Tag Archives: research

ARE SCOTT WALKER’S UNIVERSITY BUDGET CUTS A WIN FOR STUDENTS?

Should college professors teach more? Specifically, should professors at public research universities devote more time to teaching undergraduates, and less to research?

In two states this, um, academic question has become a political controversy, one likely to crop up elsewhere. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican presidential candidate, has proposed a tuition freeze and budget cuts that would reduce the University of Wisconsin’s revenues by 13%. “Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work,” he said when discussing how the university could function with less money.

In North Carolina, state senator Tom McInnis, also a Republican, has introduced legislation that would require all professors in the University of North Carolina system to teach eight courses per academic year. (Tenured professors currently teach an average of five, according to the Daily Tarheel.) In a statement criticizing the reliance on graduate student teaching assistants, McInnis said, “There is no substitute for a professor in the classroom to bring out the best in our students.”

Genuine Ignorance or Spite?

Predictably, educators are livid. Walker’s proposed cuts “will absolutely savage” UW’s “infrastructure and quality of teaching and research,” one Madison history professor said. A UNC Charlotte physicist, Greg Gbur, argued the “charitable” explanation was that McInnis is motivated by “genuine ignorance” about the amount and value of professors’ work. (Another possible explanation is that he’s motivated by spite and ideology.) Slate’s Rebecca Schuman adds that mandating an eight-course teaching load would “accomplish nothing less than the wholesale obliteration of the public research institution.”

These heated reactions suggest the weakness—political, financial, and logical—of the status quo. In an open letter to McInnis, for example, Gbur goes through a detailed explanation of the time needed to teach an undergraduate course: preparation, delivery, testing, grading, office hours. His conclusion? Teaching four courses a semester would be impossible without … working 40 hours a week.

The calculation omits some details, however. For one thing, the arduous 40-hour workweek unfolds, for professors, over a less arduous 36-week work year. Throw in the lifetime employment guarantee of tenure, and most civilians paying taxes and tuition to support public universities are going to find professors’ terms of employment enviable, not exploitive.

What about ‘Adjunctification?’

Furthermore, teaching four courses a semester is not unusual in institutions primarily devoted to undergraduate education rather than research. In particular, American colleges of all types have come to assign more and more of their teaching to untenured adjunct professors hired, on a course-by-course basis, from the vast reserve army of underemployed Ph.D.’s.

Many adjuncts teach four or more courses per semester, sometimes at more than one institution, and even then struggle to pay the rent. Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State University-Pueblo historian wrote, in response to the McInnis proposal, “As long as we [tenured and tenure-track professors] accept the idea that it’s OK for our adjunct colleagues to toil away with four or more courses and no living wage, we don’t have a leg to stand upon when they inevitably try to do this to the rest of us.”

Gbur’s threat—the eight-course teaching load will force many UNC professors to “pull up roots and look for employment elsewhere”—is not credible. The existing professoriate is complicit not only in what Schuman calls the “adjunctification” of college teaching, but in the perpetuation of redundant graduate programs, which turn out doctoral recipients who have little hope of ever landing tenure-track professorships.

As a result, there is not a single faculty opening, no matter how remote the location or obscure the institution, that does not draw dozens of highly qualified applicants. (Schuman has written that 150 Ph.D.’s apply for every opening in her field, German literature.) Professors and administrators can choose to either close down or maintain unnecessary graduate programs … but they can’t go on producing an excess supply of scholars and insist that the rest of the world treat this abundant resource as if it were a scarce one.

Tuition Supports Light Loads

What about the “flagship” public research universities, like UW Madison and UNC Chapel Hill? Won’t heavier teaching loads render untenable the model created by Daniel Coit Gilman, who turned Johns Hopkins into America’s first research university almost 140 years ago by insisting that teachers make the best researchers, and researchers the best teachers? Schuman points out that the McInnis bill applies to “all” UNC professors. As a result, she says, it will compromise the work of researchers finding cures for cancer, new treatments for burn victims, or doing cutting-edge work in molecular biology and engineering.

Her parade of horribles is selective, though. There’s not a single mention of the scholarly work undertaken by professors in social science and humanities departments. This omission reveals a vulnerability: if McInnis were to change his “all” to “some,” scholars in fields where the research does not yield clear or even comprehensible benefits would struggle to demonstrate why the flourishing of life in America requires the unabated flow of tax and tuition dollars to spare professors from teaching undergraduates 40 hours a week.

