Skip

Finally someone says it.
November 10, 2010 5:36 AM   Subscribe


 
After spending most of my adult life in private higher education, I've concluded that most of our faculty and administrators are unprepared for college. They may be academically ready and emotionally mature, but they don't understand what a college is or what its motives and mission are.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:43 AM on November 10, 2010 [15 favorites]


A+
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:43 AM on November 10, 2010


Wow, that's a great sales pitch. Marketing major?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:44 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wolfdog, I'll bet Mr. Merriman would agree with that reversed sentiment, especially when applied those colleges that think of themselves fundamentally as a business, and their students (or parents) as consumers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:45 AM on November 10, 2010


Wow, someone drank all the deluded-juice.
posted by fuq at 5:46 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll believe it when I see it?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:49 AM on November 10, 2010


In other news, Southwestern College has an amazing nickname for their football team.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:50 AM on November 10, 2010


Going through graduate school right now and preparing to teach freshmen courses in the next couple of years, teaching is a distraction and a time suck, not a goal or a gift. It's time that can't be spent on my own research. It's time that can't be spent doing my own work. The time I put into my (future) students is time I take away from my own goals. Teaching is a way to get funded for my graduate education, and it's a way to look more competitive when I go off and apply for a job.

This doesn't make sense to me. (Hopefully) I will be a professor. I'm there to profess, right? But I'm also there to do my own research and to get tenure and to discover new things for science. And teaching gets in the way. This rosy view of the undergraduate experience is in direct conflict with the way professors and graduate students approach their undergrad classes. The fundamental disconnect means that everyone comes away displeased. Change the tenure system. Make teaching something valuable. But don't pretend that we're all here to give each undergraduate student the best thing ever when, in many cases, it's just a half-assed powerpoint thrown together and a grudging 2 hours spent grading multiple choice exams.

(please, grad school, don't take away my funding!!!!)
posted by ChuraChura at 5:55 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's what I believed when I was a grad student intent on an academic career. I was able to maintain that belief for, oh, about the first three months of my appointment as an assistant professor.
posted by philokalia at 5:56 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


ChuraChura: This is exactly why small liberal arts schools like Southwestern don't have grad students teaching undergrads ever (presumably, I don't know their policies off-hand, but that is common at good schools). No offense to you, but grad-student-as-teacher is one of the primary ways universities act like businesses by cutting costs. I was a teacher as a grad student, and I wish I could find all of my former students and apologize to them for wasting their time and money.

Maybe this will suffice: Sorry I was such a crappy, harried, rambling mess of a professor y'all. Hopefully at least my hungover BS was more entertaining than the other rip-offs.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:05 AM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I want to be clear with you: You are not a customer here. You are something much better than that. You are not a commodity here. You are something way better than that. The reason you are not merely a customer or a commodity is that this college is not a business.

It's a nice sentiment, but not quite true. Tuition outpaces inflation because easier access to student loans and pressure on high school students to get a degree — any degree — allows schools to charge more for the same product. Colleges are very much a business.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:05 AM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, what bunch of cynics. Schools differ in their foci, no? Some are more research centered and some are more teaching centered. Some are even a successful combination of the two (and some are not so successful).
posted by foxinsocks at 6:13 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


And if you see the comments, somebody who apparently talks with God and believes in the dutiful subordination of women is also a shill for for-profit institutions. Two of my least favorite flavors, combined in a memorable mix!
posted by homerica at 6:20 AM on November 10, 2010


One really easy to way to get rid of the "consumer education" mindset would be to make college free. But this vast increase in societal wealth would come at the cost of a tiny financial burden to the top 1% of earners and that'd be socialism.
posted by DU at 6:21 AM on November 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


This doesn't make sense to me. (Hopefully) I will be a professor. I'm there to profess, right? But I'm also there to do my own research and to get tenure and to discover new things for science. And teaching gets in the way.

Doesn't make sense to me, either. And it makes me even more grateful that the professors I had didn't see us, their students, as a waste of time.
posted by rtha at 6:30 AM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was a teacher as a grad student, and I wish I could find all of my former students and apologize to them for wasting their time and money.

I was always puzzled why the undergrads had chosen to spend the same tuition as they would have spent at a place like Oberlin in order to be taught largely by clueless, if generally well-intentioned, grad students. It was as good deal for me (free grad school, subsidized by undergrads and masters students, yippee!), but I didn't always see what they were getting out of it.
posted by Forktine at 6:35 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was a teacher as a grad student, and I wish I could find all of my former students and apologize to them for wasting their time and money.

