Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Students Be Damned"

By Richard Vedder

For decades, the academic function has been increasingly downplayed. Classes are cancelled for field trips, to celebrate football teams (the University of Alabama has done this recently, living up to its Bubba reputation nationally), taking more holidays off, etc. Teaching loads have fallen and professors have been told that research is more important than teaching for academic success.

Never has this trend been more clearly delineated than in an email I received from the new provost of Ohio University, one Pam Benoit. The university is transitioning from quarters to semesters (they were previously on semesters before 1967).

The calendar agreed upon last spring upset faculty, because it "did not allow for extended time in the summer to work on teaching, research, and creative activity." (Translation: we need to teach less so we can "work on" teaching). She said ending the spring semester earlier than originally planned will allow "the longest possible summer to pursue ...scholarship..." So the Provost announced instead of a 15 week semester we would have a 14 week one. Maybe we can lengthen periods by a few minutes to make up instructional time.

In 1965 when I began teaching at Ohio University, the first day of classes was September 11, and the first semester classes ended January 20, and exams on January 27. The second semester ended nearly in mid-June. There were 32 weeks of instruction per year. In 2012, the same university will offer 4 weeks less instruction, for courses. The faculty teaching loads will be 4 courses typically a year instead of 6. Whereas in 1965, the typical faculty member was in class 288 hours a year, in 2012 his counterpart will be in class 168 hours --over 40 percent less. Why? Allegedly to promote research. Yet most of the research produced outside the sciences at my university is marginal in quality, articles for third rate journals read by few. Universities are not being run for students, but for the faculty. Shame, shame, shame. Benoit suggests "other campuses are doing the same thing." In other words, this is not an isolated example of subordinating the instructional function to the desires of the faculty. I suspect the provost is right.

It is time for some adult supervision of American higher education, with a goal of restoring it to its original purposes.


Overlook said...

So what I'm taking away from this is that teaching students is becoming less of a mission than research for higher ed. This is indeed shameful - if the "Grand Poobahs" of higher ed have any shame.

I know I touched a nerve with my comments on research, but after some more thought on the matter, and after reading this, I see a benefit to me - CCAP is giving me a lot of ammo to use when I send two students to college. It should be amusing to watch admissions people squirm when I pose my questions.

I need to give this further thought.

Daniel L. Bennett said...

Yes, we need more parents who are equipped with the right questions to ask when they make campus visits, questions related to educational value, emphasis on teaching and learning outcomes, rather than being oohed and awed by the country-club like settings and a hoity toity faculty. Maybe such a change in "customer" attitude would motivate some colleges to shift their focus to compete on value as opposed to amenities and prestige.