Most voters, in other words, have no trouble making a distinction between curing cancer and publishing an article in the Journal for the Study of Peruvian Folk-Dancing. Even if Gilman’s research university model is crucial for the former, we are not compelled to revere the way it sustains the latter. As Megan McArdle has argued, original scholarship in many hyper-specialized liberal arts fields is valuable only to a handful of other scholars in the same field. “Basically, these people are supporting an expensive hobby with a sideline business certifying the ability of certain twenty-year olds to write in complete sentences.”

If that sideline business were a roaring success, there would be an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it argument against requiring liberal arts professors at public institutions to teach more and research less. But the business is far from successful. A survey of 400 employers conducted last year for the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that only 27% considered recent college graduates “well prepared” in the area of written communication. Similar proportions, between 24 and 29%, were impressed with graduates’ ability to analyze and solve complex problems; locate, organize, and evaluate information; think critically; and work with numbers and statistics.

On the bright side, the survey also found that solid majorities of college students about to graduate rated themselves very highly on every one of the qualities the employers found lacking. It appears that when young Americans spend several years in the presence of our professors, they end up with very little in the way of useful knowledge and skills, but a robust, unwarranted sense of entitlement. That’s a funny coincidence, one some professor should investigate during a sabbatical.


 

Does Online Education Actually Work?

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Conventional wisdom states that the future of higher education lies online. However, few studies tell us whether this is necessarily a good thing. Indeed, both the detractors and supporters of online education tend to rely on anecdotes rather than data. So a recent report by William Bowen, Matthew Chingos, Kelly Lack, and Thomas Nygren of Ithaka S+R, a non-profit organization devoted to furthering online education, is a welcome addition to the discussion.

The report, “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials,” summarizes the results of an experiment the team conducted to rigorously compare Interactive Learning Online (ILO), with traditional classroom-based learning (CBL). Bowen et. al. randomly assigned students wanting to take introductory statistics into two groups. The first enrolled in a traditional classroom-based course, while the second took a prototype ILO course developed at Carnegie Mellon University and met face-to-face once a week. Both groups were subsequently tested for their mastery of the material.  

The study found that there was no statistically significant difference in outcomes for students in their sample overall, and none for any particular subgroup (by gender, ethnicity, language spoken at home, year in college, or income level). It appears that students learned just as well from ILO as from CBL. When you consider how inexpensive ILO is (or is likely to be in the future) compared to CBL, this is a major finding. If confirmed, it means that ILO is likely to be far more productive.

Continue reading Does Online Education Actually Work?

Look What they’ve Done to U.S. History

If you doubt that leftist activists now dominate the study and teaching of U.S. history, take a look at the program for the 2013 American Historical Association conference in New Orleans. The pattern  is similar to the University of Michigan’s history department, discussed here yesterday—a heavy emphasis on race, class, and gender, with more “traditional” topics frequently reconfigured to conform to the dominant paradigm.

Of the approximately 70 AHA panels devoted to U.S. history, a few unintentionally confirm the critique of the academy as a hotbed of left-leaning political activism. On a panel entitled “Using Oral History for Social Justice Activism,” scholars look at their partnership with “activists” seeking to undermine “the dominant historical narrative.” Yet the “narrative” that these social justice activists pursue seems to conform to, rather than undermine, the academic status quo—Chicano activists, anti-war activists “working in G.I. Coffee houses,” and “Shirley Chisholm’s best friend, secretary and hairdresser.” It’s hard to imagine much opposition in the contemporary academy to exploring the history of any type of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups—or certainly anti-war activists.

Continue reading Look What they’ve Done to U.S. History

Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

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The
ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
Jones
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Continue reading Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

How ‘Money Men’ Hijacked a Famous College

dartmouth.jpgCrossing the snow-covered Dartmouth green one night, I stopped, looked around, and asked, “Who owns this place, and by what right?” More than half a century later, I have still not resolved a complete answer to that question. But I can give you my short-form response: A small group of willful people, mostly money men disdainful of undergraduate education, have stacked the board of trustees, made an unannounced decision to convert a liberal arts college into a major research university, and “earned” themselves huge commissions on sales of their own securities to the college’s endowment while keeping details of the transactions secret.

A note on the history: Most of America’s early colleges were founded
by church denominations, whose control gradually weakened as costs and
instructional quality rose. The pivotal stage in this history occurred
in the decades following the Civil War, when alumni, having assumed the
major burden of support, began asserting claims for seats on the board
of trustees. Dartmouth alumni battled longest and won the most
significant concessions in 1891. Responsibility for the college was to
be vested in each and every alumnus; excepting the ex officio members
(the state’s governor and the college president), half the trustees
would thereafter be elected directly by the alumni body, and the other
half by the entire board.

Continue reading How ‘Money Men’ Hijacked a Famous College

What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity

Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

Climategate, both 1 and 2, are textbook cases of gross
lapses in professional ethics and scientific malfeasance.  To understand
why, one must first understand what science is and how it is supposed to
operate. Science is the noble pursuit of knowledge through observation, testing
and experimentation.  Scientists attempt to explain, describe and/or
predict the implications of phenomena through the use of the scientific
method.

Continue reading What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity

Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

teaching the Constitution.jpgWhen I first began teaching political science in the late
1960s I would routinely assign articles from top professional journals to
undergraduates. This is now impossible–without exception, they are
incomprehensible, overflowing with often needless statistical complexity. The
parallel is not the hard sciences where mathematics replaced philosophical
speculation. If anything, these articles reflect a trivialized research agenda.
Consider, for example, an August 2011 American Political Science Review essay
asking whether democratic electorates chose better educated leaders, a
question, it would seem, hardly requires mathematical complexity. To quote from
one key passage:

Continue reading Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

Academic Articles–Expensive and Mostly Unread

At research universities and many liberal arts colleges,
too, it is universally assumed that research is an unadulterated good. 
Research keeps professors fresh in their fields, makes them better teachers,
and raises intellectual standards for departments.  Who would
disagree?

In conversations about research in my world of the humanities,
though, one doesn’t often hear about one particular aspect of research: its
financial cost.  Yes, we hear about the costs to undergraduates when their
research professors are too busy doing research to hold regular office hours,
and we note the human cost of hiring adjuncts to teach freshman courses (the
costs of morale and exploitation), but I have never seen anybody try to
attach a dollar figure to the books and articles humanities professors produce
every year.

So how much does a research article cost to produce?

Continue reading Academic Articles–Expensive and Mostly Unread

‘Cutthroat Admissions’ at Elite Colleges?

The Chronicle Review is notorious for publishing outlandish opinion pieces more in the nature of white-hot rants than well-reasoned essays. A good case in point is Professor John Quiggin’s “A Vicious Duo” (September 16 – subscriber site), is one of the most overwrought pieces I’ve read there.

Quiggin, who teaches economics at the University of Queensland in Australia, contends that America is beset by the twin problems of rising inequality of income and “cutthroat admissions” at our elite colleges and universities. That combination allegedly leads to a “self-sustaining oligarchy.” Whatever superficial plausibility his argument might have — especially for people like himself who live outside the United States — vanishes when you comprehend the following points.

Continue reading ‘Cutthroat Admissions’ at Elite Colleges?

Bowdoin’s History

The NAS has announced that it is undertaking an intriguing case study examining “the curriculum, student activities, and campus values of Bowdoin College as a case study to learn what a contemporary liberal arts college education consists of,” with the hopes of creating “a template for how such a rigorous study could be undertaken at other liberal arts colleges and universities.”

The project’s announcement prompted me to take a look at Bowdoin’s history department. Admittedly, I do so from a biased perspective–I’m a resident of Maine, and very much recognize and admire Bowdoin’s contribution to the development of my state. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the college’s graduates dominated Maine politics, economics, and culture; the state’s two most recent towering political figures (former senators George Mitchell and Bill Cohen) are Bowdoin alums. Until fairly recently, at least, Bowdoin saw as one of its central goals not merely providing a high-quality liberal arts education but also training the next generation of Maine leaders. That commitment appears to have diminished, or vanished entirely.