I graduated from one of those New York City prep schools that send nearly all of its students to the Ivy League - so there was nothing unusual about 3 of my friends going to Harvard. But when I think how much better teaching they would have gotten for their parents' money if they had gone to Amherst instead, I can only hope that the name on the diploma and/or the networking opportunities it enabled made up for the difference.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:42 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll believe it when I see it?

I guess I should count myself lucky then, in that I did see this in my undergraduate education. The sense that the college faculty and administration was there to help us grow and learn and become really pervaded my entire time at college. It's something that has helped shape my relationship with my own students (school, not college).
posted by bardophile at 6:46 AM on November 10, 2010


I can only hope that the name on the diploma and/or the networking opportunities it enabled made up for the difference.

It does.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:48 AM on November 10, 2010


rtha, it's probably not that they (all) didn't see you & your compatriots as a waste of time, so much as they were successfully able to hide it from you.

I don't pretend to have a solution to the problem, but having attended a community college, a state university and a private university, and having worked at that and 2 other private universities and one private college, and being married 4 years now to a woman who's taught at state colleges for ten years, it seems clear to me that:
  • Colleges are seen as businesses by their management, even when the pretend not to see them that way. (Blazecock's simple analysis of the economics is hard to argue with. The need to have money to run the school is an inescapable economic reality.)
  • Universities save money and increase their profit margin by "paying" grad students to teach. This is passed off as "exposure to cutting edge research." (Sciencevolk: This happens in liberal arts & social sciences, too, with the same rationalization.)
  • Colleges save money and increase their prifit margins by paying adjunct instructors shit wages to teach not just intro classes, but often middle- and upper-division specialty classes. (My wife taught "Creative Writing for Teachers", which was a grad-level pedagogy class, at least twice as an adjunct.)
College as philanthropy is sweet-scented horseshit, I'm afraid. Stuff like this is out there to hide the truth from us.
posted by lodurr at 6:51 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, what?

His college doesn't become a philanthropy or different from any other college just because he decides to think of it this way or decides to give a triumphant graduation speech SAYING that it is. All of the things he is saying are not true ARE true and the reverse. Nothing has changed just because of his thought.

College is not a philanthropy. it is an expensive long term investment where students are a commodity whether he likes to see it that way or not. Maybe his organization is better because of his compassion, but it isn't a free college I'm willing to bet.

Am I missing something here when I see this as horseshit?
posted by hellslinger at 6:54 AM on November 10, 2010


It does.

Harvard versus Amherst? I suppose it depends on the job; if you filter out the outliers, I think it's probably even. So if you don't plan to work for Goldman-Sachs [sic], Amherst might be the better bet.

I always tell people that it's not the school itself that's better -- what's better is: your opportunity to get an education; and the school's reputation. These are two different and not necessarily connected things.
posted by lodurr at 6:55 AM on November 10, 2010


@ChuraChura and philokalia, I was about to say, "Oh, come on, is this sock-puppetry? Please provide evidence that you were ever enrolled in a PhD program or worked as an assistant professor and published research," but then I realized that you would probably claim fear of harassment, so forget it. Yes, teaching is hard work. So is research. Two kinds of hard work together make a lot of hard work. That's the academic life. If you didn't love it, you were right to leave it.

Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, so perhaps the language of philanthropy is not too alien to their board. I wonder if the commenters on chronicle.com who are touting outcomes-oriented education and consumer-centered marketing of higher-education commodities feel that these advances should be extended to churches as well.
posted by homerica at 6:55 AM on November 10, 2010


Interesting read, and thank you for posting.

The thing is, it's not a binary distinction. There are forces driving universities toward a business model, and forces -- currently much weaker -- pushing us toward a more socialized mission. It has ever been thus, but the structure of the conflict changes in each era. As someone who has spent his entire life around (elite) academia -- I grew up a faculty brat, and have been a professor for 15 years at a major research university, you can fill in the middle -- I have a long and complex take on this issue. But it comes down to a question of what we want our society to be, and the subject cannot be debated only from within the context of higher education. Universities can exert pressure on society, but we can't transform it, even if we're all pushing in the same direction. That doesn't absolve those of us who believe in the public, communal, democratic promise of advanced education and research from continuing to hold down the fort in this generation's version of the struggle. But it does mean we have to rethink the relationship between academic disciplines and public constituencies. In a nutshell, we have to stop talking mostly amongst ourselves and orient all the research and teaching effort we can allocate toward consciously addressing real problems in the real world of our real communities, whether local or global. From within the humanities, I am observing this dawn slowly on the consciousness of my colleagues and students; I think it's more robust in the social sciences. But the current economic crisis is going to force this into the public sphere as a debate about the relevance of what we teach and study.

The other factor that can't be ignored is the pathetic state of public K-12 education. But that's another rant.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:59 AM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


ChuraChura, my goodness, what are they doing to you in that graduate program?

I am a tenured professor at an elite research university. I am an administrator. I am running several major research projects funded by grants that I have to manage on a constant basis. I have a dozen PhD advisees.

The happiest, most joyous part of my job happens in the 3 hours a week I spend in front of a room full of young undergraduates, and the several more hours a week I spend meeting individually with them to advise them on their own educations at various levels. As a department chair, they are my *primary* constituency alongside my colleagues. We are all here because they and their parents are willing to foot a good part of the bill, but it's so much more than that. I learn to communicate my research to non-specialists by teaching undergraduates. I am inspired to push forward in my own work by the now long history of seeing undergraduate students become excited about knowledge from tracking my own enthusiasm, or working for me as a research assistant. I just saw my first undergrad thesis advisee, from 1997, appear as a candidate here for a tenure track job, elite PhD almost in hand. I almost cried hearing about her brilliant, confident job talk, remembering her as a geeky, shy junior who had no idea what she wanted to do for a living.

If you don't love teaching, don't go into an academic career. You'll be miserable. If you do, you will go very far.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:07 AM on November 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


PS -- You have to get older, maybe, to recognize the joy of teaching young people, and the importance of it. I'm not meaning to pick on you, ChuraChura, just give you a different perspective.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:09 AM on November 10, 2010


I was always puzzled why the undergrads had chosen to spend the same tuition as they would have spent at a place like Oberlin...I didn't always see what they were getting out of it.

...when I think how much better teaching they would have gotten for their parents' money if they had gone to Amherst instead...


The keyphrase here is "their parent's money". The wealthy students paying full tuition aren't themselves wealthy and aren't paying full tuition. Their school is not their choice, but the choice of adults of means, with their beliefs about class and prestige as the determiners. The student can choose either to go into punitive debt (and make no mistake, it is designed to punish), or accept her parent's choice and hope for the best.
I'm sure they're out there, but I've never met anyone who picked the debt when it was optional.
posted by clarknova at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm teaching as an adjunct professor right now, and let me tell you, while the workload is insane in comparison to the amount of work you put in at a desk job, the rewards are so much more immediate, concrete and visceral. You can labour for years at a desk job with nary so much as a nod from your supervisor, no matter how enthusiastically you throw yourself at your work. And the slightest slip can leave you stranded in your career trajectory at that organization, with the only real solution being to look for work elsewhere. It wears on you pretty quickly, and it can be a challenge not to slide down that slippery slope of not caring, and phoning it in during working hours.

But get in front of a bunch of students who are in your class 'cause they're interested in the subject matter, and you can start a feedback loop of enthusiasm, where you feed off them and they feed off you. I feel more energetic, more awake and aware, and generally better about myself after having taught class than when 5pm rolls around and it's quittin' time from the office. I don't have to monitor my behaviour in class the way I have to at the office because someone above me is concered about what their boss is going to think. I'm allowed to have an opinion and a voice, I can call the shots (within reason), that's why I'm at the front of the class doing the teaching! I'm motivated to throw myself at preparing lectures, and the students recognize it; I don't get a lot of hooky-playing in my class.

So, ChuraChura, I guess I'm the opposite of you. I can't imagine schlepping into a class full of students (yes, even the annoying ones) and wishing I wasn't there.
posted by LN at 7:30 AM on November 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


A week or so ago, The New York Times had a brief article about a college. It had a photo of a student in in dorm room, in pajamas, taking a course via tv/net...seems that course had some 1500 students enrolled (!) and so the students stayed in their rooms and took the class there.

Tip: if you can, go to a private or public school that does not offer grad programs and you will have full-time teachers, though possibly some part-timers. One N.England college, I noted two days ago, has 1/3 of its faculty (a fairly good sized school) that are part timers.
Tip: colleges are for fun and later resumes. The library and books are for education.
posted by Postroad at 7:45 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


For most people, college isn't a quasi-religious enlightenment experience. It's the price you pay to move from soul-destroying, grinding service-sector work into a job market where you might, if you're lucky, make a decent living and be relatively satisfied doing it. Colleges are the gateway to a decent living.

In order to pass through that gateway, you've got to pony up huge quantities of money, a burden that will follow you for decades. You've got to put in years of work. You've got to put up with arbitrary unfair grading from faculty who resent any attempts at supervision or quality control, so that ineffective, cruel, and often lunatic instructors can teach for years before anyone takes any action. The grades these instructors give out will have a direct impact on your financial future, and even your financial present; if you don't finish, you still have to pay.

If the colleges didn't want to be seen as providers of a financial service, then they shouldn't have ridden the wave of degree inflation that's made a bachelor's degree de rigeur for every single decent job in the States. They should have fought back with vocational education programs, focused degrees and certificates; they should have allowed the four year degrees to keep some of their initial value.

As it stands, young people are basically forced, no option, to get four-year degrees, which in and of themselves are worthless; everyone has them. They're what high school degrees used to be, except high school didn't leave them drowning in debt. They need to go to grad school to get the jobs that used to be open to employees with (much cheaper at the time) bachelor's degrees; they need years of experience to qualify for what used to be entry-level positions.

Colleges have turned themselves from a luxury into a necessary service, and while that's good for their bottom lines, it's bad for anyone wanting to see the mission of college as anything but financial. They're now providing a service. They should start behaving like a service industry and start treating the students like paying customers.
posted by MrVisible at 8:24 AM on November 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


What you are not permitted to do here is waste our time.

"Don't waste my time" is one of the ugliest, most narcissistic statements a human being can make. It basically asserts that "My agenda rules the universe. You are pointless." The truth is, we won't know if we or others have 'wasted our time' until our lives have played themselves out. At that time, we may very well learn that the time we valued most highly was in fact squandered, and the time we "wasted" was the precious stuff of eternity. One element of wisdom is to understand that we are all of us rich, with all the time in the world. With his mean little remark about wasting time, Merriman undoes all the excellent sentiments of his precedeing paragraphs, and reveals the soul of a high school assistant principal.
posted by Faze at 8:34 AM on November 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


Some (most) of the responses to this thread are incredibly illuminating. I'm going to assume that most of the people contributing to the thread are speaking from a position of having experienced an American college education.

I went to Gonville & Caius college at Cambridge University in England in 1998 for my undergrad degree. 1998 was around the time the thin end of the wedge of tuition fees started in the UK: I - my parents - ended up paying about £3k a year for what's arguably a world-class education. If I'd started a couple years before, it would've been free. Absolutely, completely, totally free in terms of tuition. There's living expenses that the college would charge you, but they were effectively at cost.

(And - at what cost. A set of rooms with an en suite and a sitting room in the middle of a beautiful city?)

Now *that* experience felt like being on the receiving end of philanthropy. Am I'm incredibly grateful for it.

If there's one thing I feel strongly about my college education, it's that it wasn't available to more people.
posted by danhon at 8:55 AM on November 10, 2010


"I can only hope that the name on the diploma and/or the networking opportunities it enabled made up for the difference."

It does.


I suppose it depends on the company, but where I work this is very much the case. I'm at one of those "hip, young" internet companies, and we weren't always this way, but nowadays we'll barely even look at a resume unless the person comes from at least one (preferably more than one) of a small handful of schools. I hate to see my company acting this way, but there it is.

With regard to my career, if I had the opportunity to do my education all over again, I'd go for reputation over quality in a heartbeat.
posted by treepour at 8:56 AM on November 10, 2010


"Don't waste my time" is one of the ugliest, most narcissistic statements a human being can make. It basically asserts that "My agenda rules the universe. You are pointless."

I've got a poetry professor right now who I love the shit out of. He spends a lot of his time sort of rambling about things that aren't related to anything. Has us write papers about subjects on a whim. A lot of time in his weekly class is spent not paying attention to him, but rather talking and working amongst ourselves amidst the things he's talking about.

