PORK BARREL EDUCATION:
How Colleges and Universities Are Cheating Parents and
What They Can Do About It
Joel Warren Lidz, Ph.D.
"When an institution determines to do something
in order to get money it must lose its soul."(1)
Robert Maynard Hutchins
Introduction: Your Tuition
Dollars at Work
Some time ago it occurred to me that one of the biggest problems America faces today is that of pretense. We have CEO's who pretend that their corporation is more profitable than it is, an immigration service that pretends to track immigrants, priests who pretend to be celibate, businesses which pretend to do things "for your convenience," and as I intend to show an educational system that pretends to educate. In short, we are living in an age when it seems that nearly everything is other than it seems. Politicians pretend to be doing their constituents a favor by squandering money as a means of attracting votes, while colleges waste money on all sorts of things unrelated to education as a means of attracting and retaining students hence the title of this work. The truth, of course, is that politicians and schools are really doing themselves a favor. Colleges and universities pretend to be educating, but they are more heavily invested in self-promotion. In a nation which tends to devalue all things intangible, schools unsurprisingly focus on the quality of facilities and amenities over the quality of academics.
Having taught at the college level now for more than 26 years, I felt it was important to let the public know about pretense in higher education, which functions (to some extent unavoidably) as a continuation of pretense in the lower grades.(2) When I began my teaching career in 1980 at the University of Lowell in Massachusetts, I did so with boundless optimism and naiveté. My optimism lay in the belief that it would be possible for me to inspire each and every student enrolled in my courses, while my naiveté lay in the belief that a higher sense of morality might be found among the intellectual elite of our society. I was in for a very rude awakening on both counts.
As for my optimism about students: I discovered that the average student has difficulty reading and writing. If students cannot read proficiently, they cannot study from books, in which case their ability to learn is minimal. Most students are simply incapable of distinguishing the proper functions of periods and commas. Spelling is an entirely lost art, most likely due to the inability to read fluently, which of course means that most students either try to avoid reading or do it ineffectively. How can they be expected to read more than a few pages each night or to take pleasure in reading at all if they can read only slowly and with difficulty? Because students do not read, they are unfamiliar with the printed word, with the result that they base their spellings on the audible word instead. Perhaps half of my students spelled "could've" as "could of." Worse yet, such students have little trouble in making it to graduation with minimal if any improvement in their literacy skills. So it should come as no surprise that schools are not eager to publicize the achievements of their students or lack thereof. The vast majority of schools resist US News and World Report's requests for tests which measure what students have learned in their undergraduate years because "they do not want the world to discover that their undergraduate education programs have no clothes and most of their seniors would not score well on outcomes tasks."(3)
As for my naiveté concerning the moral character of the intellectual elite: my annual salary to teach four courses per school year (where full-time faculty taught six) was $4,400 with no benefits of any sort. Presidents' salaries are typically 50-150 times that amount nowadays. When the part-time faculty attempted to unionize, we were not asked back the following semester. (Part-time faculty are hired on a semester-to-semester basis with no job security.) We received no support from the full-time faculty, who viewed us as competition for whatever funds were available, and who couldn't care less that our labor contributed to their salaries. During October, 2006 it was reported that Northeastern University in Boston purchased an $8 million dollar home for its president.(4) How many scholarships would that have funded? After 26 years of teaching mainly ill-prepared, uninterested students, I received $13,000 yearly to teach two courses per semester with no security or benefits whatever. The number of courses required of full-time faculty varies from 2-4 per semester, depending on the institution. Three courses is most common. Tenured faculty are often eligible for sabbaticals. But what are tuition payers receiving?
Suppose you purchased a car for about $40,000 roughly the annual cost of many colleges these days. You would undoubtedly care about what you are getting for your money. But what are you getting in return for your $20-40,000 tuition? In order to judge whether a car is worth its price, you must know what a car is supposed to provide. While most people can make this judgment easily, few have considered what they can and should expect of higher education. A college president writes: "Families should start insisting on proof of the value they receive for their tuition investment. Colleges are awful at documenting the value received."(5) The president of Bard College writes: "too much is being made out of getting into college and too little about what happens to individuals once there or about what it takes to graduate from college."(6) One writer has gone so far as to characterize higher education in America as a scam.(7)
Consider another analogy: Imagine that shortly before your child was to undergo surgery for which you would owe the hospital $100,000, you discovered that the surgeon, like roughly half of all the surgeons at the hospital, was being paid $12,000 per year with no benefits, as a result of which he or she had to travel from hospital to hospital during the day to make barely enough money to live. In addition, you also learn that it is the policy of the hospital to hire physicians who meet certain minimal criteria for acceptance, but who are often not the most highly qualified applicants available, since the hospital deems it important that its staff be diverse in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation. Imagine also that it is a policy of the hospital to be as reassuring as possible toward patients, such that doctors who report negative test results honestly run the risk of being fired.
These analogies depict the current situation in higher education with little if any distortion or exaggeration. A student once told me that the only thing parents care about is their children's grades. This is analogous to taking a doctor's word that your child's health has improved while not bothering to check for symptoms he or she may exhibit. Are the best faculty being hired to teach your child? I once asked a class of about forty students how many of their parents had ever asked about their studies or offered to help them study for an exam during the time they were in high school. One student (whose parents were teachers) raised her hand. The message such parents thereby tacitly convey to their children would seem to be: "We don't care about your education, so why should you?" To summarize then: Parents do not know what their sons and daughters are getting from college and show few if any signs of interest in finding out. And if by some chance they are interested in finding out, "Even a dedicated search by a parent is unlikely to uncover what is being taught and how little of it."(8)
If, however, you regard your child's education to be as important or nearly as important as an operation he or she might undergo, then it would appear that you should have considerable concern that they perform to their highest potential and that those charged with educating them be as well qualified as possible. As it happens, neither of these is the case, as discussed below.
Declining Test Results. During my years teaching, I repeatedly had the experience of having students whose writing was well below college level. When I asked them if they had already taken a writing course, I was usually told that they indeed had taken such a course and had received a high grade. On one occasion, I took such a student with a thoroughly unintelligible writing sample to a dean. In writing courses he had received high grades, a fact the dean admitted she found mystifying. But how mystifying should this be when a professor's job depends on his or her giving high grades?
According to a study by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics:
the average literacy of college educated Americans declined significantly from 1992 to 2003, but it also reveals that just 25 percent of college graduates and only 31 percent of those with at least some graduate studies scored high enough on the tests to be deemed 'proficient' from a literacy standpoint, which the government defines as 'using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential....'
"Thirty-one percent of college graduates tested as proficient in prose literacy in 2003, down from 40 percent in 1992; the proportion of those proficient in document literacy were 25 percent in 2003 and 37 percent in 1992. For those with at least some graduate school, 31 percent were document literate in 2003, down from 45 percent in 1992....(9)
The authors go on to suggest that the decline may be attributable to a declining interest in reading and a culture that increasingly "takes as heroes people who dropped out of school in eighth grade and made a gazillion dollars ." So this is what tuition payers are or rather, are not receiving for the $100-150,000 or so that they are likely to be spending on their child's "higher" (than what?) education.