Continue reading Bowdoin’s History

Do We Really Want Professors to Be Productive?

charlie-chaplin.jpgAccountability is all the rage in today’s education reform industry and at the university level, “productivity” typically means upping scholarly publishing.  The allure is simple–who can resist prodding lolling-about professors to generate more knowledge?  Unfortunately, putting the thumbscrews on idle faculty will only push universities farther to the left.  Better to pay professors for silence.

When I began my academic career at Cornell University in 1969 publications were important but production was not yet industrialized.  Quality–not volume–was overriding and it was tolerable that some senior faculty had published almost nothing for decades.  By the time I retired in 2002 from the University of Illinois-Urbana, however, scholarly publication there and elsewhere often mimicked Soviet-style manufacturing.  Every year we received detailed annual report forms with multiple categories to list every last publication, all categorized according to supposed prestige rankings, as the basis for salary increases and promotion.  Volume (“productivity”) was now deep in the academic DNA, even at schools hardly famous for original research.

Continue reading Do We Really Want Professors to Be Productive?

‘Yes, Some Teachers Do Very Little’

A huge brouhaha has erupted over the release and interpretation of data about the faculty of the University of Texas, centering on whether a relatively few individuals are doing most of the teaching at the system’s flagship institution, UT-Austin. Two reports drew most of the fire, one by my organization, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), the other by Rick O’Donnell, a recently fired aide to the system.

The CCAP bottom line: it seems like a relatively small portion of the over 4,000 persons teaching on the Austin campus shoulder a huge percent of teaching burden (especially in relation to the costs they incur to the University) and an even smaller group garners the bulk of the outside research funds viewed as critical to the maintenance of the research mission. This means a large group of faculty members do moderate amounts of teaching and not much funded-research.

Our report said preliminary data “strongly suggest that the state of Texas could move towards making college more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on teaching. Looking only at the UT Austin campus, if the 80 percent of the faculty with the lowest teaching loads were to teach just half as much as the 20 percent with the highest loads, and if the savings were dedicated to tuition reduction, tuition could be cut by more than half ….”

Continue reading ‘Yes, Some Teachers Do Very Little’

How Productive Do Professors Have to Be?

800px-Professors.JPGThe firing of a controversial aide to the University of Texas system has triggered a full-blown debate over the productivity of teachers and whether “star” professors who teach few classes are really worth the cost to the public. Rick O’Donnell, dismissed on April 19 after only 49 days on the job as special adviser to the public university system’s regents, had argued forcefully that public universities should devote their resources to teaching undergraduates rather than academic research. On May 5, in response to a request by the UT board of regents, the University of Texas-Austin, the flagship of the 15-campus UT system, released an 821-page spreadsheet listing the names, tenure status, total compensation, and course enrollment of each of the 4,200 people with teaching responsibilities on the UT-Austin payroll.

The university cautioned that the data were preliminary and likely contained some errors. Nonetheless, acting on the presumption that the spreadsheet was generally accurate, Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, who heads the Washington-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity, quickly issued an analysis of the spreadsheet from which he drew some startling conclusions: measured by student credit hours taught (the credit value of courses multiplied by the number of students enrolled in them), the top 20 percent of faculty shoulder 50 percent of the teaching load, while the bottom 20 percent teach only 2 percent of student credit hours.

Continue reading How Productive Do Professors Have to Be?

What’s the Point of Academic Conferences?

At research universities in the United States, most departments in the humanities have a travel budget that supports professional activities for their faculty members.  Most of it goes to help professors attend academic conferences and deliver a paper to colleagues and attend sessions as an audience member as well.  For a department of 30 people, the amount may run to $50,000 or more, enough to fund at least one trip by every individual who requests support.

From what I’ve seen of the conferences, though, the amount of genuine research inquiry that is shared and remembered is negligible.  Yes, some papers are strong, but more of them are thin, half-hearted, or hastily-composed.  Those that are strong are often too dense to follow, especially when they have to share time with three other papers at the panel.  This is not to mention, moreover, those sessions that are attended by less than ten people. 

No, the main purpose of the meetings, it seems to me, is to provide academics scattered around the country but in the same general field the chance to gather and re-connect.  The actual research preparation they put in before the meeting and the research effort they expend during it are minimal. They have enough general knowledge of the panel topic to be able to listen with some understanding to the deliveries and formulate a question.  Their own papers may be part of a larger project, and the activity of composing and presenting a conference version of that part is, though helpful, often a last-minute composition to fill 12 minutes at the podium.

