Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Open Source University of College Misery


"You don’t need libraries and research infrastructure and football teams and this insane race for status."

That's from a New York Times interview with Kevin Carey, author of The End of College, and envisioner of what he calls “The University of Everywhere.” I can't argue with Carey's point about football teams, and I'm rarely in favor of insane races for anything.

I do have an (apparently unfashionable) attachment to libraries and research infrastructure, but I'm loath to contradict the best writer on higher education in the country. What if the denouncers of academic expertise are right (albeit inconsistent)? All of the information we need is out there, available to everyone [1]. Maybe we really are Borders in 2005, complacent and doomed, and the gumdrop unicorns are right.

So let's gird our loins, hop on the Surfboard of Progress and ride the disruption tsunami to that delicious information buffet that's out there for everyone [2] to enjoy!

The Open Source University of College Misery [3]  can be our fallback plan when when we're all fired and replaced by software.

I'll start: Every university needs an English department, right? [4] Here is an article called How to Teach Literature to College Students.

Get a degree  : No community college will let you teach English with less than a BA, and very few will let you teach with less than an MA. If you intend to teach at the university level, you will most likely require a PhD, as well as recent publication in respected journals.

Get a degree? What kind of retro old-school advice is that? When The Revolution End of College comes, someone will have to revise Step One. OK, what else?

Keep the class especially challenging for the first few weeks: Usually you will find a group of students will enroll for a class for no good reason. Because of this you tend to get slackers in class or people who are not intellectually cut out for such a subject. 
(NOTE: If your school receives state funding based on attendance, you might want to wait until the census date has passed before engaging in actions that will cause students to drop; your dean may cancel the class if a minimum number are not enrolled.)

Whoa, whoa, not so loud, WikiHow! Everyone [5] can hear you!

Additional tips include #10, Involve every single student ("Even the lazy students can usually provide some sort of input"), #11, Grade the thought, not the content (handy advice for when you're tired of pushing that basic-grammar-and-mechanics rock back up the hill). And finally,

Enjoy the experience: If you are heading to class and you are dreading it or feeling like you ought to just turn back and go home, it is time to reschedule the class or postpone it. If you are not giving a class 'your all', the students will notice and it affects the environment of the classroom. Also, the students will probably like you more for the extra couple of hours of time you've given to them.

"Sorry folks, class is cancelled. Just not feelin' it today. Why don't you all go Learn How to Write a Paper for College Literature Classes?"

[1] "Everyone" = "the young, Whites or Asians, the affluent, and the highly educated" [PDF from the Census Bureau, a bunch of government "experts."]
[2] Ibid.
[3] Located in Oilmont, Montana, "The Pearl of Toole County."
[4] Hell, as they say, has two English departments. But we just need one.
[5] See [1]
(Graphic elements courtesy of and


  1. A university needs advisers, right?
    We all appreciate that, don't we?
    Then let me introduce the "Appreciative Advising" folks to you:

    Kind of the intelligent design end of the student as customer creationist cacophony (with the stress on the "phony", perhaps).


      They left out the 7th step, which is another D-word: Drink.

      Actually, that's not step 7. That's step 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12.

    2. Oh, my. That's not satire, is it? Very, very scary.

      We have a Positive Psychologist at our institution, who, if my Writing for Social Scientists class last fall is any indication, is fast gathering acolytes. Let's just say that those were not the most intellectually rigorous papers I've ever read.

    3. Not a satire, I'm afraid.
      Somewhere online is the conference they included
      - no, I can't do. Stommel was enough.

    4. Please. Not Kumbaya. I'm not going to try to find that conference or look into it any more deeply because I'm afraid of what I'd find, but please just tell me it wasn't Kumbaya.

