Thursday, July 16, 2015

This Week's Big Thirsty.

What's the #1 Problem In Higher Ed?
What Is It In Your Department?


14 comments:

  1. I have to say there are two distinct problem paths that fit both questions: 1) students who are underprepared (in EVERY way) for actual, rigorous college work; 2) devaluation of faculty worth.

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    1. This sums it up so well that I am unable to think of any items to add to the list.

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    2. may I add the proliferation of admins???

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  2. I think we all know the largest issues. And at times I worry that we've become too accepting of them. I was thinking about Hiram's situation expressed earlier this week. I think it's great if he's willing to go to bat for the contingent faculty, but I know from more than 30 years in the business that that kind of activism is rare in a department.

    For me, the problem that seems unfixable is the one with the students who simply have no business being in college, either for being underprepared scholastically, or - more and more - uninterested in doing ANY work whatsoever. If colleges continue to exert pressure on us to pass these imbeciles, then all truly is lost.

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  3. 1) Money. 2) Money.

    I agree about the 'devaluation of faculty worth', but frankly that's inevitable when there are 50 desperate, qualified applicants for every university job.I know we do important work, but it's hard to see us as valuable when we're so replaceable. Student preperation? Money again, but at the K-12 level.

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  4. 1) Money. 2) Money.

    I agree about the 'devaluation of faculty worth', but frankly that's inevitable when there are 50 desperate, qualified applicants for every university job.I know we do important work, but it's hard to see us as valuable when we're so replaceable. Student preperation? Money again, but at the K-12 level.

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  5. All of the above.

    At one of my institutions, our department has enough adjunct hours for two full-time folks, but there is "no money" for my boss to hire anyone. My boss would love to hire some full-timers.

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  6. All of the above, but my first thought, too, was money: where it does and doesn't come from, where/how it is spent (which covers the faculty devaluation issue), what students have to do to get enough to pay tuition and live (which sometimes makes it hard to tell whether they really are unprepared, unengaged, unwilling, etc., or just plain overwhelmed/exhausted. Honestly, while I'm as willing as anybody to complain about the outliers, most of my students are pretty solid, hardworking, types, and I suspect a good proportion of the others suffer from having had their priorities warped by environmental factors -- which doesn't mean I can or should give them a pass for counterproductive behavior, just they're not getting a lot of help/support in growing up and getting it together from their circumstances).

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  7. It is tempting to see the number of applications for any job as a sign that the labor could be had for cheap, but I think that administrators who do so are looking at only part of the problem. The next time an adminiflake tells me that I'm easily replaceable, I'll say this:

    "Sure, tomorrow you might be able to con two junior faculty to work for what you pay me, but it will take them at least a few years before the two of them combined reach my level of real productivity. So what do you do till then? You'd actually have to hire more than two.

    "I have institutional knowledge and they don't. I know whom to go through and whom to go around and whom to go with. I get shit done and make you look good. Do not delude yourself that any of the people you might extort into accepting shitty conditions for fear that their job might be taken by one of 200 naive post-docs who mass-mail their CVs to us and EVERY OTHER job listing on the Chronicle could or would give you what you get from me or any of my colleagues of my seniority.

    "If you want instructors who punch in, deliver 'content', and punch out, you can have that. But you'll have to hire other people to do all those other things that make this place hum. You don't have the time to do all that stuff yourself, no way. And your 'customers' would never stand for it. You would ride this institution down like Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove.

    "So think instead of what you get by letting people feel like they can work with each other with a bit of stability because not all of them are on the make for greener pastures."

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  8. I think the underlying issue is that our culture doesn't particularly value the things that higher ed is good at. The devaluation of faculty that Hiram mentions is the most obvious symptom ("Lazy Perfessers!"), so voters elect governments that cut funding. But it runs all the way down through "We don't need no edjucashun" to those Oh-so-delightful bumper stickers that say "My kid beat up your honour student". So we wind up with underprepared students coming to university, because being smart isn't really valued beyond "getting good grades". Criticism from a teacher isn't seen as advice on how to get better (as it is from a sports coach), it's seen as an obstacle in the way of passing - something to be circumvented, rather than engaged with. And the idea that someone should be self critical now and then (you know, seek out and correct flaws in one's understanding, kind of like a... a scholar), is met with pearl-clutching gasps of damaged self of steam.

    Higher ed *should* be a public good in a democratic society, but it isn't supported as such. It should be something that benefits everyone whether they get a credential or not. Everybody benefits, even when somebody else gets an education (who want's to live in a society of know-nothings? A lot of people apparently.) And like an independent press or judiciary, and independent body of scholars (not think tanks promoting an agenda) is something that offers real public benefits, and should enjoy broad public support. But it doesn't

    It's bad enough that we're forced to be a business, rather than a school. But are the products we are supposed to sell are credentials instead of constructive instruction and critique. So my nominee for biggest problem facing higher (and lower, and middle) ed is that the society we live in doesn't really think scholars and teachers are doing anything important (not like those wonderful athletes and coaches!). So there's no political will to address the problems that flow from this.

    As Bertrand Russel (I think) quipped: "Many people would rather die than think - and some of them do."

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    1. By golly, you've hit on something. Devaluing of faculty is a symptom of the devaluation of education by society at large, which can't help but percolate through the skulls of higher ed administration in some way. Cutting of funding to higher ed is also manifestation of society's near disdain for the learning that higher ed provides.

      I would say that human preference for immediate gratification plays a role. Much is made in the press about programs that teach skills that can be immediately put to use in the workplace to be converted to cash money. Seeing the benefit of other types of learning -- learning that pays off in less tangible ways -- often requires that the seer have some of that learning themselves. And then we have people with minimal education making decisions about how to structure higher ed (I'm looking at you, Scott Walker and Mark Chelgren). Ignorance begets confidence.

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    2. I'm never going to understand why faculty can't behave even a bit like coaches, who often, from my limited inadvertent observation while tending a community garden plot in a park that also houses sports fields of several types, are critical verging on, or arriving at, abusive. Goodness knows I don't want to spend my days yelling, but it would be nice to be able to say "no, that's not it, try again" more directly.

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