Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Costly Overhead

Indiana State University is trying to streamline its number of programs from 210 to 150, no doubt to free up more money for football. So they're doing away with the programs that are less popular with the consumers- including such trifles as philosophy and physics. Students can still take physics classes; they just can't major in physics or philosophy.

My guess is that they'll slowly kill off the philosophy department altogether. I can't imagine that they're going to do any more hiring without philosophy majors or grad students to teach. In a few years from now, Indiana will do away with whatever required course it is that they have philosophy profs teach and that will be that. They'll just wait until the old timers retire and the junior faculty find better jobs elsewhere. Physics professors might last a bit longer, but let's not hold our breath.

Academic standards are determined by popularity in the marketplace. Now the university lets the public define it. One of the typically anti-academic message board posters argues: "colleges exist for students", and clearly students are the ones deciding what constitutes a university education in America these days. Once upon a time, universities knew what constituted a university education and therefore preserved a core curriculum. Back then, if a student wanted business training, they went to a vocational school.

Increasingly, however, the core curriculum is seen as an outdated hassle; the students don't like it, and the professors don't seem to know what it is! So, students are convinced that a core curriculum must be arrogant egghead bullshit and hipper-than-thou junior faculty are convinced that it's elitist conservative bullshit. At Mall University, we had to fight the administration to keep the requirement that students take a History course, and the Philosophy requirement has been dropped. Why would a college educated person need to learn about History or Philosophy anyway? That's what the Internet is for! The market rules, and what the public wants is a vocational education that is euphemistically called a university education. They don't want to waste their time with things that won't make them money, and see the idea of education as elevating or personally transformative to be quaint at best, and an insult at worst. Personal development? That's what shopping is for!

I see a weird tendency lately to produce less and less educated people who have a very strong belief that they are more highly educated. The consumer society needs to be flattered. We come up with Orwellian terms like "Information literacy"- that literacy possessed by actual illiterates who can download MP3s- in order to keep up the pretense that we are as intelligent as we'll ever need to be. We coin words like "emotional intelligence" so people with low-IQ won't feel unintelligent. Every instructor in America is familiar with the student who does very little work, but who is convinced that they are an 'overachiever'. I meet people my age who haven't read a book in years and who hardly pay attention to the world around them, who strongly believe that they're sophisticated because they've bought a high-definition television! At Mall University, we've started getting Master's students who feel that being expected to read the texts every week is an unfair imposition. Okay, they're lazy shits- but when you define your success as an institution on how many people you have in how many seats, it's just bad business to flunk out the lazy shits.

Besides, they pay the bills. A vocational education that is mislabelled a university education makes perfect sense. The public doesn't really want to do the work involved in recieving a university education, and besides, some of them simply can't do the work involved. But, hell, even stating that fact sounds elitist in some way- it's unfair. Why can't we learn, or not learn, whatever makes us happy and pay educated people to tell us that we too are college-educated? Why do those egghead assholes get to have a college degree and we don't? Who do they think they are?

To be honest, I'm tired of this fight. Let the state universities cut their own guts out- what do I care? Let them cut the humanities requirements, the more difficult science programs, and anything that isn't geared towards preparing tomorrow's middle managers for middle management. This is where they've been going for some time now- hell, people were worried about this back in the 50s when your first two years of college were required core classes! I just would prefer if they stopped lying- call themselves "______ State Vocational School and Sports Program". Stop pretending to be universities.

Am I overreacting? Probably so, but I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that Indiana State University is not considering cutting Communications or Business Management! On the other hand, I'm also willing to bet that I'm not the only grad student who has no intention of ever applying for a position at Indiana State University.


gregvw said...

Hasn't college already been reduced to a socio-economic rite of passage? Collect all the credits and get a free coffee?

gregvw said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you should rent Idiocracy if at all possible.

Rufus said...

Yeah it's great, isn't it? I posted the opening here a while back. But, it's pretty funny- I've been slipping lines like: "But Brawndo's got what plants crave! It's got electrolytes!" into sentences for the last month.

Jonathan Moore said...

One program eliminated is Art History, which ISU President Benjamin holds a doctoral degree in from the University of North Carolina. Ironic, uh?

This program is just one of many problems that are taking place at ISU. You can read more at this very long web address: