Sunday, June 30, 2013


One Last Joke of Accreditation


     In previous essays I’ve shown that accreditation, the lone protector against students wasting piles of loan money on bogus education, is a joke on many levels, but in all cases so far the punchline revolves around the self-reporting of accreditation. To get accreditation, institutions investigate themselves, accrediting bodies do no serious verification of anything that goes on at the institutions they legitimize. If accreditation involved non-laughable investigation, much of the hysterical fraud that goes on in education could not happen.

     The last joke relies upon something different than the usual self-investigation knee-slapper. It involves faculty control over what goes on in a course. Allow me to quote directly from SACS’ Principles of Accreditation, but similar language is in all accreditation requirements:


3.4.10 The institution places primary responsibility for the content, quality, and effectiveness of the curriculum with its faculty.


     This is part of academic freedom, and it sure looks like the faculty control what goes on in the classroom. From this, one might believe that faculty are responsible for the fraud that is much of today’s higher education. Faculty totally have their part in the fraud (I’ll get to that later) but not from this clause. Faculty control what’s in the course, it’s true…but administrators control the courses offered.



                        “This course is bogus.”

                        “There’s no content here.”

                        “How are we supposed to spend 16 weeks on a course with only 4 weeks of material?”

--Faculty responses to a highly gutted mathematics course introduced by administration. Nonetheless, the course was forcibly approved, as a small minority of faculty were willing to teach it, for bonus considerations.

     Courses that challenge students are courses that don’t have 100% passing rates (i.e., don’t have 100% retention), and thus are inferior in administrative eyes to easier courses. So, easy courses get offered—faculty has “control” provided the course has no content.

      Administration isn’t merely motivated to only offer easy material,  money is another factor. This was particularly glaring recently when we gutted our chemistry and computer offerings. See, computer skills are in high demand, and it’s really hard to find someone with a graduate degree in computer science AND willing to work for the low wages of college faculty—someone with that kind of degree can make twice as much or more working in the real world (but still make far less than an administrator, incidentally). So, rather than pay a market price, the computer courses are killed.  Snowden scored a $100,000 a year job because of his computer skills (and had no degree), and the want ads are perpetually filled with positions for people with computer skills…but administrators see no reason to “serve the community” by paying a fair price for computer teachers—it would cut into their own salaries, after all. Similarly, the chemical plants in the area are forced to recruit overseas, making it tough to get skilled teachers to offer serious courses that would create local graduates with the skills needed.

     On the other hand, it’s easy to find otherwise completely unemployable folks with advanced degrees in Feminism, Gender Studies, Sexual Deviancy, or the like, so those courses are always on offer.  The less useful the skill or knowledge, the more likely it’ll be offered. Colleges won’t teach real marketable skills, and instead teach stuff of negligible value in the real world, because the latter is much cheaper to hire teachers for. Faculty control what goes on in the course, provided the course is Sexual Deviancy.  I can’t make this stuff up.

     How is it a puzzle that so many college graduates are unemployable?

     Faculty control what’s in the courses, but administration controls the course offerings. Administration also controls the faculty. Most folks think tenure protects faculty but…no, just no.


     “…the French Education Major and the French Major Programs were to be discontinued and the three tenured faculty members in French were to be fired….”

     ---SLU closed down the department, but offered to rehire the tenured faculty at reduced pay (and keeping a current French instructor), because there still were courses being offered. If you can fire tenured faculty and rehire them at reduced pay while keeping lower-seniority teachers, what exactly is tenure for?


     As the above example shows, tenure is basically meaningless. I personally have issues with the concept of “guaranteed job for life,” but outside of administration, tenure is a rarity nowadays. At one 50-year-old institution I taught at with over 25,000 students, our whole department had a single tenured faculty member, who tried hard to keep some sort of standards; administration harassed, and harassed, and harassed him until he took early retirement. Faculty with tenure have no real protection from what’s going on in higher education, they’re too small a minority.


     “Tenure? We won’t have that here.”

---administrative plan for tenure at my current institution.


     Many reports cite tenure as a cause of the expense of higher education, but that’s just plain silly. Tenure is dead. In 1975, most college instructors either had tenure, or were on the narrow “tenure track” (it takes years and years to get tenure in higher education, and it’s never a sure thing). Nowadays only a minority either have tenure, or, more likely, are in a position where there’s a chance they might get tenure, someday…considering tuition’s skyrocketing coincides with tenure’s demise, that’s a case that removing tenure is increasing the cost of higher education. There's not a causal relation between the two (both are symptoms of the same thing), but the fact remains: tenure has nothing to do with rising tuition.

      The reason for the end of tenure track positions is obvious: tenured faculty can’t be as easily controlled and threatened by administration, and administration determines if tenure will even be possible.


     As of 2009, 27 percent of instructors were either full-time or on the tenure track to become full-time professors. The remainder were adjunct or part-time professors.