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Faculty Research and Student Success: A Tough Mix

The American Federation of Teachers has just issued a report that outlines the institutional conditions of “student success,” including the role of the faculty.  (The report itself is here.) 

Much of the document is predictable.  The criticism of reigning assessments of student learning and graduation rehearse familiar arguments about “one-size-fits-all” and “not-all-learning-is-measurable” and “insufficient-funding-for-authentic-assessment.”  And, of course, the document insists on putting teachers at the center of design and planning processes, with lots of government support.
 
But we shouldn’t be overly cynical about the intentions of AFT in wading into large-scale policy matters.  We need more teachers involved in the national discussion of assessment, curriculum, and retention.  Furthermore, AFT recognizes in the document that outsiders are crucial, too, even business people:
 
“Regular opportunities should be taken to obtain the views of stakeholders such as students and business representatives, disciplinary associations, civic leaders and other community organizations about the efficacy of the educational program although, in the final analysis, education decisions should be driven by educators.”
 
But there is a complicating factor to faculty involvement in student success that the document overlooks entirely.  AFT envisions teachers
• “Being available and providing proactive help to students in puzzling out the requirements of the academic program and the course subject matter”
 
• “Advising students on their career goals”
 
• “Offering early and continual feedback and formative and summative assessment of student progress” 
 
• “Participating actively in institution-wide reviews of progress in carrying out a student success agenda”
 
• “Supporting individual faculty members in attaining professional development, improving their pedagogy and technological skills, and strengthening other aspects of the faculty skill set.”
Something is missing: research/scholarship.  (The entire document mentions “research” and “scholarship” twice each time, none of them substantive mentions.)  In highlighting faculty responsibilities for student success, AFT overlooks the primary working condition of teachers employed by research universities: publish or perish.  If faculty members don’t produce (whether by bringing in research dollars or churning out publications), they don’t get promoted, garner nice annual raises, or impress colleagues anywhere else.
 
On that model, too much time with students amounts to career endangerment.  The “feedback” and “proactive help” and “advising” AFT announces must strike an assistant professor as altogether unrealistic.  “Are you kidding?” they ask.  If they don’t get that book manuscript accepted, they may be out of the profession forever.  If the grants don’t come through, their salary suffers.  Every hour spent talking with an 18-year-old about career plans is an hour lost, not gained.  
 
This is to say that all the incentives at research institutions work in the opposite direction of the AFT faculty-involvement model.  For non-research institutions, the model is worth following, but for research institutions, unless the incentives change, the heightened participation of professors won’t happen.

That Smug Article in the New York Review of Books

Last year, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus published Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids–And What We Can Do About It, a resounding broadside against campus policies and practices.  They berated the system for producing useless research, creating cushy working conditions, neglecting undergraduates, and reproducing elitism.

Hacker and Dreyfus sometimes swung their club wildly, it is true, but one had to appreciate their concern.  They had no conservative or liberal axe to grind, and no anti-academic or anti-intellectual attitudes in place.  They deeply believe that higher education has lost its way, its civic virtue, and they launched a polemic to correct it.

One might argue with their evidence and question their assumptions, of course.  Here, however, is how a recent reviewer in The New York Review of Books characterizes them: 

Continue reading That Smug Article in the New York Review of Books

What Else Do Professors Do? They Teach.

