Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Black Lives Matter…How About Black Education?

By Professor Doom

     Yes, black lives matter…strangely, it’s considered offensive to say “all lives matter,” though I honestly believe they do. Singling out one group over all others really can lead to a sense of entitlement, a sense that only seems to grow.

      How bad can it get? The gentle reader should consider:

      No, that’s not a link to an Onion article (I’ve been caught like that a few times). Black students asking for extra credit for being black has already happened at Harvard and Columbia, but these are schools already well known for giving bonuses to minorities just for being minorities...administration at these schools caved.

     This time around, we’re at Oberlin College, not exactly Ivy League, where students made a bizarre demand: 

     Now, this level of completely irrational thinking is hardly restricted to minorities—I had a white (cheating) student just last semester ask me to summarily pass him, not because he deserved to pass, but so that he didn’t waste a few thousand dollars. There’s plenty of irrationality to go around, I promise you.

    The students helpfully offer ways to justify a passing grade:

“rather than writing a paper students instead meet with their professor to simply discuss in groups their paper topics or if tests are taken collectively with professors there are ways to make sure we are learning what we are supposed to be learning in ways that are not so taxing…”

     Seriously, rather than the student actually working on his writing skills, just get together in a group and talk about it? That’s just not the same thing, not even close. Take the test collectively with the professor? It’s hard not to laugh, most professors (outside of Education) are quite capable of passing their own tests all by themselves, without student help.

     Wacky suggestions like this don’t happen in a vacuum. The gentle reader needs to understand that, for many classes on campus, students indeed take the test collectively with the professor, that instead of actually demonstrating personal knowledge for a grade, students sit in a group and talk a bit…and that these endeavors really do result in passing grades.

     Yes, learning can be “taxing.” These students really need to learn that human beings have studied and learned in times of war, during famines, and quite a few other hardships far worse than being involved in some protest marches.

“Students in this moment should have complete access to alternative modes of learning…”

     Ah, the old “alternative modes of learning” cry of the educationist. Hey, I admit, some ways are easier than others, for some people, sometimes, but ultimately, you need to be able to demonstrate an ability to the satisfaction of someone else…in a way the other person can accept. There’s no such thing as “alternative methods” to winning Olympic events…you need to actually perform by a strict set of rules, not blabber “I should get a gold medal for javelin throwing because I went to a protest.” Even if we accepted the protests are relevant, this has nothing to do with passing students that have failed the course.

      Just a little more from the petition:

“Basically, no student especially black students and students of color should be failing a class this semester. A "C" should be the lowest grade students can receive this semester.”

     Talk about a silly racial shakedown, eh? Now comes the amazing part. While the big league schools’ administration sold out, admin at the little school actually had a spine:

      Let’s hear it for Oberlin College, which firmly believes that academic grades should be given for academic work, and not based on skin color. Oberlin, incidentally, is a private college that, while expensive, clearly hasn’t sold out for the “growth over all” student loan scheme. They have less than 3,000 students (alas, over 1,000 administrators…once again I complain we have too many admin in higher ed), and only accept around 30% of applicants. Kudos to President Kristov for shutting down at least some of the entitlement madness gripping higher education.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

An Administrator Defends The Looting…Poorly

By Professsor Doom

     Yes, I’m a little one-sided here in my blog, but it’s so rare to find even a laughable attempt to justify that what’s going on in higher education that it’s hard for me to present any other point of view.   
     The Guardian recently posted a defense by one of the people responsible for  the decay of higher education.

     Our institutions of higher education are responsible, on paper, for teaching and research…despite what all the football stadiums on campus might indicate. Allow me to quickly discuss administration’s role in the destruction of teaching and research before addressing the defense.

     The reality is administration doesn’t care about teaching, since teaching can’t be precisely quantified. All admin really wants is happy students, and lots of them. Thus administration encourages faculty to remove course material, to allow cheating, to accept plagiarism. I’ve covered this before because teaching is what most people experience in college. Teaching has been quantified down to student evaluations, and faculty have altered their coursework and teaching to get the happy customers admin wants.

     On the other hand, I’ve seldom discussed research, because the average student doesn’t get anywhere near this aspect of higher education. 

      One might think that research might not be quantifiable. After all, how can one determine if a paper interpreting some Shakespeare sonnet is really more relevant than a paper identifying a new variant of a subatomic particle? One cannot, and certainly not an administrator.

      But, an administrator can count, and that’s how administration quantifies research: a published paper is research, no matter what the paper says, or how many names are on it. The same counts for books. Research is simply defined as the number of papers and books with the professor’s name on it. I was part of setting promotion policies, and I’m serious: “quality of research” and “numbers of papers with the researchers name on it” are the same thing in administrative eyes, even if the latter are never read, never cited, and contain nothing.

      I could write quite a bit on how faculty manipulate this measurement method, but a quick overview will suffice. Professors force their names on papers their students write. Professors publish irrelevant books that nobody would dream of reading, or even glancing at (warning: this link totally misses the point of why professors write these books). Professors also enter into “writing circles” with other professors—each writes a paper, but shares credit with other professors on the paper, multiplying “research output” (as measured by clueless admin) by several multiples as each professor shares with each other professor. Churn out enough output, and tenure and promotion are yours for the taking, at least at those few research-oriented institutions left that still have much in the way of tenure.

     Teachers and researchers didn’t set the destructive policies degenerating our institutions of higher education, administrators did.

     Anyway, despite the above well-documented situation at our schools of higher education, an administrator puts forward the notion that “just because you people, faculty, have determined empirically that admin doesn’t care about education, doesn’t mean you’re right. We really do care about education. Seriously!” I’m getting ahead of myself here, so allow me to further set the scene.

     Unlike most faculty, admin can post their real names when they talk online about higher education, without fear of retribution. The administrator in this case is Andrew Derrington, who holds the high falutin’ title of “Executive Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences.” 

      The gentle reader might recall that earlier in this blog I proposed, as a quick means to cutting overhead costs at our perpetually cash-strapped institutions, to just get rid of every administrator whose title is 5 times as long as his name. Mr. Derrington’s title here is 64 characters long, whereas his name is a mere 17 characters long. So by my standard, which is every bit as legitimate as how administrators judge teaching and research, this guy would get to keep his job…but seriously, there are way too many administrators in higher education today.   
     So, here’s his defense regarding assertions that administrators in higher education are responsible for the degradation of higher education, summarized:

“This accusation is wrong. Managers are not malicious. We are not stupid. We are misunderstood.”

     I ask the gentle reader to consider the forced leave and psychiatric evaluation of a professor, for posting a picture of his child doing a yoga pose. I ask the gentle reader to consider long running sex scandals on campus, which administration overlooks (and even promotes the perpetrator). I ask the gentle reader to consider the outrageous activities of the kangaroo campus courts, set up by administration. The gentle reader should also consider the reduction of professor pay to the point that food banks specialize in helping professors get enough to eat, while administrators eat at personal high end restaurants built and paid for by the campus they rule. I could continue with such examples, but if I were to pick an explanation for such behavior amongst options of “malicious, stupid, or misunderstood,” I just can’t accept “misunderstood” as a possibility.

     This is, unfortunately, the entirety of the defense. Faculty are simply viewing what administration does in a bad light, they really do mean well. Apparently, this administrator knows not where the road of good intentions leads…even if anyone were stupid enough willing to accept good intentions by administrators.

      In addition to the links above illustrating administrative behavior, allow me to repeat a personal anecdote:

     A high-powered Educationist was paid to come on campus, and help us learn how to teach better. Most of the advice was the usual idiotic stuff from Ph.D.s in education: “give more extra credit,” “give more credit for attendance,” “give more credit for plagiarism,” and other insights that really don’t take years of graduate school to learn.

Then I got an e-mail from the Educationist: “For my research, can you identify the parts of your course that students have trouble with? We want to focus on those parts to provide better education in future courses.”

My reply: “Sure. Systems of linear equations in three vaiables (sic). Inverses of non-linear functions. The difference quotient. Oh, and applications of exponential and logarithmic functions.”

Educationist: “Thanks! This will really help.”

Next semester:

Administration: “To improve retention, you need to remove the following from your course:

1.    systems of linear equations in three vaiables (again, sic).
2.     Inverses of non-linear functions.
3.    The difference quotient.
4.    Applications of exponential and logarithmic functions.”