Which is pretty much my dream poetry professor. Some subjects do require more active attention — I can't imagine learning dance without really being committed to the things being taught. But a lot of subjects, I feel, thrive in environments where students are given lots of initiative to do things on their own, then report back to the class as a whole.

I've studied writing in environments ranging from 45-minute high school primer to 8-hour-a-day intensive study. The 8-hour courses worked best, but that's because a good 6 hours of time-killing and Youtubing and guided wandering were built in. The best teachers and professors I've had encourage that kind of wandering; absolutely the worst were the ones that insisted we all listen to every word that came out of their mouth.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:11 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eek! I haven't started teaching yet, but that's the impression of teaching that I feel a lot of the other folks I've met have! I hope I'll be better! I do! I want to be a good teacher, and I promise I'll devote time, energy and resources to my students! But that's not what my graduate education is focused on - graduate school is meant to produce great researchers, and teaching seems to be an afterthought. I'm taking a great course right now on how to go about teaching anthropology, but that's more pedagogical instruction than many of my friends had before they started teaching.

What I meant my grumpy rant to say is less "Damn teaching, taking away from my research," and more "How can I be a good teacher if I'm expected to be a good researcher before anything else?"
posted by ChuraChura at 9:41 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, to be clear,

Change the tenure system. Make teaching something valuable. But don't pretend that we're all here to give each undergraduate student the best thing ever when, in many cases, it's just a half-assed powerpoint thrown together and a grudging 2 hours spent grading multiple choice exams

is referring to the way that things are structured. When I'm responsible for a class of undergrads, that should be my primary focus. But because it's a cost-cutting mechanism for universities, the undergrads get screwed because their graduate student professors are stressed and put their research first.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:44 AM on November 10, 2010


rtha, it's probably not that they (all) didn't see you & your compatriots as a waste of time, so much as they were successfully able to hide it from you.

Maybe? But I chose the college I did in large part because it was not a research university. Friends of mine in high school who went to Harvard were kind of surprised when I talked about going to my professors' houses for dinner, or how it was to run into them in line for coffee and end up sitting together to talk about the upcoming paper/midterm/whatever. In four years, I was never taught by a TA (except for drills for foreign language classes, but the classes themselves were taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty). As freshman taking lower-level/survey course, most of my friends who went to places like Harvard seemed to rarely be taught by actual faculty.

I'm assuming that many or all of my teachers had chosen this school in part because they really loved to teach. They were also, of course, given the time and opportunity to do their own research. There was never a whiff of "research is the 'real' job and teaching is just the painful thing I have to do in order to do my 'real' work," for which I'm still grateful.
posted by rtha at 10:03 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem with embracing the principle that a college is a philanthropy and not a business is that a philanthropic college has no obligation to deliver value. It just has to deliver good feelings.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:38 AM on November 10, 2010


A zillion philanthropies in the U.S. alone deliver value. And many businesses deliver nothing of the sort.
posted by rtha at 11:05 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The university also reveals itself as a type of business when you first see professors transform from this (pre-grant money) to this (post-grant money). But money changes most people, faculty aren't any different. It really shouldn't be this way though, so organize/join your grad student union if you can. Philanthropies don't threaten your time to graduation if you don't come in and work for free for several months.
posted by peppito at 12:05 PM on November 10, 2010


I am a tenured professor at an elite research university. ... The happiest, most joyous part of my job happens in the 3 hours a week I spend in front of a room full of young undergraduates, and the several more hours a week I spend meeting individually with them to advise them on their own educations at various levels.

I've written this about three times now, so I'll keep it short:

It's insulting to see someone being hectored about love for teaching by someone who only teaches the best-prepared, brightest, easiest to motivate, easiest to teach undergraduates, and from what I can tell does so in courses that even within that setting draw only the students who are already interested in the subject.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:07 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


By its complicity in-- no, make that by its enthusiastic orchestration of and battening on the debt enslavement of an entire generation (and if you think 'enslavement' is hyperbole, review the draconian provisions of bankruptcy law as it applies to student loans and listen to the cycle of military recruitment ads currently accompanying national radio broadcasts of college football games and offering up to $50,000 in cancellation of student loan debt), American higher education deserves its inevitable coming collapse as much as the financial services sector did in 2008, and Enron did before that.