In my opinion, the explanation of this decline of higher learning can be traced to three strange ideological bedfellows. One of these is the application of a business model which focuses on maximizing revenue by maximizing enrollment which it seeks to do by showcasing amenities, appeasing students and making their lives as pleasant as possible while enrolled.
Second, a "touchy-feely" view of human nature prevails among many professors and administrators, which portrays certain groups of persons (mainly minorities) as no more than victims who can be excused from the same expectations demanded of others. This view stands ever ready to find excuses for failure and is loath to hold anyone personally responsible for his or her failures. A fine example of this approach (which lowers expectations of the student) is provided by the great black tennis star, Arthur Ashe, who had fought to defend laws which required higher academic standards for athletes in the California University system, despite opposition from some black college presidents and coaches who considered the standards racist. Ashe had himself been an outstanding student and had noted a near obsession with sports in black high schools. At one point Ashe was offered a teaching position at Yale University, but he chose instead to teach at a black college in Florida. He was appalled by the low quality of his students' work and when told that somebody has to give such students the benefit of the doubt "after what they have been through in this country," Ashe says he went away feeling "more chastened than uplifted":
"But when some of the students drifted in late to class, or stayed away altogether without an excuse, or made feeble, trifling excuses to explain why they hadn't read this book or finished that paper, I felt my indignation rise again. Then, I didn't want to hear about the effects of history and the legacy of slavery and segregation. At some point, each individual is responsible for his or her fate. At some point, one cannot blame history. Does the legacy of slavery explain why Mr. Jones eased into class 10 minutes late this morning? Why Mr. Smith yawned in my face and claimed he had not known about the assignment? Or why Miss Johnson, who obviously comes from a family with means, asked me to explain what exactly I was looking for in the essay I had assigned? Or why those three other young women, out of the same general background, executed their assignments on time, and so well? Sticking to my rules about grading, I watched one student after another drop the course." (10)
Finally, a certain movement of thought known as postmodernism has gained some prominence in academia. Postmodernists are typically skeptical of all claims to truth, objectivity and of value judgments. An English professor I knew once informed me that there is no such thing as truth. Most philosophers would likely ask him, "So it's true that there's no truth?" Instead, I asked him "What are the ramifications of that view for a jury trial?" He replied: "That is a problem."
While these three influences derive from very different sources and motives, all lead in the same direction: toward the appeasement of students by way of reduced expectations and easy grading. In order to characterize the impact of postmodernism on the academy, permit me a decidedly politically incorrect analogy: As is now known, many European countries opened their doors to Muslims on the expectation that those immigrants would be grateful and eager to assimilate. Such proved not to be the case with some of those immigrants, who have sought to Islamicize their host countries and, in a few cases, have engaged in terrorist bombings. Underlying this phenomenon is the belief that the host country's way of life is fundamentally in error. A somewhat similar phenomenon took place as more women and minorities were admitted to institutions of higher learning, as some of them rejected many of the most fundamental premises on which those institutions were based, including the notion that truth exists and can to some extent be apprehended. For the postmodernists, all thought is said to reflect issues of power, which are inextricably linked to gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. And like the disgruntled immigrants, some new faculty members set out to make the world a better place by transforming academia. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on "Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science," we read that: "feminist theory ... is committed to theorizing in ways that women can use to improve their lives. This entails that women be able to recognize themselves and their lives in feminist accounts of women's predicament."(11) Much of feminist thought emphasizes, however, that "People have different styles of investigation and representation,"(12) yet it is suggested here that unless women are able to "recognize themselves and their lives in feminist accounts of women's predicament" they will be unable to "improve their lives," which of course assumes that all women believe that their lives need improving and that feminist accounts of women's predicament have a one-size-fits-all solution.
One of the fundamental premises governing higher education which has been challenged by feminists has to do with who is qualified to teach what. At Bentley College, a Dean had informed me that he would like to see a course taught on racism and sexism. Since I had taught such a course at two other colleges, I proposed it to the philosophy department at Bentley. A woman in the department informed me that "You are the wrong race and sex." Surprising as that seemed at the time, even more surprising was the lack of response from the male professors in the room. When I argued to the department chair that the woman's thesis was sexist and racist, he stated that he would "do nothing that will jeopardize the peace of the department." Leaving aside the fact that the peace of the department was already disrupted (assuming that I was to be considered part of the department), his statement implies that in the event of a serious moral issue nothing will be done if, in doing so, the department's peace were jeopardized. The governing principle in academia is, thus, not "Discuss how things might be improved," but rather "Don't rock the boat." This may explain why American college students rank 19th among developed countries in exam scores. As Kenneth Lasson writes: "Because the shrill voice is often the one most heard, the radicals dominate both the popular media and the academic literature, and they do not hide how they feel. They are angry. That their ire triggers such trembling in the Ivory Tower is as much a commentary on their colleagues as it is on themselves."12a
Part I: Rise of the Business
Adoption of the business model has numerous far-reaching consequences for higher education. It focuses less on students' academic performance than on financial concerns and sundry superficialities. A study showed that many college presidents "have an obsession, day in and day out, with things related to finance."(13) Funds may be taken from employees' salaries in order to beautify the campus. The business model is concerned with the academic side of an institution only insofar as it affects the financial side. It seeks to maximize revenue in order to make a campus attractive to prospective students as well as to retain current students. The business model became prominent after the baby boomers left college, when the result was a large increase in the number of empty seats in the classroom. This meant that colleges had the choice of either downsizing, closing their doors or lowering their admission standards (which proved to be the most popular option). Once admission standards are lowered it becomes necessary to lower academic standards if the more poorly prepared students are going to be retained. And once colleges lowered their standards, it became possible for elementary and high schools to do likewise, as competition for places in higher education had been diminished. In addition, as competition for the reduced number of better applicants increased, the financial well-being of schools began to take precedence over all other considerations, including the most fundamental one of insuring the quality of education.
All of the colleges and universities at which I have taught were noticeably engaged in rapid growth, both in terms of student enrollment and facilities (the latter attracts the former). The notion that downsizing might be a way of improving the quality of education by increasing selectivity, decreasing reliance on part-time faculty, dealing with pressing financial troubles, etc., is clearly an alien thought to academic administrators. Whereas a business facing a financial crunch would most likely close a branch, make cutbacks, etc., colleges rarely downsize. The failure to downsize has been attributed to pressure from various groups, the willingness to accept more poorly prepared students and to discount tuition, etc.(14)
Having attracted its "customers," schools embark on a campaign to retain them. Regrettably, the attempt to retain students runs headlong into the very raison d'etre of the university: namely, to permit students the opportunity to prove themselves capable or incapable of a certain level of intellectual achievement. Consider that a professor's agenda (ideally, at least) is to challenge students to do their best work. The students' agenda in the vast majority of cases is to get high grades with the least work possible an agenda assisted by internet websites which sell term papers which students can easily pawn off as their own work. The administrators' agenda is to keep students content in order to retain them, and this is supportive of the students' anti-work agenda, not that of the faculty. As Professor David Perlmutter notes: "Education is the only business in which the clients want the least for their money."(15) According to Professor Jeff Taliaferro, the business model has produced results like these:
"Undergraduate education ... has become a purely commercial transaction wherein the undergraduate students (and their parents) are the 'customers' and the faculty are the 'sales staff.' If the customer does not get the service to which he or she feels entitled, the customer complains to the manager (e.g., the department chair, dean, or provost).