     --Adjunct vs Full Time Professor, Houston Chronicle. “Full-time” doesn’t necessarily mean tenure, it just means a full time employee, little different than a full time McDonald’s employee, not nearly as good as tenure.


     The majority of college courses (what the tuition is literally paying for) are taught by extremely low paid adjuncts and teaching assistants, so low paid that many of them qualify for welfare and food stamps. Just how evil do you need to be to talk kids into taking out massive loans for education, telling them degrees are the path to a better life, while simultaneously paying highly educated people so little they qualify for food stamps? Ask an administrator, he must know.

      These low paid adjuncts are so desperate for their jobs that they’re going to do whatever administration tells them to do. If they don’t, they’ll be quickly fired and replaced, which is much easier to do to an adjunct than a full-time employee.


Adjunct No Longer, Jill Biden Earned $82,022 as a Community-College Professor in 2011

--Chronicle of Higher Education. Jill Biden is the wife of the vice-president, that pay is well above average even at her college, and her course load is about half the usual for a community college. Administrators can obviously hire permanent faculty and pay well when they feel like it.

     Faculty control what goes on in the classroom, but the joke is administration has both hands firmly around the throat of faculty, and can fire whoever they want when they want. Administration also has complete control over the hiring, as the above example shows, but allow me to provide some personal anecdotes.

     In the late 80s, the math faculty needed to hire someone. As the math faculty interviewed candidates, administration had a requirement: any female or minority candidate that was rejected needed to have an additional page of information supplied, justifying the rejection. That’s how it was done back then…admin asks for what was necessary to avoid a lawsuit, but the teachers of the subject got to identify who could teach the subject.

     Now? Yes, there’s a faculty committee, but the committee members don’t necessarily know the subject they’re hiring for. The committee interviews candidates, gives recommendations, then administrations hires whoever they want anyway. One year, the candidate that the committee agreed unanimously was the worst possible choice (of the 5 administration allowed us to look at) was nevertheless hired. Administration said the other four candidates turned down the offer.

     The guy admin hired didn’t work out--endless shouting matches with students, no surprise since he lost his temper during the job interview (we were unanimous for a reason…). So, hiring again next year, three of the previous candidates re-applied--one said explicitly that he was never offered a job. A few years after that, all pretense was abandoned when two more faculty were hired, they didn’t even have credentials to teach the courses they were hired for (admin needed to hire immediately or else they wouldn’t be able to hire later). So now much of the department can’t teach most of the courses we offer, and are questionable in teaching the remainder. Again, I can’t make this stuff up.

      Accredited schools allow their faculty control of what material is taught in the classroom; this is a joke, since administration have control of the faculty and the courses; if faculty don’t teach what admin wants, they’ll be removed in short order. Is this really academic freedom?

Think about it.








  1. While I was teaching, course content was determined by the department administrators. This was made possible in part by having an advisory committee hand-picked by the head and making sure that its members were people would tell him what he wanted to hear. Any relation between the advice he received and what actually went on the real world was purely accidental.

    When I started my teaching job, new staff were initially under contract for 2 years before being granted permanent status. Who was made permanent and when was at the discretion of the head (I remember one colleague who was made permanent after 8 months, and that was because the DH liked him).

    Shortly before I quit, though, new teaching staff were hired on a contractual basis only. Permanent status was a thing of the past--institutional flexibility or some such thing.

    However, permanent status wasn't necessarily that, either. I made some enemies in my department and, soon after I was made permanent, one of them (who had become assistant DH) started harassing and bullying me. His objective was to get rid of me, though he never stated why. (There was ample evidence that it was a personal matter.) The last head soon started his own campaign against me.

    This went on for years until I finally decided I could afford to leave, which I did under terms that I dictated.

    I found I couldn't count on the support of our staff association. Most of its presidents collaborated with the institution's administrators rather than standing up for the staff. (Something about not rocking the boat, I think.) Only one president stuck up for me in my dispute but she was hounded out of office due to internal association politics.

    That place was a nut farm. I'm amazed I lasted as long as I did without going bonkers.

  2. It's funny how often my colleagues use phrases like "nut farm" to describe higher education.

    It's not really that admin control content's that if you have no content, admin is happy. You'll still need to put on your syllabus that you have a real course, but as long as students don't complain, it's fine with admin if you don't do anything at all. On the other hand, if you actually do the job you claim you're doing on your syllabus? That's a problem, and you run the risk of student complaints.

    Decades ago, this didn't fly, because all coursework built on prior coursework. But now most degrees (even graduate degrees) are just isolated collections of random chapters of books...there, literally, is no expectation that a student coming into a 4000 level course will know more than a student coming into a 1000 level course. It's why books like Academically Adrift can show that around half of college graduates get nothing from their 6 years of college (an impressive feat, when you consider that simply living as an adult for 6 years should have shown some gains).

    Lots of faculty have done the math, and decided "educating" need not be a part of education now. Admin concurs and encourages this attitude.