And if there's any justice, the administrators, faculty and staff of these institutions will see their careers as ruined, and their financial futures as compromised, as the students they so ruthlessly exploited have.

I'm looking forward to that, and I don't think I have all that much longer to wait.
posted by jamjam at 1:25 PM on November 10, 2010


And if there's any justice, the administrators, faculty and staff of these institutions will see their careers as ruined, and their financial futures as compromised, as the students they so ruthlessly exploited have.

Well, that sounds completely reasonable, since it's definitely the sole responsibility of, say, junior faculty and buildings and grounds staff to set policy and rates for student loans.
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2010


Let me join the chorus of other voices - Honestly I don't care WHAT I teach. I'd teach just about anything, if they would let me (maybe not math, I'm bad at it), but I love teaching. No other job I have ever had has made me HAPPY to wake up at 5:00 in the morning to make a 7:30 am class to teach undergrads, or to be on campus till 11 at night to teach them, or even to spend hours preparing for something. I could do nothing else I know of and be as happy as I am.

And that I get to do this, and get paid to do it?! Holy crap! And it means I get to do my on research too? And have an office?! Even if it is just a dinky cube in a cube farm among other graduate students - color me the happiest person on earth to be teaching. No student can ever waste my time, no class is ever not worth teaching.

I'll do this till they deflesh me and hang me up as a lab skeleton, and then I'll KEEP doing it!
posted by strixus at 1:52 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also. I've been very lucky. In 11 years I've paid for 4 semesters. I have no debt. I intend not to take any on. Sure, I didn't go to the best undergrad program, nor am I in the best graduate program. But I'm at a place I can get funding, do the work I want to do, and live in an affordable manner.

Not every student comes out with soul crushing debt. Not every student comes out a ruined soul. Not every program is like whatever horror that jamjam has imagined universities to be.

And some of us future educators of the world really do care about our students, and our work, and want the system to change to prevent the debt, and the alienation, and to stop the perversion of what should be a joyful, wonderful experience for everyone involved.
posted by strixus at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


ROU, I wasn't "hectoring" Chura, as I took pains to say.

And with all due respect, you don't know shit about my teaching career, or the kinds of students I've taught, or the kinds of classes I've taught either. I've taught in a big, not very well off public university too, classes of 200 in a big lecture hall, half the students not all that motivated to be there, and loved it even more. I work with students in Native American community colleges too, a fair bit. And even, lately, in high school settings in remote Native communities. My work has broadly dealt with issues of class and privilege, among other such framings.

Either you love to teach or you don't. Some people don't because they are ground down after years of trying under tough circumstances. But some of the most inspiring teachers I know work in those same settings.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:20 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Because I can tell you the same success stories of students who entered college from minority, working-class, rural and inner-city backgrounds.

In fact, the student I described above as making me cry? Are you picturing a privileged white kid from a fine prep school?

Latino, from a California/Mexican border town.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:24 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And with all due respect, you don't know shit about my teaching career, or the kinds of students I've taught, or the kinds of classes I've taught either.

Indeed, I don't. I only knew what you had said before: that you were teaching at an elite research university, and that thirteen years ago you were teaching someplace where undergraduate theses were an option.

I oughtn't have leapt on your throat like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:27 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


13 years ago was my first year at this elite private university. I came here from one of the less well off Big State Universities, where I taught for 3 years at the beginning of my career, heavy load, huge classes, no graduate funding for my PhD students, many of whom were working class and Native American (given that these are research foci for me, I attract this crowd).

When I moved to Elite Private Research University (and a top 10 department), my lefty friends across the fields of working-class studies and Native American studies especially, mocked me with "you're going to leave behind public education to work for the Man."

My answer, which 13 years of producing over a dozen PhD advisee grads who are working, many of them minority and working-class, and a much larger number of successful undergrad students from similar humble backgrounds, has always been: at Elite Private Research University, it's true I don't have as many working-class students to choose from. But the ones I can recruit or find are getting a really good education, and more importantly, they are being financially supported to do so. My old department had terrible attrition and placement numbers at the graduate level because we had no funding. Who cares if I have 10 working-class advisees who can't compete when they graduate, if they ever graduate? At EPRU every single one of my advisees is funded fully for the PhD, and almost all of them get a job in academia when they finish. So the radical thing was to make that environment more open to working-class students, not to sit there at BSPU moaning about the injustice of it all and watching working-class students get lied to about what this education they were paying for would get for them.