"This 'customer service' approach to higher education is destructive for all involved. For the student and the parent it fosters a false sense of entitlement and false expectations about undergraduate education. For college and university administrators, this customer service approach can lead to the diversion of resources from core academic functions and toward auxiliary enterprises designed solely to appease the "customer." Most of all, this approach is harmful to the morale of faculty and graduate students. What type of person would spend five to ten years in a Ph.D. program and accept a faculty position (often at a considerable loss of real and potential income) and then gladly accept being treated by an 18-22 year old as if he or she were a cashier at McDonald's? What professor would not react with righteous indignation when told one of the following by a student: 'It's your job to teach me! If you don't like it, get another job!' or 'My parents pay your salary!' or 'If you don't give me a passing grade (even though I ignored the syllabus, missed every deadline, asked for five extensions, completely botched the assignment, and never came to office hours) I will appeal to the department chair (dean, provost, board of trustees, etc)' ?"(16)
Some students of mine have argued for a higher grade on the grounds that they had either worked hard (in their own estimation of course) or had paid a lot of money to attend the class. It is difficult to imagine more perverse claims of entitlement.
Learning vs. Amenities. What percentage of the money being spent by administrators is intended to improve your child's education as opposed to attracting and retaining students by paying for sushi bars and other amenities unrelated to education? As a matter of fact: "The cost of higher education in the United States is 250 percent higher than the international average, and 60 percent higher than Denmark, which ranks second. Yet the rate of postsecondary enrollment (academic or vocational) in the U.S. is 63 percent, below the average of 69 percent."(17)
As with any product, colleges are marketed with an eye toward branding themselves as somehow superior to, and hence preferable to, the competition. Daniel N. Robinson investigated the percent of the overall operating budget committed solely to instruction. "This," he writes, "is a difficult number to unearth because of the misleading actuarial practice of including 'academic administration' in the instructional budget.... Where the full-time faculty consumes less than half the payroll, there is reason to wonder whether the institution is an academic one at all."(18) In addition, there is the fact colleges and universities have the option of designating whatever they choose to spend money on as a cost.(19)
As for the sorts of amenities on which colleges see fit to invest, the Boston Globe reported that Babson College "is adding a fresh juice bar at the Reynolds Campus Center, which already had vegan and sushi stations and a full-time person preparing specialty coffees. Another improvement: Increasing the number of electrical outlets in every dorm room from two to 10 to accommodate students who bring on average 18 appliances, including fax machines, printers, scanners, televisions, DVD players, hair dryers, cordless telephones, refrigerators, microwaves, and George Foreman grills."(20)
Casual class decorum also reflects an attempt to make campus life as pleasant as possible. Rebekah Nathan relates how foreign students perceive college classes in America:
"A Japanese student giggled as she told me: 'It makes me laugh when I see the students come to class: shorts, flip-flops ... torn T-shirts. Some students come to class in pajamas!' A Middle Eastern student exclaimed: 'You have so much freedom here. You can step out of class in the middle of the class! We could never do that.' For one Asian student, one of the surprises was how often students interrupt a professor in the middle of a lecture to ask their own questions.... An African student shared his thoughts: 'There are certain things that surprised me about American students. I look at how they drink and eat during class. They put their feet up on the chairs. They pack up their books at the end of class before the teacher has finished talking'."(21)
What difference might it make if students were held to a dress code while attending class? Why are jeans not appropriate for a funeral? Is it not because this is a way of showing that we consider funerals to stand apart from our mundane lives, that we make a small sacrifice to express our respect? There have been times and places where students were required to stand in silence when a professor entered the room, much as is the case with a judge. The reasons are the same in both cases. But I fear that the proverbial toothpaste has departed its tube.
The Student Is Always Right. Any business wishes to maximize the likelihood that a prospective customer/student will eventually purchase a specific product/college, and that is accomplished by making the product attractive, by convincing the customer that owning the product is in his or her interest, by making the product as appealing as possible, and perhaps by doing a bit of shmoozing. At Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, where I taught for 15 years, faculty once received a memo which repeatedly referred to the students as "our customers." But a student is unlike a customer in that a customer is assumed to be fully capable of judging the quality of the goods or services purchased. By contrast, a student cannot be considered the best judge of his or her intellectual achievement, nor of what sort of curriculum is most important to study, nor of a professor's competence, since an appreciation of such issues presupposes a degree of intellectual maturity and an educational background which nearly all students lack. Indeed, it is these very qualities colleges should aim to inculcate. (This is not to say that students should be entirely excluded from the discussion of these matters, as such discussion can itself be one of the most valuable educational experiences of their lives.) While students typically understand their reason for being in college to be that of acquiring a degree, the fact remains that they are not entitled to a degree merely by virtue of having purchased a place within the institution. A university is a place where students are granted an opportunity to prove their abilities, much like an audition: you may have had to work hard to get to the point where you can try out, but you are not thereby guaranteed that you will achieve your goal.
Alienating student-customers is of course something which is anathema to a business model, and the fear of alienating students is often taken to (what at one time would have been considered) an extreme. For example, when I informed a 20 year old senior at Bentley College that he would fail my course, he responded by threatening to punch out my teeth and have me fired. Following a hearing (during which he never expressed contrition, but rather stated that he felt justified in threatening me because I had failed him) a board of faculty and students decided on the following punishment: the student could choose between a one semester suspension or psychotherapy to help him learn to deal with his anger. The message thereby sent: "Threaten your teacher and you can expect to spend time with a therapist." This represents a sea change in the relation between faculty and students: "in the early 60's, if a proctor observed a student cheating, that student was instantly expelled, without appeal. To discipline a student today is to enter into a morass of procedures, forms, and committees, to say nothing of the terrifying prospect of a lawsuit."(22)
The flip side of alienation aversion is an impulse to mollify students, which often takes bizarre forms. A friend and former professor told me that one day he happened to mention watermelons in class. A white student later pointed out in private that there had been a black student in class that day, and that given the historical stereotypes surrounding blacks and watermelons, the professor should not have mentioned watermelons. It is interesting to reflect upon how this white student might have been led to his concerns.
In a retail context, one would understand
why a manager would not wish for a salesperson to alienate even a single customer. But how similar is the classroom
context to that of a retail sales context? A professor can easily alienate a student merely by stating a truth:
"You are not working to your full potential," or "Your work is unsatisfactory," etc. Administrators
often see low course evaluations which derive from such truths having been made known, yet who do nothing to discover
what the class as a whole has learned. That is to say, greater
emphasis is being placed on how students feel than on what they learn.
