Thursday, October 1, 2015

Here's Why All Hope Is Lost...

This is an email or comment that comes in all the time - the one below came in today. It echoes in every hall in academe, and it's wrong enough to go to war over.
Remember professors, students pay your salaries.

The school is a money-making institution and the students are the customers. What does that make professors to the students?
Time for some critical thinking.


  1. Critical thinking? Hmmm, sounds interesting. Does it involve any thinking? Because if so I'm out.

  2. This one is easy for me. My school is not a money-making institution. It's a publicly funded community college. My students don't pay my salary. Taxpayers do, and most of my students don't earn enough to pay much in taxes.

    That's true of most colleges and universities in most of the world.

    What does that make professors to the students? Teachers: masters of information and ways of thinking. What does that make students to the professors? Learners: apprentices with far less information and experience.

    I highly recommend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's essay in the current edition of Time.

    1. Yes, but it's better than that. When taxpayers are paying, the students aren't the customers. They are the _product_.

      And we are the manufacturers. And quality control.

    2. Indeed. If we could include GIFs in comments, and if I knew how to do that, I would show Veruca Salt getting quality control in Willy Wonka's factory.

    3. I always liked the analogy with a coach: we hold practices, give feedback, help them get ready for game (exam) day. We're responsible for the opportunity to succeed, but whether they practice enough, take it seriously enough, pass or fail is ultimately up to them alone.

    4. My school isn't a money-making institution, but it isn't really publicly-funded anymore, which is definitely leaving the door open for all sorts of language about markets and demand and such, if not precisely the identification of students as customers, in budget discussions.

      Still, students are not customers. The closest I'll come is to say that their future selves (as well as their parents, who want them to be independent some day, and their future employers, who are contributing some small amount through taxes) are the customers. I'm a bit skeptical about some of the conclusions that people draw based on recent information that parts of the brain don't fully mature until people are in their mid-20s (at which point everything presumably functions well for a year or two, and then starts going downhill), but I'd be willing to use said information to bolster a "your future self will thank me" argument.

  3. This is kind of like a miniature "Real Goddamned Mail," eh? Good feature.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Even at a privately funded institution, the identification of students with customers is suspect as long as the student's presence is intended primarily as a means of getting a credential. In that case there is a significant degree to which the real customers are the organizations that will later rely on our evaluation of the students mastery and performance: businesses and government entities.

    And frankly, a college or university administrator who doesn't understand the importance of that aspect of our relationship with the students should, indeed, start doing some critical thinking.

    Of course some students come for reasons of self-actualization, but they generally have more sophisticated expectation of what they're going to get from us than "I want a good grade without having to do any work".

  6. Time for some critical thinking.

    * You first.

    * You're too late. I've already done it, and you probably won't like my conclusion.

    * Your premise is flawed. We're done.

    * Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

  7. Wherever the money is coming from, it has to go through a lot of levels of bureaucracy/administration (some of them very necessary, some less so) before a bit trickles down to the faculty. And as in most trickle-down economic systems, many of those at the bottom barely catch a drop or two even when the spigot is going full blast at the top. When the inflow is restricted, there's a real drought at the bottom.

  8. Dear Critical Thinker, a dead man pays my salary. Bring any of your complaints about me straight to him. Regards, Sporch

  9. The last time some snot-nosed little shit told me, "I pay your salary," I said, "OH NO, you DON'T! I am paid by the Great State of California, whose interests are NOT served by me turning out incompetents!" That was the end of that.

  10. Let's engage with the title of this post, "Here's Why All Hope Is Lost...", and part of the second sentence, "It echoes in every hall in academe", in the context of the email itself.

    If the message implied in the email is what society thinks of the professor's role, and it has even invaded our own ranks, then we are well and truly fucked.