Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Advice to New Professors Not A Joke.

By Professor Doom

     The College Misery is a defunct website by and for faculty, with less emphasis on formal discussion and more on simply laughing at how pathetic higher education today is.

     One of the last  posts from one of the contributors to Misery lists advice to new professors in higher education, and, while funny, most of the humor is coming from the truth and validity of the advice. I’d like to go over this because not everyone knows exactly what a mess this kind of job is nowadays.

If you're not an adjunct, you must daily kiss the university president's shoe.  It's required of all full time faculty.  Just be glad it stops at the shoe.  If you express even a bit of annoyance or frustration with how things are done, or even a criticism for improvement, you'll be asked "do you like your job?"…  Say, "Yes, sir or ma'am."  Look at the carpet.  Slink, slink away.

     The President, or Poo Bah (since there are so many bizarre titles nowadays), is mostly paid based on his or her ego, and considering the 7 figure pay they tend to command, it’s a large, large, ego, indeed.

     These guys rule over the campus, and are serviced by a noble administrative caste that also does as they will. Faculty don’t even rate as vassals, merely serfs. Teaching? Research? Integrity? These things are worthless in administrative eyes, what is desired is subservience.

      What is particularly noxious about this is how hostile administration is to any advice from faculty. Examples of this abound, but my personal favorite was when a friend tried to save the institution about 20% on computer costs (a huge sum of money here) by changing suppliers and getting more appropriate systems (we were getting computers with pricey sound cards…but we could never have the sound on because of the faculty were kept in a cubicle warehouse). 

     The response for trying to help? A dressing down which included, in writing, a threat of termination for insubordination. Granted, the administrators involved were probably getting huge kickbacks from the computer supplier…but they could have been more polite about things.

      So, indeed, this advice is valid: do not make eye contact, and avoid these fickle, treacherous, beasts as much as possible.

If you are an adjunct, you must kiss everyone's shoe.  You won't get an office.  Work out of your car.  You might be criticized for not spending enough time with students.  Figure it out.  No one cares.  You're cheap, and your money is on the dresser.

     The most common type of professor on campus today is an adjunct, a sub-minimum wage worker that is treated most disrespectfully, in exchange for helping to free up enough money for the Poo Bah’s salary and perks. While I referred to faculty above as serfs, most folks don’t know that serfs were basically privileged slaves (i.e., they had some rights, but it was easy enough to execute them wholesale if the noble so desired); adjuncts are slaves without the rights of serfs.

The students are our bosses and our customers, somehow both at the same time, and you will be told as much.

     Administration forces this attitude on faculty because most campuses are all about sucking in the student loan money, so everything else falls aside to that. Most amusingly, this attitude is starting to reap some hysterical dividends for administration, in the form of the recent ridiculous student “safe space” revolts on our campus, with students raging at administration.

Fear.  Let that be your keyword.  Not knowledge, not wisdom, but fear.  Be afraid.

     I’ve written before of the culture of fear in higher education, which is rapidly degenerating into a culture of terror. There are so many minefields in higher education now…annoy the wrong administrator, and you’re fired. Say the wrong word in class, even if it’s true, and you’re fired. Post a photo of your kid doing a yoga pose, and you’ll be suspended and forced to undergo psychological evaluation. Mention an essay about the wrong sort of political thought…and you’re labelled as a troublemaker.

      And this culture of fear is what we have in a time of plenty, when money is pouring onto campus from the broken student loan scam and runaway tuition. Can anyone even imagine the bloodbath once the free money stops flooding our schools? Or what would happen if students decide that indebting themselves for life for worthless coursework is a bad idea, and decide not to come to campus no matter how much loan money is offered?

     Some advice to new faculty is missing here, so allow me to toss in something important:

Don’t catch cheaters, and don’t accuse anyone of cheating.