The upshot is that the progress of students is dictated by
their sensitivities and sense of entitlement, not their academic achievement. Professors with high standards can easily be replaced by someone who chooses to take a more lenient
tack and who will thus generate fewer complaints from students. This reflects a trend which elevates manners to
the status of morals, as when it is claimed that to be offended is to be harmed. The renowned historian, C. Vann
Woodward, has said that "The purpose of the university is not to make its members feel secure, content, or
good about themselves, but to provide a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, the unorthodox, even
the shocking all of which can be profoundly offensive to many inside as well as outside its walls."(23)
Course Evaluations: Power to the Kids. Yet another development in recent years at institutions of higher learning has been the use of student evaluations of faculty another application of a business model which resembles the Nielsen's rating. In this case, professors, like TV shows, are judged for their popularity and customer (student) satisfaction. Depending upon one's status at a school, the results of such evaluations can determine whether one is promoted, granted a raise or even retained. In principle, I am not entirely opposed to this idea, as it can prove useful in some circumstances. The main problem it poses is whether a professor's merits can be meaningfully judged by 17 year-olds who can say what they will about a professor anonymously. What criteria would we expect the average student to use in judging a professor? Might their assessment of their professors be tainted by whether they believe they have been graded fairly? Is it inconceivable that a student might learn the most from the professor she likes the least? (Students themselves readily admit this possibility.) Such questions seem to be of no interest to many administrators, whose main concern is that students look positively upon their time in class without regard to what, if anything, they are learning or what their motivation is in assessing their instructors.
In 26 years of teaching, every one of my students evaluated my teaching, yet not once were my classes attended by a faculty or administration member. Instead, most administrators simply assume that student evaluations are trustworthy indicators of a professor's abilities as a teacher. At the University of Massachusetts at Boston, I was told that part-time instructors who receive poor evaluations are terminated. I asked what happens to tenured professors who receive poor evaluations and was told that they are limited to teaching introductory level courses, which is to say that the professors who are assumed to be poor teachers are inflicted on the students least familiar with philosophy. So who's really being punished? Needless to say, it never occurred to those administrators that they might do something to improve the supposedly poor teaching methods of certain professors.
I left Bentley College after 15 years when I learned that I would have no course to teach because a woman who had been there only briefly and who lacked a doctorate had been appointed to run the "gender issues council," as a result of which she was guaranteed two philosophy courses each semester. (Why only gender issues among all issues deserves its own council is something I do not know. Is this something parents wish to subsidize?) I was told by my department head that she had superior student evaluations, so I asked if he equated good evaluations with good teaching. He replied: "It must mean something." So I asked, "If it doesn't mean good teaching, what could it mean?" I got no reply. The president of the college had once told me that "Only a moron would take student evaluations seriously." Was it accidental that not only did students like the woman's course, but that they also considered her grading to be the most fair of all the faculty? Ironically, the college's (black) affirmative action officer told me that I had a legitimate complaint, but that given my part-time status I could not prevail. So this official of the college who is charged with preventing discrimination admits that while I was likely to be the victim of such, there was nothing he could do about it.
At Stonehill College, I was replaced after one year by a graduate student because the college had a program which gave graduate students the opportunity to teach for a year at a salary more than 50% higher than what I was paid. I wrote to the dean to remind him that classes exist for the sake of students, not teachers, and that the odds are that parents would prefer that their children be taught by persons with superior credentials. Again, no answer was forthcoming.
On the web page www.ratemyprofessor.com, students across America rate their professors on the two criteria of "ease" and "overall quality" on a scale of 1 to 5. In added comments, students nearly always focus on how easy and/or boring the professor is, as well as how hard a grader he or she is. A quick look at the ratings shows an obvious correlation between those two criteria the lower the rating for ease, the lower the rating for overall quality. One tenured woman professor at Bentley received a score of 4.9 out of a possible 5 on the criterion of ease, with 23 students weighing in on her teaching. I know of no one who considers philosophy to be an easy subject, which raises the question of how a college course on philosophy can be considered so easy by a large number of students unless, of course, it's "dumbed down" and requires minimal effort on the part of students. The following comment by a student is far more common than one might think possible: "I went to 2 classes all semester and left early both times. I got an A, even though attendance was 5% of the grade. Easiest class I have ever taken in my life." One might have thought that professors should seek to bring the students' level up not bring their own level down. Doing so will place a burden on students, however, some of whom will not appreciate a challenge which they may be unwilling or unable to meet, and this is almost certain to be reflected in the way they evaluate the professor. Finally, is being in class so unimportant that it should count for a mere 5% of one's grade? Think about how a student could receive a good grade while having missed 95% of the classes.
The Professor as Migrant Peon. As a means of saving dollars, an ever-increasing percentage of classes are taught by part-time professors and graduate students. Roughly half of the faculty in higher education today are part-time. Unfortunately, part-time professors cannot provide students with the intellectual continuity that is essential to a first-rate education because they have no job security and so are constantly on the lookout for their next job.(24) The shift to part-time faculty also poses a threat to academic freedom which cannot thrive in a setting where half the faculty members do not have secure jobs.(25) Full-time tenured professors, by contrast, are relatively expensive and difficult to remove.
Schools have for decades graduated far too many Ph.D.'s in the humanities with the result that the market for professors in those fields is glutted, making it possible for schools to pay annual salaries for a two-thirds position in the $6,000 to $15,000 per year range with no benefits. "One young Ph.D. was teaching ... part-time and supplementing his meager income with food stamps. Indeed, since he was supporting his family, he also qualified for a specific form of welfare government surplus milk and cheese, which he picked up in town on regular schedule."(26) The consequences of this dependence on contingent labor are numerous:
(1) Those who are exceptionally well qualified, but cannot or will not teach for a pittance, have no chance of finding themselves in a classroom. A PBS documentary, "Declining by Degrees," included a professor who began teaching full-time (eight courses per year) 40 years ago for a salary of $29,000. Nowadays he teaches about twenty-two courses per year for the same salary. A friend of mine was recently asked to teach a class of 500 students at Northeastern University for the same salary she would receive for teaching 30 students.
(2) Whereas a tenured professor can be fired only for the most grievous reasons, part-time faculty are hired on a semester-to-semester basis and have no rights whatever, including the right to free speech. I can say from experience that it is not easy to maintain one's idealism for long under those conditions, especially as you watch persons with credentials inferior to your own being offered full-time positions at a much higher pay scale.
(3) Low morale results from part-time status, increasing the likelihood that one will perform less well.
(4) It is common for part-time professors to be hired the day before a course begins, and there is always the possibility that a course will be cancelled on the day it was supposed to begin, leaving that teacher unemployed for months.(27)
(5) Being hired on a semester-to-semester basis results in a profound sense of the impersonal and alienation. At Northeastern University, I was once hired on the phone with no interview and never introduced to anyone at the university.
In addition to the above issues, the following "Background Facts on Contingent Faculty" are listed by the American Association of University Professors:(28)
(6) To support themselves, part-time faculty often commute between institutions and prepare courses on a grueling timetable, making enormous sacrifices to maintain interaction with their students.
(7) The turn towards cheaper contingent labor is largely a matter of priorities rather than economic necessity. While many institutions are currently suffering budget cuts, the greatest growth in contingent appointments occurred during times of economic prosperity.