Teaching periodically reaches the public’s attention, as in a recent statement by a group of scientists about the failure of research universities to train their students to be good teachers. The New York Times ran a report on a study published in Science that led its lead researcher to contend: “I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.” This undoubtedly prompts teachers to feel more pressed to teach “to the brain.” Is learning finally “all about retrieving”? And the veiled acknowledgment that students might fare better by being tested more regularly, a staple of language learning, for example, can now be imagined as one more panacea for our cultural ADD. I do not think Professor Karpicke and his associates are off-base, I think they are tinkerers at the base of a vast cultural inheritance of teaching and learning that deserves its own acknowledgment.
When my graduate advisor, Philip Rieff wrote Fellow Teachers, which began as a lecture/conversation he conducted at Skidmore College in the early 1970s, few were prepared to read about the vocation of teaching—not about how to teach. The latter has become the ball and chain wrapped around the ankles of so many teachers. No reputable institution of higher education today is without a teaching and learning center. (Curiously at my own institution, it is called the Learning and Teaching Center, suggesting that many carts (i.e. students) are entitled to go before the horse in keeping with a consumer-driven logic that drives up the cost of everything.) Fellow Teachers marked an important point of departure in the culture wars that spread throughout many institutions, first in the American university. It had been preceded a year or so by Robert Nisbet’s equally important The Degradation of the Academic Dogma. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind upped the ante considerably, by then, already fifteen years later, but also by then, the arguments had assumed a life of their own far beyond the university as they do today.
I do not mean to disparage the craft of teaching. The Socratic Method, for example, is intended to engage students effectively in a public setting, insisting that they learn how to think on their feet. A film illustration of this made Orson Welles’s early collaborator, John Houseman, the cultural icon of teaching as Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. The film celebrated the autocratic, distant figure in authority who could drill and humiliate while teaching the law. The film’s final scene marked, however inadvertently, the end of that kind of figure. Kingsfield’s best student folds his final grade report into a paper airplane and sends it into the sea without opening it. For him the encounter with such an inspiring teacher counted more than the final grade. What more needs to be said today about how much has changed?

Continue reading What Else Do Professors Do? They Teach.

Who Pays the Hidden Cost of University Research?

Higher education in America is in financial crisis. In constant dollars, the average cost of tuition and fees at public colleges has risen almost 300 percent since 1980. Our best public research universities, like my own University of California (UC), are wracked with doubt: will they be able to continue their historic role as institutions with a vital public mission, or will they become “privatized,” demanding ever higher tuition and therefore inevitably serving a more elite clientele?
Let me note some pointed comments by citizens outside the campus. A letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle last March 9th said: “What the public college students (and their parents) in this state must understand is that the days of the taxpayers subsidizing their higher education are over, sad as that may be. …The costs at all colleges and universities have risen dramatically over the last few years (much higher than the cost-of-living-index). … Those of us in California who are taxpayers are having a difficult enough time paying our mortgages and for the education of our own children. It simply is not sustainable to expect that there will be free or substantially below-cost education provided on the backs of the state’s increasingly dwindling number of taxpayers. …”
A similar complaint is voiced in an article published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, July 5, 2010: “As California faces an unprecedented budget crisis, students at California colleges have been asked to pay a greater share of the total cost of their education, most of which is still borne by taxpayers. …[T]axpayers pay 60-70% of the cost of … UC students’ education, without even counting financial aid.”

Continue reading Who Pays the Hidden Cost of University Research?

Prof. Espenshade Runs From His Own Research

On July 12th Russell Nieli reminded readers of Minding the Campus what critics of racial preference policies (widely known by the euphemism “affirmative action”) have long known — that when university administrators talk about “diversity,” what they really mean is blacks … and to a lesser degree Hispanics. “Most elite universities,” he pointed out,

seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to the numbers of born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, lower-middle-class Catholics, working class “white ethnics,” social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce.

Continue reading Prof. Espenshade Runs From His Own Research

Why the Professor Still Can’t Teach

In 1977 the great mathematician and teacher Morris Kline published an indictment of academe in a book aptly called Why the Professor Can’t Teach. Kline not only blamed “the overemphasis on research” as the “prime culprit” for the poor quality of undergraduate education, he also blamed professors—especially tenured professors—for ignoring their “moral obligations to students” and offering courses “that reflect their own values at the expense of student needs and interests.” Little has changed in three decades.
The open secret in the profession remains that professors are paid to publish, not to teach. Most consider teaching a distraction from their research, which is what they really care about, while administrators keep pressuring faculty to publish, even at liberal arts colleges, and increasingly at community colleges, where teaching is supposed to be the most important thing they do. Never mind that there is no evidence that professors who are doing research are better undergraduate teachers because of it, according to Burton A. Weisbrod, economics professor at Northwestern University (also see Mission and Money, 2008). Never mind that in 2006 the magazine Teen Talk noted most students choose their particular institution based on the availability or strength of their preferred major, the ability to get a good job or accepted into a good graduate school, and whether faculty are good teachers or mentors—not the numbers of books or articles they published. Of course publish or perish is not new (“publish, and the students perish,” Kline quipped), but until we stop grumbling, and actually do something about it, liberal education will continue its gradual demise.
But that’s only part of the problem. The other part is that most graduate students and new college professors are not prepared to teach. Postsecondary teaching is the only profession I know of for which no formal training is required—not even the expectation that one must be prepared. True, most institutions of higher education—even community colleges—expect their faculty to have PhDs, but that only proves the absurdity of the current situation. The PhD is a research degree whose recipients are highly trained specialists. Most colleges and universities are teaching institutions, despite what faculty and administrators like to maintain. Yet the myth persists that if a person has a PhD, he or she can teach. This is nonsense, of course. And most people know it, including the administrators of colleges and universities who fund the Centers for Teaching Excellence (or something like them). These are typically directed by tenured faculty whose job it is to promote the latest “scholarship of teaching and learning” through seminars, workshops, and discussion groups.

