Wednesday, January 10, 2007

But what is to be done?

As I prepare to head back to Shepherd U this afternoon for the start of the spring semester, I thought it would be interesting to post some excerpts from Victor David Hanson on the state of the modern American university. As per usual, this article comes via Instapundit:

I was thinking of all this the other day, remembering the Larry
Summers fiasco, eighty-eight of the Duke faculty weighing in through a
public letter against their own students unjustly accused, the Ward
Churchill mess, and the assorted outbursts of professors since 9/11.

We should at least insist on a little accountability from this
increasingly medieval institution. After teaching some twenty years in
the university and writing about its endemic problems, I keep asking
myself the same questions.

I think Hanson makes a particularly strong point here. There really is no accountability for a tenured college professor. Oh sure, the administration at a university can insist on reviewing a tenured professor but, as we have seen with Ward Churchill, even when a tenured prof. does something disagreeable, there is very little that can be done. Considering the amount of government waste administred by teh federal government for public education, government intervention does not seem to be the way to go. But something must be done.

He continues:

Why? Why? Why?

Why does tuition continue to rise beyond the rate of inflation?

Why does the faculty castigate the free enterprise system that its
own development officers court to ensure competitive faculty
compensation? After all, their much praised socialism ensures
under-funded universities, as we see in Europe where the once great
institutions of higher learning have slipped badly and lack the
resources of a Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Texas, or Berkeley.

Why do such vocal egalitarians stay mum, when part-time faculty and
graduate students often teach classes for a fraction of professors’
pay, in a hierarchical system of exploitation that even the much
maligned Wal-Mart would never get away with?

Why do professors insist after six years on life-long tenure—when
everyone from garbage collectors to lawyers and doctors do not enjoy
such insulation from both the market and accountability about job
performance? If it is for the promise of “academic freedom” and
“intellectual diversity” then the resulting institutionalized
uniformity and mediocrity were not worth the cost. Compare the lopsided
Academic Senate votes about issues extraneous to the operation of the
university from gay marriage to the war in Iraq. There are usually
reminiscent of plebiscites in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Castro’s Cuba
with majorities of 90-100%.

Why when academia is so critical of other American institutions,
from the Republican party and corporations to churches and the
military, does it ignore its own colossal failures? The level of
knowledge of the today’s graduate is the stuff of jokes, exactly what
one would expect once a common shared instruction in science, history,
literature, languages, and mathematics largely disappeared, replaced by
a General Education potpourri of specialized classes in gender, race,
class, and politics masquerading as knowledge-based?

Here, again, I have to agree. I have had more in my own classes about gender and race equality than I have about anything I really need to know. Racial equality should be saved for Civil Rights classes and after-class workshops, not the core around which an education class is built. I have said before that as I approach the finish line (just over a year left before completing my Secondary Ed: Social Studies degree) I don't feel that i have learned much. Oh there are exceptions--such as my Modern European History class I had last year--but for the most part the "knowledge" I have 'gained' as been based on either rout memorization of facts that slipped away upon completing the unit examination OR on the spouting of ideological theories about equality and race/gender relations in education. Seldom have I struggled with theory or with putting together any sort of orginal research. Instead, I memorize the facts or regurgitate the B.S. put forth by professors attempting to advance their own agenda.

All these thoughts I think explain the tragic-comic position of
today’s university presidents who Janus-like must talk like normal
humans when courting alumni donors only to assume alien characteristics
when dealing with their often lunatic faculty. I noticed once that UC
Berkeley administrators always talked about a beloved “Cal” to their
alumni constituents, but always “Berkeley” to their grim-faced faculty,
as if there were two different campuses. And, of course, there were—the
real tragic one of the present, and the idealized lost one of the past.

And there certainly are two universities: one that the donors and parents/prospective students see. This university is the one of higher education, cultural enrichment and of cutting edge knowledge which parents, students and donors would be proud to be affiliated with. Behind the scenese, though, is a university of elitism and bottom lines. The professors, who see themselves as "intellectuals" and therefore above the "common people" seem to believe they are above and beyond any accountability called for by anybody from outside the ranks of teh university system. Simotaneously, the administration--even as its faculty calls for socialistic revolution in the government--operates teh university as a big coorporation similar to one which its staff so detests. The administrations sole concern lies not with the best interests of the students, but instead with the bottom line: "how much money are we making anyway?"

Still, even with all these vary valid points made, Hanson fails to make any recommendations for improvement. I have some ideas, but I'll save those for another time...

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