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Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's Wrong With the American University

An easier question is "What isn't wrong with it?" Read the full article in the Atlantic Monthly.


Well, there are two ways to pick a college. One is to go to a prestigious college, and when you graduate the world will know you went to Princeton or Stanford. It doesn't matter what happened in the classroom as long as you have that brand behind you. Claudia and I were up at Harvard talking to students, and they said they get nothing from their classes, but that doesn't matter. They're smart already—they can breeze through college. The point is that they're going to be Harvard people when they come out.
The problem is that there are just too many publications and too many people publishing. This is true even in the hard sciences. If there's a research project on genetics in a lab, they will take certain findings and break them into eight different articles just so each researcher can get more stuff on his or her resume.
Here's what happens. Academics typically don't get tenured until the age of 40. This means that from their years as graduate students and then assistant professors, from age 25 through 38 or 39, they have to toe the line. They have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can't be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We've seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don't change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they've been trained to follow. What bothers us, too, is that over 300,000 professors have it. That's a tremendous number. What that means is these people never leave.

"Good teaching can't be quantified at the college level." OR CAN THEY?
Using Student Evaluations, AFTER graduation, simply ask all students for anonymous feedback before they can get their diploma. "Which of your teachers actually taught? or did you teach yourself?"

I'm not your traditional student, but when I did get to the University, thinking I was paying all that money for access to the best minds and quality education, I found the teaching worse than the Community Colleges, and that access was denied to the quality professors unless you proved yourself worthy of their audience. The only real difference was the higher intelligence of the students (because they had been screened) and we ended up teaching ourselves. Thus it has always been, thus it will always be.
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