Continue reading Why the Professor Still Can’t Teach

Let’s Pretend This Is Research

The “Cry Wolf” project, launched by a group of academics, plans to pay for research papers useful for liberal causes. That sounds harmless, but as KC Johnson argued in his posts here on the project, it boils down to commissioning scholarly work meant to reach a pre-determined result. Before any evidence is gathered, both the sponsors and the paid researchers know how these efforts are going to come out.
Advocacy lightly disguised as scholarship is a continuing problem on campus and at academic meetings. Robert Holland, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, has a fascinating letter on the subject in the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes about the American Education Research Association. AERA is supposed to be politically neutral but predictably comes down on the left side of contested political issues, strongly opposing, for example, Arizona’s anti-illegal-immigration law. (It says, cryptically, that Arizona’s “policy, on the face of it, does not take into consideration sustained sound bodies of science.”) In clearer English, it has no plans for objective research on the effects of the measure, but instead promises to “disseminate research on the negative effects of the law.”
Holland’s letter points out the politicized nature of AERA’s annual meeting: it had 136 sessions on “social justice,” 96 on “diversity,” 52 on “critical race theory,” and 28 on “feminist theory.” This list pretty much exhausts the political obsessions of the cultural left. But it hasn’t much to do with real educational research.

The Wolfers and Bastardizing Academic Freedom

Academic freedom carries with it rights as well as responsibilities. The concept derives from the belief that academics, because of specialized training in their subject matter, have earned the right to teach their areas of expertise and to follow their research questions as the evidence dictates—free from political pressure from the government. Indeed, only through a guarantee of such freedom can academics engage in a search for truth.

A corresponding responsibility, of course, is that academics will actually seek to pursue the truth. If professors’ research methods imitate the likes of James Carville or Karl Rove, then what purpose exists to safeguard the academy from the government? Indeed, at public universities, if the professoriate functions as partisan hacks, selectively plucking items to advance a political agenda, what’s to stop legislative demands that the faculty mirror the partisan breakdown of the state, to ensure proportionate representation to all political viewpoints?

A newly announced project called “Crying Wolf,” organized out of the Center on Policy Initiatives, seems blithely unconcerned with any requirements associated with academic freedom. As John has noted, project coordinators Peter Dreier (a distinguished professor of politics at Occidental College), Nelson Lichtenstein (a historian of 20th century U.S. history at UC Santa Barbara who directs the university’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy), and Donald Cohen, CPI executive director, are recruiting professors and graduate students (in “history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy”) to perform “paid academic research” that can “serve in the battle with conservative ideas.”

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Another Dubious Academic Project?

The indispensable Erin O’Connor, writing this morning on her web site, Critical Mass, discusses an astonishing memo from Peter Dreier of Occidental College and two other progressives seeking “paid academic research” that can “serve in the battle with conservative ideas.” The project, sponsored by the Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego, will pay fifty cents a word to professors and graduate students in history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy. The “Cry Wolf Project,” as it is called, lists as its coordinators, Dreier; Nelson Lichtenstein, a historian at UC Santa Barbara and Donald Cohen, executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives. The title of the project reflects the belief that conservatives control political narratives by predicting disaster if progressive policies are pursued. The briefs are supposed to be scrupulously accurate, but obviously prepared to pursue a pre-determined agenda to be spread through the mainstream media.
O’Connor writes: “Grad students can now make fifty cents a word to scramble the difference between disinterested scholarship and agenda-driven advocacy work.” She argues that the project “explicitly supports the arguments of those who would say that large swaths of academia are little more than publicly funded mechanisms for disseminating and producing an ideologically-driven world view.”
We will investigate this ethically dubious project in coming days.