(8) Many institutions have invested heavily in facilities and technology while cutting instructional spending. Though incoming students may find finer facilities, they are also likely to find fewer full-time faculty with adequate time, professional support, and resources available for their instruction.
(9) Many contingent faculty members are excellent teachers and scholars. But no matter how qualified and dedicated, contingent faculty members are hobbled in the performance of their duties by a lack of professional treatment and support. Many lack access to such basics as offices, computer support, and photocopying services.
(10) Heavy reliance on contingent faculty hurts students. Contingent faculty are typically paid only for the hours they spend in the classroom, and they are often hired on the spur of the moment with little evaluation. The high turnover among contingent faculty members mean that some students may never have the same teacher twice, or may be unable to find an instructor who knows them well enough to write a letter of recommendation.
(11) Overuse of contingent faculty hurts all faculty. The integrity of faculty work is threatened as parts of the whole are divided and assigned piecemeal to instructors, lecturers, graduate students, specialists, researchers, and administrators. Proportionally fewer tenure-track faculty means fewer people to divide up the work of advising students, setting curriculum, and serving on college-wide committees.
(12) Many faculty classified as "part-time" actually teach the equivalent of a full-time course load.
Part II: The Touchy-Feely Campus
What I am calling the "touchy-feely approach" to dealing with people is closely connected to so-called political correctness, which in my view consists in elevating persons' feelings and sensitivities above the truth and justice. (Political correctness is often identified with limits on free speech, but I see such limits as means to the end of avoiding hurt feelings.)
An example took place at my expense while teaching at Suffolk University in Boston, where I presented on the first day of class (as usual) a lecture on the nature of philosophy. The lecture focused on the relation of beliefs to reality. I explained that normally we take it for granted that our beliefs are true, which is to say that they reflect reality as it is independently of our beliefs. However, suppose that we were living in a largely racist society in which many whites believe that blacks are lazy. In such a society, whites would not be willing to hire blacks who, being unemployed, would appear to be lazy. Much the same occurred when the Nazis isolated Jews in ghettos on the pretext that Jews are dirty and carry disease, with the result that the quarantined Jews became dirty and contracted diseases. The point, of course, is that in such cases our beliefs, far from reflecting reality, create an appearance of reality, and thereby seem to confirm our original prejudice. We in effect dig up what we ourselves have buried.
Soon thereafter I received a note from the Dean's office to stop in for a visit. The Dean informed me that a student in the class had claimed that I said "Blacks are lazy." I related to him what I had actually said. Since the student had misrepresented what I had said, and since I had been using that example for a long time without incident, I decided to continue using it. I also learned that the student who had complained was an activist who tended to find racism in a great many places. Four years later, a student objected to my example on the grounds that it was offensive and insensitive to blacks, which seems ironic in view of the fact that the point was to explain the flawed logic behind some anti-black prejudice. Shortly thereafter, a history professor (now Dean) who was chairing the philosophy department informed me that a full-time position had opened in the department, but that I could not apply for it as he had already awarded it to someone, and that my part-time position would consequently no longer be available to me. He also admitted that he had taken this step without consulting with any members of the philosophy department, and declined to say to whom he had awarded the position.
Having become aware of how things typically operate at that institution, I was immediately able to correctly deduce that he had awarded it to someone with credentials inferior to my own, and that the real reason no courses would be available for me was because I had offended the sensibilities of a minority student. (I later learned that both the student and the University's affirmative action officer said that I should not lose my position, though this fact had no effect .)
It should be noted that the student who complained was a member of a minority not merely by virtue of being black in a predominantly white university, but also in the sense that of all my black students, only she had complained about the lecture. When I approached the Dean and claimed that the student's complaints lacked merit, his response was that "It doesn't matter whether they have merit or not, the mere fact she complained is enough" exemplary politically correct thinking. (Note that the Dean's response here reflects the third change I have mentioned in academia: the rejection of standards of merit.) This was for me the most shocking part of the entire debacle.
As a part-time faculty member, I was hired on a semester to semester basis and the Dean pointed out that as a part-time faculty member, I taught there "at the discretion of the university," though in this instance, "university" was a euphemism for "Dean." The only way I could fight my dismissal was to claim under the university's grievance procedures that my being replaced by a woman having credentials inferior to my own discriminated against me on the basis of sex. A hearing was held, and for the first time the Dean admitted that I had lost my position because of the black student's complaints. My case was to be decided by faculty whose promotions and raises were controlled by the Dean.
At the hearing, another bit of evidence of my alleged insensitivity was presented, the first time I had heard of it. For years I had given all my students a general information aire on the first day of class. It contained seven questions, as follows:
When was the Civil War fought? (Of 15 students, 1 answered this correctly. Many students confused the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.)
When was WWII fought, and what countries were we fighting against? (2 right answers. Russia was a common response.)
What countries are in Central America? (A few students were able to name a few countries. Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan were among the answers.)
What is the periodic table? (6 knew. Some responded "A list of magazines," which shows that at least they were familiar with the word "periodicals.")
Who is currently the Secretary of State? (4 knew.)
Who is currently the Prime Minister of England? (12 knew.)
What religion did Jesus practice? (6 knew.)
That questionnaire came back to haunt me, as I was informed that one black student (out of several) had claimed that the questionnaire made him feel stupid, a fact that was adduced to demonstrate my insensitivity to minority students. (What would it have demonstrated had the student been white?) I suggested that perhaps the student was reacting in an overly sensitive manner and was informed in touchy-feely fashion by the department chairman (now Dean) that "There is no such thing as hypersensitivity." (I'm sure this will come as news to the paranoid community.) Underlying this claim is the notion that feelings are self-justifying, implying that no matter what one has said, one is guilty of being offensive if someone, somewhere, takes offense. Recall the case of the politician who lost his job as a result of using the word "niggardly."(29) Doesn't it feel good to be living in a society where so many people are concerned that everyone feel good that certain benign words must be excised from our vocabularies because some people are either unfamiliar with their meaning or perhaps are reminded of other similar sounding words? Should Jews object to people referring to their bike or their friend Mike? Perhaps it would be best were we all to take a vow of silence.
Most persons learn early on that not every claim of being offended should be taken seriously, since one cannot function as an adult while believing such nonsense. At one time children were informed that sticks, stones and names did not pose the same sort of threats, but nowadays the preference is to equate the two and so to change the world such that nasty names (and ideas) are never inflicted on anyone. Jonathan Rauch rightly sees an over-emphasis on sensitivity as incompatible with the progress of knowledge:
"Self-esteem, sensitivity, respect for others' beliefs, renunciation of prejudice are all good as far as they go. But as primary social goals they are incompatible with the peaceful and productive advancement of human knowledge. To advance knowledge, we must all sometimes suffer. Worse than that, we must inflict suffering on others.
"the right principle, and the only one consonant with liberal science, is, Cause no pain solely in order to hurt. The wrong principle, but the one that has increasingly taken the place of the right one, is, Allow no pain to be caused."(30)
At first blush, one might have expected a university administration to view the questionnaire results as an academic emergency demanding immediate attention, but (in harmony with the business model) the only concern elicited by the questionnaire was financial in nature that the questionnaire not be made public. One student remarked on the course evaluations that this was the first time anyone had ever discussed the importance of education with her and that the discussion had made a deep impression on her, persuading her to take her education more seriously. That was of course my foremost goal in giving the questionnaire. Might not it be argued that this good result of the questionnaire outweighed one student's feeling offended? Feelings can be appropriate or inappropriate, and for those students who did poorly, a feeling of inadequacy seems clearly appropriate. One does not try to fix that which seems adequate.
In many cases, the willingness to put feelings above truth and justice translates into the appeasement of certain classes of students or faculty, as famously happened with Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard. (31) A perfect illustration of feelings trumping the pursuit of truth occurred during my tenure at Bentley College. Two black students wrote the following in the student newspaper, claiming that the Rodney King beating was the result of ignorance concerning the achievements of the black race:
"The blind acceptance of values and ideals such as Christianity and education have caused mass ignorance in this country, resulting in the misguided teaching of our nations [sic] youth, all races included. If people were taught the true history of the world and the true origin of the Bible and its cast of characters then the white race's heir [sic] of superiority would be non-existent.
"The knowledge [sic] of the black race bringing about the civilized world or that Jesus was a black man is consistently being overlooked.... How can educators overlook or deny the fact that blacks created geometry, philosophy and the majority of the other means by which the world has advanced to the present day and age?"
Incredibly, neither these historical claims nor grammar were addressed by any faculty member. I responded in print by claiming that one is not justified in taking pride in oneself because of what others of one's race have accomplished. Two philosophy professors responded by thanking the students for "reminding us of basic facts about both the contributions and continuing oppression of African-Americans." Basic facts? Which facts are those? Our "blind acceptance" of Christianity and education? Jesus' blackness? Ironically, the only blind acceptance here was the acceptance of the students' article by the two professors.
Here is a diligent disregard of facts in favor of reassurance. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity for discussion, the professors simply ingratiated themselves with the students, not advancing them intellectually one iota. Part-time faculty hoping to keep their job often must do likewise, mollifying rather than edifying students. In short, the willingness to put feelings above truth and justice in order to "maintain the peace" assists in solving the problem of student retention, avoiding lawsuits and, by extension, diminishing the financial woes of schools at the cost of dumbing down the academic experience. What Thomas Sowell writes about disapproval holds for disagreement as well:
"If you have no right to disapprove, then your approval means nothing. It may indeed be distressing to someone to have you express your opinion that his lifestyle is disgusting and his art, music or writing is crude, shallow, or repugnant, but unless you're free to reach such conclusions, any praise you bestow is hollow and suspect. To say that A has a right to B's approval is to say that B has no right to his own opinion. What is even more absurd, the sensitivity argument is not even consistent, because everything changes drastically according to who is A and who is B. Those in the chosen groups may repudiate any aspect of the prevailing culture, without being considered insensitive, but no one from the prevailing culture may repudiate any aspect of other cultures."(32)
My own field, philosophy, consists largely
in questioning our most popular cherished beliefs and values. By its very nature therefore, it makes most people
feel uncomfortable. This explains why many thinkers who have questioned orthodoxy have run into serious problems,
from Socrates to Salman Rushdie. Much of the tension between the Islamic world and the West today has to do with
the fact that the Muslim world was not influenced by the European Enlightenment, which separated religion and politics
(a separation forbidden by Islam in the view of many scholars), and which made it possible by way of free inquiry
to investigate religious texts and claims.(33)
Controversy breeds offense; hence if one takes the avoidance of offense as one's overriding goal, one will of course seek to avoid controversy - and even mere discussion of any subject which could conceivably lead to controversy. If students (women and minorities in particular) are offended by what they hear, professors are frequently silenced (by themselves or others) or terminated. Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard, has suggested that the freedom of speech situation in higher ed cannot be as bad as some have charged, since if those charges were "anywhere close to correct, prospective students and their families would be up in arms. . . . [and] students would hardly be applying in such large and growing numbers."(34) But I fear that parents, like students, view college primarily as a key to a high paying job and are satisfied if that is achieved. They also most likely feel incompetent to criticize school policies and in any case, are usually unaware of any violations of freedom of speech.
The willingness to put feelings above truth and justice often involves double standards. For example, although colleges proclaim their wish that all students feel comfortable and welcome on campus, this often does not apply to some students. Conservative students, for example, will typically find anti-Bush posters around campuses, often on faculty office doors. In addition, speakers who present what would normally qualify as "hate speech" are allowed to speak if they meet certain criteria. For example, Anthony Martin, a black professor at Wellesley College, presented a lecture which I attended at Bentley College. In that speech he claimed that Jews were disproportionately represented as slave traders, certainly a claim some Jews would find objectionable. That claim is rejected by virtually all mainline historians. Following his lecture, I asked Professor Martin, "Assuming for the sake of argument that your thesis is true, so what?" He said he was just noting something that was of historical interest. The unfortunate aspect of this lies in the fact that there are so many worthwhile black scholars who might have been invited to speak, but the choice was made for a radical provocateur, in keeping with today's preference for outrageous forms of entertainment.
At about the same time that colleges and universities began to experience a budget crunch, leading to the adoption of a business model of governance, the admission of previously under-represented minorities and women both students and faculty led to political pressure from these groups which in large measure explains the rise of the touchy-feely campus. Alvin Kernan describes what took place:
"To speak openly against any of these 'minority' causes, for any reason, became increasingly uncomfortable. The feelings on campus about these matters were so strong, the resentment so fierce, the tendency to choose up sides so pronounced, the memories so long, the knives so sharp, that anyone with doubts tended just to shut up. The intensity of feeling can be heard in the remark by the radical feminist Susan McCleary that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is filled with 'throttling, murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release....'
"To think and act the right way became known as political correctness, or PC, and though the radicals insisted that there was no party line on campus, it was generally understood that it was unwise to oppose any of their plans directly. In this way small groups of activists acquired power on campus far in excess of their numbers, and they began to turn tyrannical. The university administrators under these pressures, not hearing from more conservative elements in the faculty, tended to give in to preserve the peace...."(35)
As ridiculous as such things seem, they have serious ramifications because they divert time and attention from the primary purpose of an educational institution. All this boils down to one sad truth: As with so many government bureaucracies, educational institutions exist first and foremost to preserve themselves, while their very raison d'etre is increasingly ignored.
Grade Inflation. Socrates was once
asked why he never went into politics. He responded by saying that he did not believe that it was possible to remain
an honest man when in politics. Unfortunately, the case has become similar in academe when it comes to grading.
Professor Harvey Mansfield of Harvard gained notoriety when it became known that he was giving his students two
sets of grades, one reflecting the grade he believed they deserved while the second (which made it to the transcripts)
was inflated to conform to prevailing norms. Leon Botstein asks: "Why isn't education today breaking records
the way the Olympics are in sports?"(36) The answer, of course, is not only that most people find sports more exciting than
learning, but also because higher education is engaged in the infantilization of students by way of grading flattery.
