Saturday, October 01, 2005

Some Modest Proposals

Okay, then, you might ask, how do I think we should reform higher education? Belle question !

1) Put an end to student evaluations. They do nothing to encourage better teaching, and much to encourage lax teaching. Many students seem to hate being asked to do anything, and the evaluations give the impression that they can put an end to that.

2) Or, conversely, stop using the evaluations as a condition of hiring. Potential profs, current adjuncts and TAs are so paranoid that they will not be hired if their students complain, that they make the courses easier to ensure "happy students".

3) Accept that some students are not happy, do not belong in higher education and will drop out. And move on.

4) Devise higher standards for the students and create more challenging work and hold them to these standards. Again, accept that some will drop out. Such is life.

5) Automatically expell any students who cheat. No questions asked.

6) Harder entrance requirements.

7) Consider the possibility that engineering majors may really have no reason to take World History and consider dropping the "required" sections. I know this is hard to do, but we're keeping these courses on the books largely to ensure that all of the History profs have courses to teach, and the disaffected engineering or business majors bring the entire class down.

8) Speak out! Argue for higher standards and a return to intellectual achievement in every public space we can find. Do not succumb to cynicism, irony, ennui or depression. There are entirely too many bright students out there to give up.


Pantiespantiespanties said...

Carlton, I was browsing happily along until I fell into the manhole of the following:

"7) Consider the possibility that engineering majors may really have no reason to take World History and consider dropping the "required" sections."

I know you're actually in this profession, and have to deal with the day to day issues, but...

Universities as vocational schools?

Even if we do accept the idea of unis as job prep, wouldn't the work of scientists and businesspeople be improved by broader minds trained in multiple disciplines? Further, overspecialization can weaken a field -- note the example of medicine. Not only does patient care suffer when symptoms are treated piecemeal, science as a whole suffers: the Intelligence Design Institute has members who are M.D.'s.

Brett is horrified by the thought of a defective elite class.

Anyway, there should be other values promoted besides commercialism and money making.

All your other points are great. :)


Rufus said...

No, I knew that was the most controversial suggestion by a long shot. That's why I think it needs to be considered. When you stare that possibility in the face, it provokes a response, which is what we need I think.

I'd say a majority of students believe that they have no need to take these courses. Our response is generally to make them take the courses and not tell them why. I've joked that we should say, "This will prepare you for accepting arbitrary authority in the work world."

Ultimately though, I don't blame the kids, because everything the universities do tells them that the classes really are pointless. We ask next to nothing of them and foster this attitude that a degree is a product that you buy to get an edge in the corporate world. We poll them regularly to make sure that they're getting "good service" from us. We even empty the libraries of books. This is not academia; this is summer camp.

So, it seems to me that the required courses are a comforting reminder of a university that is quickly becoming extinct. I think we need to consider dropping those courses and becoming vocational schools, if only to acknowledge that that's what is happening and decide why we oppose it, if we do, and why we want to fight against it.

Becky said...

Just a thought - instead of getting rid of required classes entirely, you could offer a wider range of options. For instance, at my university the 2 semester history of civilization requirement was offered in any number of departments, Philosopy, English, History, Music, Art, etc. And you didn't have to stay in the same section both semesters. I was more invested in the class because I was able to choose which field I was more interested in.

Also, if it weren't for required classes, I wouldn't have switched from suitably practical major to one I found vastly more entertaining and which has provided me with untold wealth and happiness. Oh wait...

Rufus said...

We sort of do this, but by necessity because we don't have enough History people to teach it. So, psychology profs and others teach some sections. I think it might help for some kids, but I'm not sure that they aren't the ones like us that would eventually find some nerdy obsession to devote our lives to.