It's all a little more complex at the undergraduate level, to be sure. But my current EPRU *fully* covers the tuition of undergrads whose families make less than around $80K a year, something no public university I know can do. It's a lot easier to mentor and recruit a few students who I know will be world-beaters into that environment than to try to change the odds at a less well off institution.

Then they can go and turn the entire system right-side-up. Me, I've got a couple of decades left at this. I gotta pass on what I can.

Every student deserves a powerful education. But just because many don't get it doesn't mean it shouldn't even be possible to do so unless you're rich.

I've advised undergrad theses, by the way, for at least half a dozen minority and working-class students who have gone on to funded PhD study since that first one. Nothing wrong with writing a thesis. And being denied the chance to do so limits your competitiveness for funded graduate study.

Peace, ROU, you're one of the good guys around here.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


For what it's worth, I've seen on other fora actual clueless people who lurched from their elite undergrad to their elite grad school to teaching at another elite, who really seemed not to get that it can be draining to deal with the people who have been very badly prepared by their k12 education.

Anyway, the point being that I got cheezed off at other people who weren't you, and then didn't stop to look up your backstory before I mouthed off. sorry.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, what he said was that College is a philanthropy. Which is a bald-faced lie for any commonly-understood meaning of philanthropy; clearly the author is aware of this, because they quickly offer this weasel reducto-ad-absurdum on the word:
This college is a philanthropy. If you pay attention to the origins of words and you look at the pieces of that word, "phil" and "anthropy," you know that "phil" means love or esteem or high regard. And "anthropy" means humanity or humankind. The college is a philanthropy, an expression of love and esteem for humankind.
You don't get to call yourself philanthropic when you're slowing gouging the middle class and turning them into an underclass by constantly increasing tuitions, knowing full-damned-well that there's no dischargement of financial aid in bankruptcy. Oh, and look! You get to help drive property values up through the roof, virtually guaranteeing you never have to see those "stupid" blue-collar folks except when they come collect your trash (one of several city services colleges don't have to pay for).

A fine racket.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:42 AM on November 11, 2010


ChuraChura, my goodness, what are they doing to you in that graduate program? ... If you don't love teaching, don't go into an academic career. You'll be miserable. If you do, you will go very far.

Depending on the institution and department, there is frequently little to no pedagogy in the curriculum. Grad students won't graduate faster with great teaching. If their goal is to get a job at an R1, it probably has a bad ROI for their job hunt relative to better research. There are lots of academics who are primarily scientists, don't really care for teaching (especially at the basic level), and are perfectly happy that way.

I saw great teachers get booted at an EPRU as tenure clock wound down and their R01s didn't come through. A biologist relayed his experience on promotion committees:
They'll look at the grant funding and make sure that's in order. Then they'll look at the publication record and make sure that's great. Then they'll look at the reviews from people in the lab, and make sure that's working out. As they're putting their coats on, they'll look at the teaching reviews. If they're good, they'll say "Oh, he teaches also. Isn't that nice?"
That's certainly different for the Associate to Full promotion, but you have to get to Associate first.

I'm glad for having taken classes from real scientists, but they nearly all bought out to 1 or 1.5 classes a year, and almost all at the graduate level. The lesson that I learned from the ones who spent time on teaching pre-tenure at R1s is that they should have spent more time on their grants.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:00 AM on November 11, 2010


Ohhh man. I'm in the midst of applying to college right now. I do feel like I'm marketing myself, and a few months ago, I very much felt like I was shopping.

This thread has expressed exactly why I am applying to almost entirely liberal arts colleges. My first choice is Barnard, which would mean a liberal arts college education with the opportunity (but not the requirement) to take Columbia classes, plus the shiny Columbia name on my diploma. Hopefully that sort of liberal arts environment attracts teachers who like to teach...

My dad, a former professor at a large, pretty prestigious Big State University, talked about how much he liked to teach those who cared, but how miserable the experience was of teaching people who fundamentally weren't interested. I don't know about research, but he talks more by far about his former grad students than about his research (or textbook writing or whatever).

...anyone got advice for someone trying to choose a school and looking for teachers who genuinely care about teaching?
posted by R a c h e l at 7:18 PM on November 12, 2010


« Older My F*$#ing Bush!   |   The Science of Eggnog Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post