     This rather follows from the previous advice. We have an out of control administration that I can’t help but suspect cheated into their positions in many cases. This isn’t strictly administration, I suspect, though admin with bogus  credentials are caught often enough. There’s a huge industry of “write your essay” and “take your college course for you” type businesses now…we all know who the customers of these businesses are, and a reasonable person can make an easy conjecture as to why administration does nothing about it.

      Yes, it’s ok to try to make it tough to cheat, but it’s a losing proposition. You can purchase the answers to entire college degree curriculum courses online now, and campuses have an “underground” system where the test you passed out five minutes ago are already available, with solutions, to anyone who knows where to look.

      Administration punished faculty who catch cheaters…I’ve seen many faculty victimized for having integrity, and not once in over 25 years have I seen faculty rewarded for having integrity. So, most faculty have given up, not just by only offering multiple choice exams (the easiest to cheat on), and by helping students avoid plagiarism by telling them exactly how it’ll be checked for (“Please submit your essays to first to make sure it passes, before turning ‘your work’ in to the professor”) but also by simply not caring anymore.

      One more piece of advice:

Don’t use e-mail to communicate with faculty or admin.

     E-mail leaves a paper trail, at the risk of warping that cliché, and it’s so trivial to say something that indicates wrongthink on the part of the faculty. If you only talk to these people, then you can always double back and say you were misheard, or misspoke…there’s no saving yourself from screwing up on an e-mail.

     One commenter would agree with my advice, I’m sure:

In my first crazy semester as a full-time I have an office profession, I managed to step on a land mine. Let's say the waters were a churning. Literally, I got a call from department head 10 minutes after my truly innocent email.

--“truly innocent”? Good luck with that when you’re hauled before the kangaroo campus court system.

     The comments section gives more useful advice:

Stay on the good side of the Office of Student Retention and Appeasement. Practice saying "when the student fails, it means the teacher has failed," "there are no wrong answers, just different ways of knowing,"

     Many campuses have some version of the Office of Student Retention, staffed with administrators who are paid to squeeze faculty until the students are happy. The quotes given above are good quotes, and I’ve have them spewed at me by education experts and deanlings. Because it’s not possible to have rational conversations with such people, there really is no response but agree, lower your eyes, and slink away…

Bring lots of cookies to the final!!!!

     I have to disagree a little with this advice. Yes, some departments are notorious for giving “pizza party finals” but it’s very clear that actually giving finals is now a rarity. Campus is nearly deserted during finals week, even though, in theory, there should be around 50-60% of the usual number of people on campus (I’ll spare the gentle reader the calculation). 

Student: “The only classes I have with finals are math classes.”
Me: “It’s because we’re the only department that still cares.”

     So, the above advice is good advice, representing what higher education is today, for many faculty. We’ve deeply indebted the next generation, in exchange for the precious education that comes from the privilege of putting them in this system…a system that treats the educated like dogs. Does this really sound like a system worth going into debt for?

(Edit: College Misery is no longer defunct:


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Profs Agree: GPA Worthless

By Professor Doom

     “If I get a B in this course, I will die.”

--20+ years ago, I’d get a student like this every semester, but it’s been years since I’ve had even one. Mostly this is because of grade inflation—in most courses, getting an A means you showed up, if that much.

     It’s no secret grade inflation runs rampant in higher education, and, as always, I’ll link that to the student loan scam. The money from the student loan scam caused tuition to inflate. Instead of paying a hundred bucks for a course, a student now pays a few thousand: he’s going to be much happier with a better grade than back when courses were relatively cheap. Toss in admin, paid to make sure the students are happy, and, sure, pressure goes on the faculty to do what it takes to make the student happy. “Easy A” is a cliché for a reason.

     The student loan scam has been flooding campuses for well over a decade now, and so now college degrees are worth what a high school diploma was worth a generation ago: nice to have, but not worth all that much.

