All posts by Ronald Lipsman

Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, writes about politics, culture, education, science and sports at http://ronlipsman.com. Though formally retired, he continues to teach part-time.

Is the Professoriate Committing Suicide?

Much has been written about the declining number of tenure/tenure-track faculty (TTF) when considered as a percentage of the total instructional faculty on the nation’s campuses. That percentage was likely more than 75% several decades ago; it is now in the neighborhood of 30%. (It depends upon whether one computes the percentage based on bodies or instructional hours.)

Let me review the reasons for this shift, then explain why it is a serious problem for higher education, one that I believe TTF have been complicity in creating and perpetuating.

Continue reading Is the Professoriate Committing Suicide?

‘Give Me a Better Grade—I Deserve It’

The grades I just issued in my post-calculus, differential equations course – a sophomore math offering taken mostly by engineering students—followed the usual bell-shaped curve, roughly 10% A’s, 20% B’s, 40% C’s, 20% D’s and 10% F’s. The complaints came more from the D students than from the Fs.

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Don’t Beat Up on the Faculty

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By Ron Lipsman

The essays that appear on this site are often critical of academic faculty. The criticism is frequently legitimate, as faculty are oftentimes complicit in the formulation and execution of academic policies that should garner disapproval. Alas, faculty are too often found at the forefront of efforts to: install speech constraints on the campus community; impose admission quotas based on race, gender, ethnic origin and other illegitimate grounds; and enforce a deadening group think in academic discussion that brooks no support of free market capitalism, American Exceptionalism, faith-based life or – heaven forbid – doubts about global warming. Essays in this journal bemoan the decay of American universities from bastions of individual thought devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, truth and beauty into heavily regulated job mills that are rife with propaganda and largely in the business of brainwashing its students in favor of the progressive movement’s agenda.

All true! But even so, it is still the case that the academic profession – much like the medical profession – has been subject to powerful forces that have rendered life much less rewarding for those who pursue the profession. The forces that have smacked doctors – who, until a generation or so ago, were amongst the most admired and rewarded communities in the country – are well-known. It is my purpose here to outline the lesser known assault – namely, the developments that have rendered the academic profession less pleasant and rougher to navigate than it was when I entered it more than four decades ago. Continue reading Don’t Beat Up on the Faculty

Who Runs Our Colleges– Administrators or Faculty?

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Easy question. Administrators do. Odd as it may sound today, faculties have long assumed the right and duty to set the campus agenda–to establish admission standards, control research and curriculum, run visiting speaker programs, and set the academic and professional criteria on which promotions, prizes and appointments are based.

Historically, the faculty actually did control these things, in part because it was viewed as the natural way to run a university, and partly because there were no countervailing forces to prevent it. The administrative layers that accompanied and facilitated faculty control of campuses were fairly thin. That is, the percentage of professional, full-time campus administrators was small compared to that of the faculty. Furthermore, many of them were drawn from the ranks of the faculty (to which they returned after relatively brief stints in campus administration) and so although these faculty functioned as administrators, they still thought of themselves as faculty and comported themselves accordingly.

Continue reading Who Runs Our Colleges– Administrators or Faculty?

How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

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Professors with tenure have lifetime appointments that can only be revoked after some egregious transgression, summarized by such formal labels as moral turpitude, gross negligence or dereliction of duty. In effect, the only tenured professors who get the sack are those who have robbed a bank, raped a co-ed or pistol-whipped a colleague.

Why would a university agree to make an appointment that so severely restricts its ability to terminate an underperforming or incompetent employee?  We all know the historic reason: faculty need to be free to pursue controversial theories, novel ideas and unexplored terrain. Then why is the tenure system under attack? Here are some reasons:

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The Coming Decline of the Academic Left

indoctrination.jpgIt is no secret that what passes for an education at most of the nation’s colleges and universities is suspiciously akin to indoctrination. An asterisk: With the exception of a few areas–specifically, climate and the environment, certain fields within biology and medicine, history of science and the interaction between science and public policy–the rot that infects the rest of academia has been averted in science and engineering schools. A student who seeks a higher education in the unsullied areas of science and engineering can obtain truly the finest technical education that can be found on our planet at innumerable universities throughout the United States.

But when surveying the remaining disciplines in academia, as well as
the administrative structures that direct the nation’s academic
enterprise, one can say that today’s students are subject there to an
unsubtle, mind-numbing, conformist indoctrination. Numerous polls
conducted in humanities and social sciences departments–at elite, state and minor universities–reveal a stunning skew between liberals
and conservatives at least as distorted as 90%-10%. The inherent bias
spills over into classroom presentations, selection of curricula, and
grading. Moreover, it has been thus for at least two generations.

Continue reading The Coming Decline of the Academic Left