Friday, September 15, 2017

Using Faculty As Muscle


By Professor Doom

     In times past, faculty interacted with (undergraduate) students in two ways. The most common way was in the classroom, and we still have that.

      The other way has rather disappeared, although it used to be the very first significant interaction between students and faculty: advisors. Before a student could register for classes, he had to go to a faculty advisor, who would review what classes the student had already taken, what the student needed to graduate, and then advise the student what classes to take next. The student couldn’t even register for classes until he had a signature from the advisor approving the schedule. Faculty served well in this capacity—we’ve all gone through higher education, have devoted our lives to education, and so we know quite well what needs to be done to get through the system. Nowadays professional administrators with weird, non-academic Ph.D.s “advise” students, quite often to their detriment.

       Now, I grant this was long before computers were everywhere, and the “old days” also involved long, long, lines of students waiting to sign up for their classes, unlike today where everyone just signs in online and gets their courses in a few seconds. Not all change is bad.

     Faculty advising is absent from many campuses now, so there’s no guidance towards getting a degree. Students just sign up for whatever—it’s another factor in why we can have average course grades of A-, while still only a minute minority of students graduate on time.

      I can’t help but suspect getting rid of faculty advising was approved by admin because it helps so much with keeping students on campus. The whole business model of college, especially the fake community colleges littering the educational landscape, is to trap students on campus until the money runs out, then toss them…give ‘em good grades all you want, just don’t let them graduate.

      I digress, but the fact remains Admin doesn’t want faculty helping students. Admin sure doesn’t mind using faculty for something requiring very little knowledge of education: move-in day.

     Move-in day is a nasty day on a university campus, it’s when the students (freshmen, mostly) all move into their dorms. Again, in times past, this meant a few hundred, a thousand perhaps, students would show up on the same day, flooding the local streets. Now that many of our campuses have grown to ridiculous size, ten thousand or more students might show up on the same hour, causing traffic jams miles away from campus.

     We have tons of administrators but…they could always use more help. So they ask faculty to show up on move-in day and help carry boxes. I see I’m not the only one who wonders if carrying boxes is really the best way academics can help out students:



     Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against volunteering, and I’ve even done my share of this (because, even though it’s an inferior way to do it, it’s still helping students). Of course, back then I was seeing a significant number of the incoming students on move-in day, so my help was relevant, even if I had some doubts. Now with swarms of students, it’s mostly pack-mule work, there’s no time for interaction, the odds are 1000 to 1 any student I help will ever take a class with me, and so (along with advancing age) I have reason to generally pass on what administration tries to sell me as an “opportunity.”

      The above author points out some other reasons why we should reconsider what we’re using our scholars for:

“It’s not just that the heat index is 112 in the shade here in South Carolina, or that I get the occasional twinge in my lower back at age 47, or that I recently had surgery…”
“…this ain’t summer camp. And faculty members aren’t managing a bed-and-breakfast, where the responsibility is to help new guests shlep in their worldly possessions. Oh, but maybe that’s what this is turning into, since, after all, come April, we’ll get the emails asking us to come cook and serve pancakes at 9 p.m. to hungry and stressed students before finals week…”


     Noting that higher education is devoting ever more time to student as customer initiatives, the author points out how much the dynamic on campus has changed. We no longer attract students primarily interested in education. Instead our typical incoming freshman is here for the checks, is here for the “place to go after high school,” and is far more likely to take these gestures of aid by faculty as no different than a waiter bringing you water in a restaurant, or the bellhop taking your baggage at a hotel.

      Like me, the author reminisces of what higher education used to be and wonders at the difference between student’s first interaction with faculty then and now:

Twenty-nine years ago, my parents helped me move into a dorm at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Some resident assistants and upperclassmen were helping to direct the flow of traffic -- the cars, the people and the dollies of stuff. Back then, class registration happened in person -- you had to run around that enormous campus to get signatures and scramble for desired classes and professors. When I got a seat in an extremely popular class, I felt like I had gotten backstage passes to hear a rock star…


     Bottom line, students are supposed to be coming to campus to learn from the finest minds, and instead see those minds lugging boxes around…it does take a bit off the magic of higher education. Showing students, on their very first day on campus, that even the faculty are there to serve at their beck and call is probably not the way to inspire them to study and learn what we have to offer.

      Heck, I don’t even blame students for getting the wrong impression; if I went to a 5 star restaurant and saw the head chef scrubbing toilets (honorable work, to be sure), I might have doubts about the eating there and probably wouldn’t be in the best frame of mind for some fancy food.

      One comment had me laugh out loud, because something very similar happened at a campus I was at, years ago:

And then the President drives up in a golf cart, carries in a single box, poses for seven PR photos, and drives off waving at parents and students alike.


     The other comments are not so one-sided, so  I can see I’m not alone in my ambivalence about faculty being used in this manner, and I can understand admin not really wanting to hire extra help for what is admittedly one busy day.

      On other hand, I still think we should bring back that advising, because, honest, if admin thinks academics are good at hauling boxes, they should see us when it comes to academics.