     Seeing their 4 year degrees are worthless, people are now flooding into graduate schools, paid for by the same student loan scheme that made the college degree nearly worthless. I do wish more people could connect the dots here, but that’s for another day.

     Today I want to talk about getting into graduate school. I get regular messages from readers asking many questions about graduate school. While the key issue is picking a good school, the main obstacle is getting accepted. How do you get into a graduate school?

      First thing to know: that high GPA that you thought was so precious? Like everything else paid for by the student loan scam, it’s worthless:

One astrophysicist…said, “Grade point, most people said it doesn't affect them very much because basically everybody in the pool -- everybody in the final pool -- has such high GPAs that it's not meaningful.”

     Yes, getting into grad school with a 1.99 GPA probably isn’t going to happen (not for the good schools, anyway, and I strongly advise against going to for-profits for this, at least if you’re getting a degree thinking it’ll lead to a job), but once the admissions committee has weeded out all the 1.99 GPA applicants, they’re generally stuck with 50 or so applicants, all with GPAs in the 3.98 to 4.00 range. Now, some schools have A+ grades, so theoretically GPAs can go up to 4.33 now…but much like with public schools that do this sort of thing, the actual GPA is irrelevant, once you get past 3.5 or so.

     A recent book examines how graduate school admissions committees at top schools make their decisions, and a recent article on Inside Higher Ed talks about this. Allow me to add some insights:

Ph.D. programs are one of the few parts of higher education where admissions decisions are made without admissions professionals.

      Ah, the old cry of “we need more bureaucrats.” Admissions professionals…seriously? Look, it’s no secret that “math people” have characteristics that you generally don’t find in “English people” which you generally won’t find in “Arts people.” Hey look, now the gentle reader knows everything an “admissions professional” knows. Seriously, it seems obvious to let experts in the field determine if an applicant has what it takes to eventually become an expert. 

      This isn’t an easy job, I admit, and it’s easy to second-guess yourself. But letting an “admissions professional” do it is just plain stupid. Hey, we’ve let admissions professionals determine who gets into college in the first place…the end result is everything just became “open admissions.” So, yeah, just toss that idea in the trash, we don’t another layer of bureaucracy here.

     While the article stumbles with this first step, there are some valuable things here:

For instance, those whose programs were not at the very top of the rankings frequently talked about not wanting to offer a spot to someone they believed would go to a higher-ranked program. They didn't want their department to be the graduate equivalent of what high school students applying to college term a safety school.

     This is important advice: if you’ve got your heart set on a certain school, realize they might think you are too good (!) for it, and turn you down. Make sure when you apply to let them know that you’re not applying elsewhere, especially if you have those top scores. It might be worthwhile to show up in person, too, just to let them know that, hey, you’re in the area, and not likely to go somewhere else.

     So, if GPA is basically useless, what is worthwhile?

…a priority on GRE scores that extends beyond what most department would admit (or that creators of the test would advise)…

     The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination, it’s like the SAT, except you take it after college, to get into grad school. Well, to get into good graduate schools, anyway. There are plenty of huckster schools out there that don’t require a GRE (in fact, every Education and Administration Graduate program I applied to didn’t care about GRE, all they wanted was a credit card number…), but this is what the top schools use instead of the GPA.

      Why? Well, grade inflation has made GPA useless, and there are just so many bogus schools and departments (Hi, Education and Administration!) out there that you can’t determine if a student knows anything by looking at the GPA. Even the “Why I Want To Go To Graduate School” essay can be ghost-written easily enough (plenty of sites offer this service). But the GRE is administered, not by a government organization (hence, by nature, corrupt), but by a private company, Educational Testing Service, which charges people to take the GRE. If ETS becomes known as corrupted, then the GRE becomes worthless and nobody will pay to take it…and ETS goes out of business.

      In short, GRE, unlike GPA, has integrity in it, and so is useful. Just one more example of why we really need to put integrity back into higher education, and soon, before it gets wiped out.

