Saturday, January 3, 2015

Universities Ripping Their Own Hearts Out

By Professor Doom

     It’s so hard not to point at the many failings of accreditation when looking at higher education today. Once again, I’m going to point out more of the madness, and I’ll try to refrain from discussing how if accreditation had anything to do with education, the insanity would not be possible in accredited institutions.

     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 the typo was preserved.

     In the past, I’ve pointed out how administration, drunk with power and willing to sacrifice anything in higher education in the name of growth, can simply order material removed from courses. Sometimes this is done in a “subtle” manner, such as firing any faculty that tries to cover courses in a normal way, and sometimes less subtle, by explicitly altering the course syllabi. What’s happening in community colleges is unhinged from what they say they are doing in writing for this reason; the paper classes fraud at UNC isn’t exceptional at all.

     Administration can also simply remove courses, even basic courses, from the curriculum. When push comes to shove, administration can even shut down entire departments:

“…these regional public universities may have no departments of English, physics, or history—nor a host of other programs often associated with “college,”

     I admit, not everyone needs to know physics, although a “university” without physics makes about as much sense as a universe without physics. History, too, is not something everyone needs to know in detail, but removing it entirely seems odd. Is there less history now, than there used to be? The whole point of a local university is to have a place of readily available experts, it’s rough to see such wide swaths of knowledge being deleted by an administrator.

      And English? Seriously? That’s kind of a critical thing, at least in an American university. Perhaps administration isn’t familiar with the language, but it’s been rather important for the last century or two…and, again, it seems like a local university should have experts in the local language. Perhaps the plan is to outsource English knowledge to India?

     I’d be embarrassed to be at a university lacking such basic fields of knowledge, but I grant that I’m not in Minnesota or the District of Columbia, so I guess it’s not my place to say such things. Even if I was faculty there, it still would not be my place, however, because educators and scholars no longer have a say about what’s important in our centers of education and scholarly pursuits.

     University of District of Columbia, despite shutting down such basic fields, still sees no need to cut athletics. Accreditation is looking into the warped priorities there, I admit, but regular readers of my blog know how irrelevant accreditation is in such matters.

     Now, keep in mind, English and such will still be taught at the schools…the students need to have some basic preparation. But, instead of full time faculty, minimally paid adjuncts will be used instead. But what of the tenured faculty there, you ask?

     “Tenured faculty have a job for life!” is the cry, but as I’ve shown many times in this blog, tenure means basically nothing. Tenure does protect the faculty, a tiny bit, but tenure agreements do allow for “financial need” and other reasons for firing. In this case, when the department goes, so does the tenured faculty. Neat, right? 

Administration gives itself huge pay raises and hires more support staff, causing a financial need, and responds by firing the tenured faculty. “Job for life,” indeed.

      I have pretty mixed emotions about whether tenure should be allowed, but as long as tenure means “we can fire you and hire someone else to do a laughable approximation of your job whenever we want, for 10% of the pay, and we’ll pocket the difference”, I just don’t see how people can claim tenure grants much job protection at all.

      When money was gushing into higher education, administration awarded themselves huge pay raises, and granted themselves massive support staffs. But, economic times are hard, despite what mainstream media says. As institutions of higher education come into financial difficulty, they naturally have to cut back, and that’s perfectly reasonable. The problem is that all the cutbacks come from education, and not the department of Education. It’s rare to see an article hit the nail on the head, but this one sure does:

      There’s balance, here, I admit. When wealth came pouring into universities via the student loan scam, none of it was shared with faculty, whose pay has been frozen for decades. Instead, all the wealth went to administration. Now we have the opposite-of-wealth, none of which comes down on administration. Balance, yes, fairness, no.

      While it’s no surprise that faculty, who have no say in education at the university, aren’t going to have much say about anything else going on there, the vision of what administration wants higher education to become is frightening:

MSUM and UDC’s new vision—whose implementation will be closely watched by hundreds of institutions with similar profiles—is not a university at all. It is a ghost town with quads and a gourmet cafeteria, one that consists of amenities, sports, and administrators—but no faculty.

     It really is important to understand the messages being sent from our fully accredited state institutions, like UNC, UDC, and MSUM: state universities are ok with completely bogus coursework offered by campuses that have no interest in anything that remotely resembles the education of even a few decades ago. Instead, the only interest will be in grabbing as much of that student loan scam money as possible.
     And so, just one more swing at accreditation: