By Professor Doom
The “Horse Whisperer” and “Dog Whisperer” are amazing people, and I encourage the gentle reader to watch at least a few of their shows, as they demonstrate both the individual capability of those people, and the ability of humanity to handle and control animals in ways that you simply do not see in the other direction.
On the other hand, a recent article on “Teacher Whisperers” demonstrates the incredible evil going on in higher education today:
The subtitle sounds good, right? The student prevails, after all, but that subtitle is pretty misleading. Yes, the administration “informs,” but it’s with all the menace and threat as anything gently said by Emperor Palpatine.
What’s interesting about this article is the evil of the administration is just glossed over, as though it weren’t the heart of the problem. Let’s get to the story:
One of my advisees, a graduating senior whom I will refer to as Johnny, earned a failing grade in a course he needed in order to graduate. At the beginning of May I received a phone call from a dean letting me know that Johnny would be coming in to discuss possible paths to graduating with his cohort. I met with him to discuss his options, and after a collaborative exhausting of the possibilities during which multiple deans were having conversations with multiple faculty and family members in what can only be described as a goat rodeo, I was nominated to inform Johnny that he would have to take a summer course. In other words, he would not be graduating with his cohort. I had a gnawing feeling in my gut that this would not go over well, but someone needed to woman up and speak truth to a failing student.
I should note that the author doesn’t cast aspersions on administrative evil here, and the author uses her real name in the article.
The two facts in the previous sentence are intimately related, I promise you.
In any event, I too have had many “he’s a graduating senior, so give him a break” whispers from admin, and these incidents highlight a huge paradox in higher education that nobody ever seems to wonder about:
Fact 1: The average college grade is A-. Just about everybody does well in class.
Fact 2: On-time graduation rates are ridiculously bad, with 0.6% considered successful. Even on an infinite timeline, 25% graduation is still considered so good that Poo Bahs and other admin get huge bonuses for it.
Grades are great, but few graduate. I want to again emphasize: I’m not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination. How is it that I see a paradox regarding those two facts, but I’ve yet to see any legitimate discussion of it?
Am I truly alone in seeing a paradox in everyone doing well in classes, but very few doing well in enough classes to graduate? It’s like saying everyone has exactly $45.03 in their pocket, but almost nobody can pay a bill for $20.01 with exact change.
We have many thousands of Fiefdoms for Undergraduate Success in this country, filled with Ph.D.-holding administrators with degrees in Getting Kids to Get Degrees, but none of them have figured out there’s a problem here. Hmm, it’s rather like schools with Diversity Vice-Presidents tend to have more diversity related riots.
Perhaps I’ll talk about why this paradox exists later, but for now, the point is when there’s a graduating senior, a student with a real chance of actually graduating, admin is pretty motivated to get it done.
So, if it’s just one course causing a problem, you better believe as faculty you’re going to have multiple deans on your case about giving that student a break, because many schools actually have a deans/graduating student ratio greater than 1.
Back to the story, which is all too common in higher ed:
Johnny subsequently exploded into a diatribe of electronic threats, including a promise to sue and a personal threat to me. The threats, although scary in today’s gun toting society and a little creepy besides, are not what haunt me. What haunts me still is what happened afterward. My department chair shielded me from the fallout, so I heard the solution after the fact. Spoiler alert: Johnny graduated along with his cohort, just as he had demanded to do.
Again, I’ve personally seen the like. I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood at graduation and seen students I know did not pass the courses required, nevertheless be handed a degree by admin.
I really want to point out, however, that this student threatened his professor, and admin rewarded the student. Again, I don’t understand, it should be very obvious that admin should be siding with the professor here. I know full well if I ever threatened admin, I’d be fired, and certainly not rewarded. Why don’t faculty get this rudimentary level of respect?
The author just glosses over this detail, but the gentle reader needs to understand: word gets around. Other students have now learned that you can graduate by making threats.
It’s a bad precedent, and further emphasizes how completely bogus those Ph.D.s in Administration are. They really should have learned the basics, here.
I grant this sort of administrative abuse/idiocy is now quite common in higher education, but I don’t think the response should be to gloss over it. The author glosses over it, but does ask a few questions:
When does it become necessary to accommodate lawn-mower parents and teacher-whispering administrators? When did it even become possible for parents and administrators to influence course outcomes? Are educators not hired to teach and assess students? When students and their families demand to speak to a supervisor, how is it feasible that they would be given the impression that deans and other administrators have any role at all in course outcomes?
These are all good questions, but miss the point by a wide margin. There is only one question here that needs asking:
If admin can just hand out grades, why should we even have faculty on campus?
I can answer the question, but I cannot do so without questioning the legitimacy of what’s going on in higher education.
I reiterate that the conditional of the question is valid, I’ve seen it with my own eyes enough times. On many campuses, the only reason faculty still exist is because accreditation demands it rather specifically. That said, most faculty are meat puppets, only able to do exactly what admin wants, no more. If accreditation allowed it, faculty would be absent from campus in short order since paying them cuts into administrative bonuses.
I’m still very concerned about how the student can threaten faculty without repercussion. It’s only a matter of time before students at this campus realize they can start threatening admin as well (we’re already seeing this at other campuses, after all).
All the shenanigans in higher education causes another question to come up often: why are degrees so expensive and viewed as valuable if they represent so little?
I’m not sure I like my answer to that question, either, but I assure the gentle reader that the student loan scam has much to do with it.