Further, she noted, the Educational Testing Service, which produces the GRE, has never suggested that departments use cutoffs the way departments routinely do.

     The simple fact is these committees have a huge stack of applicants to consider…there’s only one honest measure around. How can you blame committees for not using that honest measure?

‘If it's not over 700, I won't read anything.’ And that cuts usually two-thirds of applicants.”

--if you’re looking to get into a good grad school, there’s your target number. STUDY TOWARDS THIS GOAL AT A MINIMUM!

     The book seems to have an agenda (thus the emphasis on “lack of admissions professionals” as relevant), and talks much of bias, discrimination, and “lack of diversity” as perceived problems, to the point of complaining about: 

White males “dominated” the admissions committees, and Posselt writes that chairs cite diversity as a value in appointing members in only two of the 10 departments she studied.

     To these complaints I must respond: “Whatever.” Graduate study isn’t about skin color or social justice warfare…it’s about academic ability. That said, there is one discrimination complaint that is worth addressing:

Many graduate departments -- particularly in science fields -- rely on international students. The departments observed by Posselt appear to practice a form of affirmative action for everyone who is not an international Asian student in that professors de-emphasize the (typically extremely high) GRE scores of such applicants to avoid admitting what they would consider to be too many of them. This is in contrast to the attitudes of many professors with regard to considering American applicants of various ethnicities -- and who insisted on a single (high) standard there.

Referring to international applicants, one scientist told Posselt, “The scores on the standardized tests are just out of sight, just off the charts. So you can basically throw that out as a discriminator. They're all doing 90th percentile and above. 

     GPAS are tossed, in part, because all students have about the same GPA. For Asian students (hi, China! At some point I might discuss “The China Problem”, but just so many fish to fry in higher ed…) all have the same high scores on the GRE, and so, to a lesser extent, those scores aren’t meaningful.

      The gentle reader (and grad school applicant) needs to understand, studying for tests is an important part of Asian academic culture. When it was time for me to take the GRE, I was told “You should take the GRE, fill out this form, the test is in two months.” I wasn’t given preparation, or any guidance past that. I was on my own, and my options were look at my textbooks, or maybe buy a sample test to work on.

       On the other side of the world, here’s how preparation for the GRE goes: “The GRE is 24 months away. You need to start studying! You need to enroll in a cram school for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and since you only scored in the 85th percentile on the practice test, you should enroll in the remedial cram school for Friday, Saturday, and Monday night.”

     I exaggerate about the second cram school (I think), but the point is, the Asian students really study hard…and they end up getting discriminated against, as their high scores don’t count as much as a high score for a “native” student.

      The Asian student response to this discrimination isn’t to go on marches and throw rocks. No, the Asian student response is simple: study harder.

      But for my readers that are asking how to get into a good school, please, please, consider: all you have to do is study as hard as the Asians, and you’ll have an “unfair” advantage. Please, use the big secret for getting into grad school that I just told you.

     There is more in the article, including a discussion of cheating (when it comes to English as a Foreign Language demonstrations, which are subject to corruption), but the takeaway here is clear:

      GPA is now so corrupted that it means nothing. Thanks, student loan scam!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Graduation Rates Up = Standards Down

By Professor Doom

     “Let’s Use Graduation Rates As A Measure Of School Success!”

     The above is a typical suggestion about we can tell if a school is doing well. At first glance it sounds like a good idea. It’s certainly reasonable, up to a point. For example, a school with a 0.6% graduation rate probably is a terrible school (unless you measure in terms of growth, in which case such a school is successful). 

     On the other hand, a school with a 100% graduation rate might not be a great school…or maybe it has great students. This is where you start to look at admissions policies. For example, unaccredited “coding schools” have high graduation rates, well over 90%, and are obviously great schools because they actually offer money back guarantees to their graduates that don’t get jobs (and only take tuition from students that get jobs with the degree from the coding school). Of course, coding schools get those results because they have restrictive admissions policies…if you can’t demonstrate a willingness to learn, you can’t get in.