"Today's students are marginal in their literacy, smug in their ignorance, self-indulgent in their conduct
... and compile fraudulent records of achievement, thanks to a pandering, fearful, grade-inflating faculty."(37)
One well-worn way of keeping voters and students happy is to tell them what they want to hear. In the case of students, that means telling them that they have done well and deserve a high grade. This is exemplified by a phenomenon which has come to be known as "grade inflation," referring to a trend in which the average grade of students has consistently risen over many years while academic competence has declined. I believe that grade inflation can be attributed in part to the fear of offending students by suggesting that they are either unwilling or unable to perform satisfactorily. One professor relates how he was gearing his class to the more motivated students, but his colleagues did not approve of that approach. "Nowadays," he says "I still feel this way, but from a practical matter (my enrollments would be negligible if I followed my feelings), I have to spend more time appeasing the slackers."(38)
Students today are easy to offend (which is not surprising once people have become convinced that they have a right to not be offended), as one of their favorite dicta is that "Everyone has a right to his own opinion," which they tend to misconstrue as meaning that it is wrong an invasion of privacy, as it were to question someone's opinions. This right does not extend to professors' grading of students, however, which students consider mere opinion. If everything is a matter of opinion, how can a professor claim to give an objectively meaningful grade to a student? As Christopher Lucas writes:
"Tacit acceptance of a 'market model' for higher education exacerbated the tendency to relax standards. If students were 'consumers' and education were a 'commodity' available for purchase, ran the logic, then students were entitled to pick and choose as they saw fit. And if tuition-paying students were not to be denied good grades, more or less independently of their actual achievements, the inevitable result would be grade inflation which, as critics hasten to point out, was precisely what happened in the 1970s. In the 1920s at Harvard, for example, no more than one student in five made the dean's list. By 1976, over three quarters 76% did so. In the 1950s the modal letter grade awarded undergraduates was a C. In the 1980s ... studies showed that among a national representative cross-section of public colleges and universities of varying sizes surveyed, the average grade awarded had risen to B."(39)
"A faculty member who gives a students C or less has to expect complaints and has to spend a fair amount of time justifying the great with detailed written comments... Not surprisingly, many faculty choose the nonaggression pact."(40)
When I was an undergraduate during the early 70's, the average grade was the so-called "gentleman's C," a phrase which today would be rejected as sexist. At two colleges, I have been told that unless I gave higher grades, I would not be able to continue teaching, as word would get out that I was a tough grader, with the result that students would avoid my courses, which is to say, the system supports the less challenging professors. In those cases when students have argued that they deserved a higher grade, my usual response has been to show such students the work of students who had received an A and to ask them to compare their own work with the A student's. Not once did a student say that he or she could not tell the difference.
I believe that the phenomenon of grade inflation can be attributed in part to the fear of offending students by suggesting that they are either unwilling or unable to perform satisfactorily. But the important point is that grade inflation inflates more than grades it inflates students' perceptions of their own abilities. When mediocre work is awarded an A, outstanding work can no longer be acknowledged for what it is. Can we compare this unwillingness to be truthful with students to the white lies we might tell persons to avoid hurting their feelings? I think not. Much more is at stake here than feelings. About 2,400 years ago, Plato discussed the danger of radical egalitarianism as it pertains to education. He wrote that: "the teacher ... is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers ... and generally the young copy their elders and compete with them in speeches and deeds while the old come down to the level of the young. Imitating the young, they are overflowing with facility and charm so that they won't seem to be unpleasant or despotic."
In principle, I am not entirely opposed to students commenting on their courses, as it can prove useful in some circumstances. The main question it poses is "Just what is it that students are evaluating?" The expectation of students that the classroom is a forum for entertainment has done much to dumb down education. Peter Sacks, in his book Generation X Goes to College, relates how he adopted a "Sandbox Experiment," in which he decided to treat his college students as though they were kindergarteners. Only then did he become a success by his college's standards.(41)
A simple way to inflate grades is to dumb down the curriculum. Thus, Brown University offered something called "the new curriculum," which abolished all distribution requirements, cut the number of courses needed to graduate, and rejected standard majors in favor of individually tailored concentrations. Students can take all their courses on a pass-fail basis.(42) James B. Twitchell writes: "Here are some subjects my department covers in what used to be English 101, the vanilla composition course: attitudes toward marriage, business, bestsellers, carnivals, computer games, fashion, horror films, The Simpsons, homophobia, living arrangements, rap music, soap operas, Elvis, sports, theme parks, AIDS, play, and the ever-popular marginalization of this or that group."(43)
Part III: Denial of Objective
Virtually all of the shortcomings enumerated above embody an unwillingness to take traditional standards of excellence seriously. Chiang-Lin Tien, Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, was quoted as saying that it is possible for his university to achieve "excellence through diversity." When asked what that slogan means, he dodged: "Excellence is very subjective ... different people have different views." Asked whether the notion of excellence in his slogan referred to the traditional understanding of a single measure of excellence, Tien said: "Excellence is not absolutely standard. You have to judge excellence within the social and economic environment. These environments are changing. What we mean by excellence today could be very different from what we will mean 15 years from now." Suppose that Tien had instead been asked whether he considered his university to be excellent. How likely is it that he would have said, "Excellence is very subjective"? His response is that of a politician who tailors his answers to produce the least controversy, to be politically correct. What I find most troubling is the way in which "diversity" is used as a mere slogan which can be used to uncritically justify an agenda. Are all forms of diversity desirable? Are colleges seeking to insure that their departments are intellectually diverse?
A common attack on the concept of merit is to note that merit comes in many forms. Thus, Lawrence and Matsuda write: "in almost all human endeavors there is a range of valuable talents.... A good crew for a wilderness trip, for example, might include a seasoned guide, a good storyteller, a paramedic, and a talented cook."(44) How well does this analogy apply to school admissions? While a wilderness trip may indeed benefit from a diversity of talents, it also requires a unity of purpose. Despite their different talents, all those on the trip must, e.g., be physically capable of, and motivated toward, making it. Similarly, students ought to be capable and motivated so that they can be reasonably assured of completing their journey through college. It has, however, been documented that among many of today's black youth there is a pervasive notion that to strive after academic excellence is to "buy into" the ideals of white society.(45) Now precisely how one is to combat that attitude (or whether one has the right to do so) is a question I have not seen addressed.
The analogy of the wilderness trip also breaks down in another respect: while the guide, storyteller and others each contribute something to the journey, those contributions are not all of equal importance. The storyteller is of less critical importance than the paramedic. Similarly, in the case of a university, not all ways of being different are of equal importance to the overarching goal of the institution. The term "diversity" has become something of a mantra. But why is diversity preferable to nondiversity? Clearly, as a general rule the number of people who contribute to a project, the greater the likelihood that good ideas will be presented; i.e., by increasing the quantity of ideas one is likely to increase the quality. But there are limitations to this truth it presupposes that excellent ideas are equally distributed amongst all groups and that those persons whose job it is to distinguish better from worse ideas are competent to perform that task.
Regrettably, I do not know of a surefire way for parents to avoid schools which mislead students as to their abilities or fail to challenge students to do their best work. My advice for parents looking for a college or university is the following:
(1) Since a large number of low-paid part-time faculty often results in low morale and minimal commitment to an institution, find out what percentage of the faculty is part-time and what they are paid. If you had spent eight years in college at great expense, would you be satisfied to make between $8,000 and $13,000 per annum with no benefits?