Reshape Universities Because of “Stereotype Threat”?

An Inside Higher Ed article yesterday by English professor Satya P. Mohanty of Cornell on “Diversity’s Next Challenges” constructs an elaborate house of cards but then inadvertently knocks the whole thing down. The piece features, in particular, an argument suggesting that “stereotype threat”—the claim that fear of being judged by a stereotype can cause minorities to do much less well on a test than they should—requires that universities and all of society must be restructured before minorities can be expected to succeed.
Stereotype-threat research regarding test performance has been widely used and abused. But, whatever its merits, Professor Mohanty has extrapolated its claimed findings to a broader one, that the “culture of our campuses,” indeed the entire “culture of learning,” needs to be restructured with the aim of fostering racial trust. Merely admitting a diverse student body is not enough: We must “think about what our campuses feel like to those who come to learn.” Campuses must be perceived as “trustworthy” by these students. And this means that campus culture must be “more open, democratic, and genuinely attentive to the experience of different social groups.” Again, there must be a focus not only on admitting a diverse student body, but on “the campus as a learning environment for different kinds of learners.”
Professor Mohanty then plugs the forthcoming book he has co-edited , The Future of Diversity (some of the arguments that follow here are fleshed out by the book’s various authors, and the op-ed apparently endorses them). That future is important not only for the success of the university per se, but because “university campuses have a special role to play in building the future of our multicultural and diverse society.”

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Degrading The Academic Vocation

By Jonathan B. Imber
It is now nearly forty years since the sociologist Robert A. Nisbet published The Degradation of the Academic Dogma, followed two years later by Philip Rieff’s Fellow Teachers. Then in the late 1980s, Allan Bloom’s best-selling bombshell, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students took pride of place in the sublime critiques of the university. Taken together, these three books stood against a tide that could not be contained, leaving in its wake an even more emboldened organization determined to survive regardless of what it might discard as no longer relevant to its mission.
Nisbet’s principal concern was about the emergence of what Clark Kerr called the “multiversity.” He objected to the separation of research from teaching, and of teaching from research and anticipated that research might become so specialized that its teaching would crowd out the kinds of courses (and research) that could reach (and benefit) a larger number of students. He also recognized that for all the noses turned up at the professional schools (e.g., law and medicine), they succeeded for a time to bring teachers and students closely together: “Rare indeed during the two decades following the war was the law school that took to itself the kind of institute or project, the batteries of technicians and assistants, that one found in rising intensity coming out of allegedly liberal arts departments. To the present moment I dare say one is far more likely to come upon individual teaching (complete with reading of student examinations and frequent hours of consultation) and individual research in, say, the Harvard Law School than in the Harvard departments of sociology, English, and biology – much less physics and chemistry.”
The transformative seeds were already planted in post-war enthusiasms for an academic culture in which gaining grants would eventually be matched by how many “public intellectuals” a school can boast. New opportunities to escape the timeless responsibilities of teaching abound. A controversy has ensued over what is being called the “outsourcing” of grading, taken out of the hands of the instructor (and/or teaching assistants) and given to companies who employ graders in Singapore, India and Malaysia. Along with accounts of the growth of adjunct faculty hired to teach a lot for very little, students and their families, it is argued, are hardly getting their money’s worth. Editorialists at the Harvard Crimson complained that outsourcing evaluation “brings up concerns about the quality of contact that students are receiving in large classes.” Outsourcing is the wrong description for giving over this particular responsibility of teaching to anyone other than the teacher. After all, teaching assistants have been overseeing grading in large lecture courses in universities for many decades. But this oversight was in principle part of learning to teach by learning to evaluate. Of course, it is easy to view such a principle cynically and to acknowledge that graduate students seeking to unionize have been given over to another kind of class struggle that marks the end of teaching as it once was embraced and practiced.

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