--note my typo was preserved.

     I ask the gentle reader to consider that e-mail from admin, asking for wholesale removal of content from a course, not to improve education (which I’ve never heard an administrator indicate as a goal in my decades of teaching in higher ed), but to improve retention, to increase the number of butts-in-seats.

      I ask the gentle reader to consider the evidence I present above regarding how the administrator came to that decision, and consider the possibilities of malice, stupidity, or, and I can hardly suggest it without laughing, misunderstood. The possibility that really should be considered, in light of this and extensive other evidence, is “willingness to sell out everything to enhance growth.”

     The administrator’s defense ends with:

If there really is a fundamental difference in outlook between you and the senior management of your university, then someone is not doing a very good job. Are you sure it isn't you?

     After having seen countless faculty with integrity stand up and try to do something about the mess of higher education today, only to be terminated by administration ready to take the “disloyal” faculty’s salary and add it to their own, I am, once again, hard pressed to accept that it’s the faculty that are the problem here. But this administrator, in addition to believing that his caste is just misunderstood, thinks the friction might well be the faculty’s fault, as well. 

     Administrators really do tend to be remarkable pieces of work.

    The comments section naturally lambasts the defense, one (anonymous) faculty summarizes nicely:

What an ill-advised piece of writing; indeed, if evidence is so important, and I agree, I would like to see some evidence that teaching is a valued skill in universities these days…

     I guess it’s possible that administrators mean well and that all our highly educated faculty (even the psychologists!) just don’t understand them, but I think it more likely that I should update my guidelines: 

     How about we get rid of administrators whose titles are merely three times as long as their names? At the least, I could hope for fewer Executive Pro Vice-Chancellors of Humanities and Social Sciences, and that would be a good thing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

UK Higher Education Just As Corrupted As US

By Professor Doom

The higher education system of the United States was, for many years, the epitome of learning. Across the world, people sent their children here for higher education. Yes, there are some fine universities elsewhere, but for much of the 20th century the United States led the world when it came to science, and many other fields of knowledge.

     The rest of the world followed suit with the American model of education (in turn, adopted from Europe), not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unfortunately, our higher education is thoroughly corrupted now, turning into a system marked not by education, but by arrogant Poo Bahs, ridiculous construction sprees, and a general disrespect for the “intellectuals” that, in administrative eyes, are only taking up space on campus. Doubly unfortunately, our corrupted system is being exported to the rest of the world. I’ve written before how Australian higher education is going down the same foolish path we’re following here.

      I’m not as tuned into the UK as here, but when British institutions are firing faculty so they can have more money to erect buildings…I have to admit that’s the same caliber of madness we’re seeing in the US. The purpose of higher education is teaching and research, there’s no sane way you can construct buildings (to increase teaching and research) and simultaneously fire faculty (as this will decrease teaching and research). And yet this policy is also common in the U.S.

    A recent open letter by a faculty member in the UK highlights what’s happening there, but I can’t help but be saddened. The idealism of the faculty member writing the letter is grossly misplaced, as the academic thinks he can actually reason with the Poo Bahs.

     Let us consider this bold, pointless, attempt:

Dear leaders,
I address you as "leaders" because, for some reason (perhaps manager comes too close to rhyming with janitor for your liking), you've increasingly taken to styling yourselves in this way. How grand. How imposing. How spurious.

      It really is amazing the titles these people grant themselves. I just stick with “Poo Bah” because it’s ridiculous trying to keep track of all the chancellors, presidents, and provosts, not to mention the endless variations of Vice President of Nobodycares. If anyone wants to start cleaning up higher education, consider just firing everyone whose title is 5 times as long as his name (I know, that’s a little unfair to Asian administrators, but every institution I look at has dozens of administrators with such titles).

     Anyway, the Poo Bahs honestly think they’re brilliant at what they do. To this, I respond, “bullocks.”  I can’t speak to what’s happening in the UK, but in the US, administrators in higher education rule over an organization where the customers get money for showing up…and the administrators actually think the reason they have so many customers is because they’re doing a good job.