Admin: “85% of your students must pass your course, or you will not be considered a good fit for this institution.”

--a state university I worked at, “open admission.” Trust me, standards dropped fast and hard with this policy. “Not a good fit” meant termination, at the risk of patronizing the gentle reader.

      An “open admission” school with high graduation rates, on the other hand, really should get scrutiny. It doesn’t get such scrutiny, of course, because such scrutiny can only come from administration. Instead, administration pats itself on the back and awards itself pay raises for the great “leadership.”

     While I’m talking about the reality of much of higher education, a recent mainstream news article addresses the reality of our “public” school system:

     The article looks at a particular school that received immense pressure to raise graduation rates, and the pressure produced results of a sort:

“By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent.”

--there was a similar “improvement” at the university, too.

     As is so often the case when I cite an article title, I’m disappointed with using the title, because it’s misleading. There’s no “fear” that standards have fallen, that’s just reality. As always, mainstream news screws it up:

According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.”

    Yes, those are terrible numbers, but that just shows standards are crap. Why couldn’t someone at MSN go back a few years and see what college readiness was like before the graduation rates soared? A statistic in a vacuum like this is worthless. It really isn’t a puzzle why mainstream news just keeps losing customers.

     MSN quotes many talking heads, but never bothers to ask actual teachers that do the actual teaching. So, it offers no real answers as to how graduation rates can rise besides guesses:

Still, there is no single reason these rates have increased.

     Seriously? At the university that leveled that 85% “retention” rate threat, every single faculty member there could answer why the graduation rate went up after a few years of that. I have friends and former students that graduated from that university years ago…they’re delivering pizzas, driving for Uber and…heck, not one of them has gotten any financial benefit from the degree. While the people that graduate under such a corrupted education system suffer, the administrators that did the corrupting just keep getting pay raises and more benefits…

In one poor rural district where most of the students are African-American, graduation rates have risen to more than 85 percent, yet not one student scored high enough on the ACT to be deemed ready for college in reading or math...

--it’s interesting how that 85% number keeps coming up. I suspect there was some sort of initiative at the administrative level. If only mainstream news had investigative reporters…

     Again, I’m talking about higher education, but it’s little different in “public” schools:

“…the authorities have recently eliminated requirements that students pass an exit exam to qualify for a diploma. Alaska, California, Wisconsin and Wyoming demand far fewer credits to graduate than most states, according to the Education Commission of the States, although local school districts may require more…”

     The standards game really is trivial to manipulate whatever way admin wants:

Over the past decade in California, several large urban districts adopted coursework guidelines aligned to entrance requirements at the state’s public universities. Los Angeles initially required that students earn at least a C in those classes, but the number of students on track to graduate plummeted. Now grades of D or higher are accepted.

      Too many kids failing? Change the definition of failing. This moves them ahead, but then you have too many failing at the next level. So you change those standards too. Move on to the next level, and repeat the process. Honest, there’s a reason why finding college graduates that can’t read, write, or do arithmetic is becoming ever more common now, and the drive to “create” graduates is part of it.

     The student loan scam is, of course, the ultimate reason here. Back when getting a degree was very difficult, not graduating wasn’t a big deal—having “some college” on your resume was worth something. Now, open admission policies means everyone has “some college” on his resume…it’s meaningless.

     Now, standards have been annihilated (at many institutions), and, more importantly, tuition has risen to stratospheric levels thanks to the student loan scam (more money flowing in to any field will raise prices)…”some college” is worthless, so now you want to have a degree, something, to justify the huge sum of money being paid.

     Handing out degrees is great for administrative salaries, but the obvious is missed: if everyone has a degree, a degree becomes worthless, just as worthless as “some college.” This is not difficult to understand, though the swarms of PhDs that run our education systems never seem to figure it out.