(2) Find out what percentage of the part-time faculty hold doctorate degrees. Given the number of Ph.D.'s looking for work these days, it should be an extremely high percentage. If it is not, this most likely indicates that the school regards a so-called "diverse" faculty to be more important than a uniformly accomplished one.
(3) Find out what percentage of classes (if any) are taught by graduate students as opposed to professors.
(4) Ask students whether they have professors who discuss their own political views even when those views have no relation to the course.
(5) Find out what the average grade is for students at the school and the percentage of students who make the Dean's list. A high percentage would indicate grade inflation.
(6) If your son or daughter is already enrolled, review his or her assignments. Compare their writing at the beginning and end of the school year to see if it has improved.
(7) How many graded assignments are given during the semster? Look at graded assignments to see if they contain helpful comments.
(8) Sit in on some of your child's classes. Do not be afraid to ask questions of the professor about why they do what they do or about the way they do it.
1. Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Education in America (New Haven: Yale UP, 1962), p. 4.
2. Some findings of the Spellings Report (http://chronicle.com/free/v53/i02/02a03801.htm) are summarized below:
Among high school graduates who do make it on to postsecondary education, a troubling number waste time and taxpayer dollars mastering English and math skills that they should have learned in high school. There are also disturbing signs that many students who do earn degrees have not actually mastered the reading, writing, and thinking skills we expect of college graduates. This means, in effect, that tuition payers are paying twice for something they are unlikely to get once.
There is a lack of clear, reliable information about the cost and quality of postsecondary institutions, along with a remarkable absence of accountability mechanisms to ensure that colleges succeed in educating students.
American higher education has become what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk-averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive.
History is littered with examples of industries that, at their peril, failed to respond to or even to notice changes in the world around them, from railroads to steel manufacturers. Without serious self-examination and reform, institutions of higher education risk falling into the same trap, seeing their market share substantially reduced and their services increasingly characterized by obsolescence.
Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicate that our nation is now ranked ninth among major industrialized countries in higher education attainment.
3. Murray Sperber, "How Undergraduate Education Became College Lite and a Personal Apology," in Richard H. Hersh and John Merrow, eds., Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 140.
5. Unidentified college president quoted in http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i11/11a02601.htm.
6. Leon Botstein, Jefferson's Children (New York: Doubleday, 1997) p. 183.
7. Charles Sykes, Profscam (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1989).
8. Barry R. Gross, "The University and the Media:Apologia Pro Vuita Sua with a Defense of Rationality," in Higher Education Under Fire, p. 132.
9. "National Assessment of Adult Literacy" http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006470.
10. Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace (New York: Ballantine, 1994), p. 172.
12a. Trembling in the Ivory Tower (Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 2003), p. 83.
14. Chester E. Finn Jr. and Bruno V. Manno, "American Higher Education: Behind the Emerald City's Curtain." Hudson Institute Briefing Paper (Number 188, April 1996). My italics.
17. Doug Lederman, "Tough Love for Colleges," http://insidehighered.com/news/2005/12/09/commission.
18. Daniel N. Robinson, "The Modern University and the Culture of Thought," World and I (March, 1995).
19. Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas (New York: Free Press, 1992), p. 114.
20. Mary Leonard, "On Campus, Comforts Are Major. Colleges Hope Perks Can Boost Enrollment." Boston Globe, 9/3/2002.
21. Rebekkah Nathan, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (New York: Penguin, 2006), p. 78.
22. Prof. David D. Perlmutter, @
23. Quoted in Barry R. Gross, "The University and the Media: Apologia Pro Vita Sua with a Defense of Rationality" in Michael Berube, ed., Higher Education Under Fire (New York: Routledge, 1994), p.130.
24. David L. Kirp, "This Little Student Went to Market," in Declining by Degrees, p. 123.
25. Vartan Gregorian, "Six Challenges to the American University," in Declining by Degrees, p. 85f.
26. Cary Nelson, Academic Keywords (New York: Routledge, 1999), p. @.
27. Academic Keywords, p. 198.
29. The attack on "niggardly" is quite different from criticism of such words as "welsh" or "gyp," as such cases remind us of the way in which prejudice can become ossified in language.
30. Jonathan Rauch, Kindly Inquisitors (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press), p. 19.
31. Summers had suggested that one possible explanation for the relatively small number of women in the hard sciences has to do with genetic differences. Unfortunately, he appears to be unaware of certain scientific experiments which can support that view:
"Melissa Hines, of City University in London, and Gerianne Alexander, of Texas A&M University, gave some vervet monkeys a selection of toys, including rag dolls, pans, balls and trucks. Male monkeys spent more time with the trucks and balls. Females played for longer with the dolls.
Obviously, cultural stereotyping is an improbable explanation for this. Nor could male monkeys have evolved a preference for fire engines. The theory put forward to explain what happened--and the similar innate preferences of human children--is that the toys preferred by young females are objects that offer opportunities for expressing nurturing behaviour..." "The Mismeasure of Woman." The Economist (August 3, 2006). http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7245949
This experiment does not prove that discrimination does not exist, of course. What I believe it does suggest is that even in a discrimination-free environment, men and women are probably attracted to different subject areas for biological reasons. People tend to excel in those areas which they find most interesting, so that if males and females find different areas interesting, it should not be surprising that they tend to excel in different areas as well.
32. Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas (New York: Free Press, 1993), p. 84. See also Sowell's thorough discussion of the many kinds of double standards at work in higher education on pp. 174-201.
33. See Ahmad S. Mousalli, Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State (Gainesville: U. Press of Florida, 1999) and Irshad Manji, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2005).
34. Donald Kagan, "As Goes Harvard. . .", Commentary, September 2006.
35. Alvin Kernan, In Plato's Cave (New Haven: Yale University Press), p. 250.
36. Jefferson's Children, p. 37.
37. Daniel N. Robinson, "The Modern University and the Culture of Thought," World and I March, 1995 p.358.
38. Stuart Rojstaczer, Gone for Good: Tales of University Life After the Golden Age (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999), p. 17.
39. Christopher Lucas, American Higher Education: A History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 291f.
40. Murray Sperber, "How Undergraduate Education Became College Lite and a Personal Apology" in Declining by Degrees @.
41. Peter Sacks, Generation X Goes to College (Peru, IL: Open Court, 1996).
42. David L. Kirp, "This Little Student Went to Market" in Declining by Degrees, p. 120.
43. "Higher Ed, Inc." Wilson Quarterly (Summer, 2004).
44. Lawrence, p. 100. "Traditional criteria may be poor measures of skills or may be based on controversial views about the purposes of the university.... Criteria other than traditional ones may be relevant if we view the university as multifaceted or if we think that corrective measures are sometimes justified." Francis in Cahn, Affirmative Action and the University: A Philosophical Inquiry, p. 37.
45. For more information on this, see Dinesh D'Souza, The End of Racism (NY: Free Press, 1995), pp. 499-502.