      Take away the student loan scam, and I believe there will be considerable reckoning over the crap job typical administrators do. They call themselves “leaders,” and besmirch education by claiming it’s all about “leadership.” They’re clueless, and this faculty member is trying to explain it to them:

“I know you think I ought to feel insignificant, as a mere teaching and research drone. My saying any of this is, of course, in forlorn hope. You listen to us all, and ignore us all…”

      The faculty saying this obviously is not naïve: he knows the reality, but his idealism still forces him to try. I can’t criticize him overmuch: my blog is likewise a hopeless attempt to try to get someone to listen.

      But, as he says, administration won’t listen to faculty: we’re but miserable little worms who should tremble in awe at the self-styled titans of industry who’ve managed to get so many students to come to the institution and pick up their checks.

     I tried to explain to administration that 12/5 is 2.4, and accomplished nothing to administrators that insist 2.35 is good enough. Less quantitatively, I’ve tried to point out glaring issues in grandiose administrative plans (like building stadiums for 5,000 people in a town of 1,200 residents, for a school that has no teams)…and accomplished nothing.

      The only reason admin asks us to give input for their plans is because they know it’ll be easier to cram those plans down our throats if we open our mouths first.

“You simply want secure fiefdoms for the members of your cliques at the expense of making others into vassals with even fewer rights…”

     It’s so sad to hear this. The reason higher education is “so expensive” in the US is because our institutions are overwhelmed with fiefdoms. Each fiefdom is stacked with highly overpaid administrators, and is responsible for…well, it’s all but impossible to tell what a fiefdom’s true responsibility is, beyond feathering the nests of administrators.

“You break your own rules and make it up as you go along to suit yourselves. There is no genuine collegiality, no trust,…”

     Again, I am saddened at the familiar complaint. The caste of administration here is likewise untouchable, and if my blog only focused on administrative violations of due process, on administrators openly breaking their own rules whenever they wanted, I would still never run short of events to highlight.

     The problem, of course, is faculty are now completely helpless. I’ve seen faculty members treated in grotesquely inappropriate ways (at a community college). We all agreed the treatment was unconscionable…there was not a thing we could do, despite all the “fraud hotlines” and “grievance policies” and everything else.

Seemingly, there's never enough money… except when there's more for new administrative staff: courtiers for the ruling clique.

     Alas, alas, and alas. This fatal flaw of American higher education, the one that will probably kill it in the end, is that administrators control the purse strings. Time and again I’ve been told “there’s just no money” for anything in education, by administrators that then rush off to participate in hiring committees to fill yet another 6 (or sometimes even 7) figure salaried administrative position. Just one less administrator at one school would be enough to fund everything I (and 50 other faculty) would ever need in a classroom for decades, my entire career, even…but too bad, no money, you see.

      The academic offers solutions, but I have to chuckle, and wonder if it is truly idealism, and not undiluted foolishness, that guides this open letter. A few merit particular commentary:

“…Accept that the university is a community made up of all those who serve it, not your plaything; nobody can be sacrificed in your name…”

     In my decades of higher education, I’ve seen many educators try, so hard, to stop the plunder, to get our Poo Bahs to act with integrity…only to be mercilessly slaughtered. Honest, the kind of people that would take advantage and hurt our children with such impunity are not going to be affected in the least by this open letter, and no amount of idealism can change that.

“…8) Stop thinking and speaking in the terms given by the deadly triumvirate: pseudo-intellectuals, neo-liberals and technofuturists…”

     I’ve written before of the incomprehensible edubabble that Poo Bahs use. It’s possible the author doesn’t know about the educationists that are responsible for it, although it’s also possible that “pseudo-intellectuals” is what educationists are called in the UK. It’s an accurate description.

       The letter ends with a comment indicating that our professor here isn’t naïve at all:

“…PPS. Are you remotely troubled that so many academics are resorting to anonymous writing/blogging to say these things?”

     His letter, of course, is anonymous. It’s clear that faculty in the UK have noticed the same thing faculty in the US have noticed: if you dare speak truth to admin about their rapaciousness harming children and education in general, you will be destroyed for it.

     I can answer this last question from the British faculty member: if your administrators are anything like the ones in the US, then, no, admin isn’t remotely troubled by faculty now being terrified to speak in public. In fact, they’re likely proud of destroying free speech in every form on campus.