview. The moment the lights went down I saw dozens and dozens of bluish, illumined faces emerge from the darkness. That’s when I understood that a lecture or discussion is now only one of several entertainment options available to students in the university classroom. Given the way the game is played, lectures and discussions rank well below Facebook or Tumblr. You can’t get mad at them for this, not like in the old days. “Hey, you, pay attention! This is important.” Say that today and you won’t hear anger or shame. You’ll hear something like: “Wha…? Oh, sorry sir. My bad. I didn’t mean anything.” And they don’t. They don’t mean anything…
There is no real education anymore, but I still have to create the impression that education is happening. Students will therefore come to class, but they will not learn. Professors will give lectures, but they will not teach. Students will receive grades, but they will not earn them. Awards and degrees will be granted, but they will exist only on paper. Smiling students will be photographed at graduation, but they will not be happy.
#4 (Except as SJW training grounds…)
To state the matter bluntly, the liberal arts and sciences don’t matter anymore…
In the intervening years the culture had declined so precipitously that to argue, say, that the work of Albert Camus offered an important critique of the contemporary cult of efficiency that merited serious consideration would be met with silence, incomprehension, or even ridicule.
#5 (He means everybody.)
When it comes to a fair fight the barbarians are…well…barbarians. Incapable of virtue, they insist hypocritically on etiquette — and the powers that be are so vigilant about keeping up the appearance of civility that they may even suspend you or charge you with harassment should you have the temerity to call them on their hypocrisy and refuse to play nice.
#6 (Don’t skip this one!)
This talk of academic freedom is more hope than reality, and the resistance it suggests is anything but the rule. If you are mocked and denigrated for years on end, whether passively-aggressively through the slow, clawing back of your budgets or the Disneyfication of your course offerings (Religious Studies 211: The Whore of North Africa: Augustine Gone Wild in Carthage) by more “progressive” colleagues, sooner or later your rational self will tell you that the game is up and you will stop doing what it is you do (serious study of texts and historical events, honest lectures with real content) and start doing what you are expected to do (keep an increasingly disengaged and intellectually limited group of young people entertained or otherwise distracted for three hours a week)….You dumb down your lectures to keep your subscriptions up and to justify your courses in the eyes of the administration, and the dumber they become the less justification there is for continuing them and the more the administration sneers when it hears your defenses of the ennobling powers of the humanities or the arts or even the pure sciences.
…students do not read anymore.
#8 (Entertainment all the time…)
So long as your class is fun and well subscribed to, you’ll be favored by the administration and probably receive a teaching award — and this even though the truth of the matter is that your students will leave your class in worse condition than they entered it, because you will have pandered to their basest inclinations while leaving their real intellectual and moral needs unmet.
#9 (The university is a playground for administrators.)
There is no clearer example of the administrative caste’s contempt for faculty. But there is also no clearer example of their contempt for your children. Under-educated instructors fill university classrooms, compromising the value of your sons and daughters’ education. But these instructors also allow administrators, many of them without PhDs, to weaken and destroy real academic departments, thereby giving themselves a free hand in setting a curriculum that has far less to do with knowledge than with pandering to market forces and student whims.
#10 (You knew the end was near when universities created a degree in university management.)
Universities, like people, are duplicitous and loathe having their duplicity exposed publicly…At my university, which is a small, primarily undergraduate institution with a student population of roughly 4,000, [the Communications Department] has a full time staff of 12 in addition to whatever operating budget it receives…
However, often [building programs] are undertaken not to serve real needs but to generate revenue and pad the CVs of senior administrators in preparation for their next career appointment…
#11 (Note “degrees” not “education”.)
Since most degrees involve no real content, it doesn’t matter how they are assessed.
As students are awarded ever-higher grades, over time they will begin to believe that they deserve such grades…The customer is always right. As one vice president I know of states on her website, she promises to provide “one-stop shops” and “exceptional customer service” to all. Do not let the stupidity of this statement fool you into believing it is in any way benign.
#13 (We’ve had free libraries for two centuries with only a diminution of education. Online forsooth.)
Online courses are perhaps one of the most complete expressions of this denigration of university education.
#14 (Sounds like a government near you.)
As university classrooms die, the administrative sector of the institution thrives and grows at a staggering rate…
Today presidents and vice presidents act like bosses and CEOs as they jet around the world, post pictures of themselves on their institutions’ websites receiving clown checks, cutting ribbons, and shaking hands, and build around themselves large cadres of expensive staffers dedicated exclusively to serving, well, them…
…consider that in 2011 there were 609 permanent and contract staff members working for the university and 303 permanent and term faculty members…
If you think I overstate the matter, consider this: I know of faculty members who have been summoned by student services staff members to “discuss” a grade with which one of their students was unhappy.
You’re here to have fun, to have lots of cool social and personal experiences, to ‘get a degree’ and perhaps acquire a couple of employable skills along the way. But you are not here to learn or to become more intelligent. What’s worse, no one cares if you do or don’t!
And I could have gone on and on. Let’s hope the good prof manages to keep his job.