    5. Kumbaya may have been less awful...(strange formatting is theirs, not mine, btw):

      Here in the Appreciative Education community, we believe it is important to express our appreciation for others through compliments.To help, we have come up with a fun activity for
      everyone at the Appreciative Education Conference.
      Here’s how it works:
      Upon registration you will receive your conference badge with five compliment cards inside:

      If you want to thank someone for doing something awesome, if you
      want to show your appreciation to someone for contributing to a
      discussion, or if you have any other reason you may want to
      recognize someone, we ask that you use the compliment cards to
      spread a little kindness to others!
      We have provided space on the back for you to add a personal
      message and your contact information if you would like. (Email
      Address,Phone Number, Twitter Handle, etc)

  2. re: #5 - At Berkeley, I enrolled in an especially popular Molecular Biology class. There were 30 or so seats available and nearly 200 students enrolled. The professor was brilliant. He spent the first week talking about Tulip Breaking Virus. ( ) Now tulips are lovely flowers and Tulip breaking virus is one of five plant viruses of the family Potyviridae that cause color-breaking of tulip flowers. The minutiae of how the virus causes tulips to have pretty colors however is one of the most mind-numbing subjects on earth.

    By week two, about 170 students had dropped the course. The professor walked in with a grin on his face and said "Okay, I assume all you guys really want to learn about Molecular Biology." We all cheered.

  3. From the wikihow article: "It would be naive to suggest that you don't know how to teach; you've spent much of your adult life watching other people do it."

    I've undergone several surgeries so I guess I know how to be a surgeon, right?

    1. I keep telling my students that they need to do, not just watch, because if just watching was enough to master something, I would be the starting first baseman for the Giants.

      Although, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

    2. And you were probably about as awake and aware during those surgeries as some students are during class (we won't even get into the question of being under the influence of various mind-altering substances -- though, to be fair, mine mostly seem to be very sleepy and/or hopped up on something ultra-caffeinated).

    3. "you've spent much of your adult life watching other people do it."

      Well, now, let's not be so quick to dismiss the wisdom of this methodology. It worked out for Chance the Gardener.

    4. "you've spent much of your adult life watching other people do it."

      I don't know why but whenever I read this quote, I think about me and the amount of time I spend on the internet.

  4. Yeah, they'll like you for cancelling class... that is until it comes time for the evaluation.

    1. Most of mine would have preferred that I simply cancel my lectures and give them their grades at the end of the allotted time. All they wanted, at the end of 2 years, was the magic piece of paper with which they would get their "dream" job.

      Actually learning something? Waddat?

  5. I'm in. I, too, have no interest in football (or any NCAA sport), but do have a fondness for libraries and other research infrastructure (so we'll just have to find some way to fund them; we could pool personal libraries to start. That would probably result in an interesting, if eccentric, collection).

    I've also got a degree or three, and am apparently quite good at scaring/confusing students, especially during the first few weeks of class. I usually try to reassure them, but could give that up if necessary. I could also give up holding class when I don't feel like it -- which, to be realistic, is a good deal of the time, at least at the beginning of the day. I usually feel better about the idea once I've gone ahead and done it whether I felt like it or not, but I realize that's an unfashionable approach to life these days, and perhaps I should stop modeling it lest I alienate my students. Fortunately, since part of going ahead and doing the job whether you feel like it or not involves hiding the fact that you don't feel like it, I don't think they usually notice. Also, by this time of the semester, most of them are barely awake -- see comment above -- so they probably wouldn't notice any but the most blatantly outrageous behavior on my part. Since *I'm* too tired to conceive and execute any blatantly outrageous behavior, we just muddle along, which, oddly enough, seems to work pretty well. Apparently plain old stick-to-it-tiveness can sometimes substitute for passion (at least if one is satisfied with really boring outcomes like most students producing half-decent-or-better work and learning a thing or two along the way).

    1. A call to muddle through it is strangely inspiring to me right now. That was awesome, really.

    2. I'm a great believer in muddling through. In fact, it's more or less my philosophy of life. Not impressive or inspiring (to most), I suspect, but I'm still standing (and a reasonable number of my students seem to be learning something here and there).

    3. I'd like to hand you all some of my non-ironic compliment cards.