Collegiate Babysitting

The fall semester is either about to begin or has already begun at colleges and universities across the United States… and one thing is already clear. The march toward turning colleges and universities, particularly state institutions, into glorified high schools is continuing.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the administration at the local university has mandated a switch to a trimester system so that students can graduate in three years. To accomplish this, each semesters has been shortened by more than a week, with no increase in class length or number of classes. At the same time, there has been a push for “greater retention,” more electronic learning, and a more encouraging atmosphere [i.e., more cheerleading and less critical evaluation of actual student performance].

The latest edict from the administration is that faculty must not only take attendance, but report absences to administration, apparently because of financial aid requirements, in effect adding another reporting requirement that has teachers doing additional administrative chores for the finance industry. What happened to the idea of student responsibility? We’re talking about 18 year olds and older, not grade-school or high school students.

My wife the professor has taught a diction and literature class for students beginning the B.M. [performance] degree in voice. It’s a fairly standard, if slightly more intensive class which covers the basics of proper diction and introduces students to classical vocal literature. The course requires students to study the music and listen to a range of classical vocal recordings by composers. The listening requirement takes roughly six hours a week for 15 weeks. The goal of the course is to familiarize students with the work and styles of the more noted composers over the last century or so.

My wife has been teaching the course at this university for 15 years, and the basic requirements have remained the same, and students have evaluated the course for all of that time, yet in the last two years, for the first time, there have been complaints about the amount of work required, one student even saying that the workload had that student in tears.

This isn’t just my wife. The majority of professors in the department have noted the same development. One administrator responded by saying that perhaps the professors should just teach less.

Teach less? At a time when either more technical knowledge and/or more education are required to compete for the better paying jobs?

7 thoughts on “Collegiate Babysitting”

  1. Tom says:

    The Ghost Book series and your bloggs is where you have made your statements about teacher responsibilities and student responsibilities. Our difference of opinion is no obvious concern. Here I agree about the student responsibility, specifically with regard to attendance.

    In Primary School through High School, where I grew up, there was a legal responsibility of the student and the parents to ensure school attendance (a societal necessity where schooling was free). Above High School level, particularly in countries such as the US where the students pay for their higher education, often running up very significant debts, one cannot understand why there would be absenteeism. Even from classes given by poor teachers; simply because in the class is where the student gets a feel of what will be asked in examinations – which the student has to pass. The new requirement was probably administrative and the donor is used as a scapegoat.

    With regard to the “too much work” whinging, that is why students in higher education have the option of taking as many classes as they can handle. If the facility insist on specific courses to be taken at the same time then that is the teachers/administration problem; but still, one that the student is aware of and should find a way to handle. As Dirty Harry says “A man should know his limits!”

    These education-related concerns are similar to complaints in all of our present society. Everyone seems to expect to be handed everything on a plate without working for it and when they do poorly then a Hollywood type encouragement in place of a request for work ethic.

  2. Wine Guy says:

    Why do colleges/universities in the US try to be all things to everyone? My children are currently looking at higher education possibilities and of the 6 or 7 tours we have been on, only 2 have emphasized their academic alternatives and excellence. With the rest of them, the tours have been about ‘campus life’ and ‘extracurricular opportunities.’ This would not bother me if there were academic tours to go on as well, but these were not available. The impression I am getting is that institutions of higher learning are no longer colleges/universities, but rather boarding schools with perhaps a wider variety of sports and clubs to attend after class is done.

    I cannot tell a lie: I am actively steering my kids away from several highly thought of universities on the West Coast because I can’t stand the idea of their attendance at those schools. Fortunately, there are other excellent choices. Unfortunately, my kids are perhaps not in agreement with my assessments.

    Something to work on for the next few months.

    1. Tom says:

      If a child is interested in engineering then one would get an academic tour at Harvey Mudd (or at least in 1996 we did).

      Whitman College in Walla Walla WA is fine arts and one would get an academic tour at this college.

      Both turned out to be academically inclined 20+ years ago and are well enough endowed to still concentrate on the academic aspect of education with encouragement on all round factors.

    2. Gerald Fnord says:

      Can they get into Caltech? I have known no more purely educational institution in the U.S.. It’s also very inexpensive, and they’ve a real commitment to allowing any student who can qualify to attend without having to work so much that the academic load becomes impossible.

  3. Adrian Brettell says:

    This fits in with an article in the New Statesman which is a centre left periodical in the UK but in the USA would be regarded as a socialist publication. I come from a background where I wrote either an essay a week or three essays in two weeks and had tutorials with one or at most two other attendees so I had no room to hide my ignorance (apart from the fact that in my first year I was sharing tutorials with the most talented students in my college.

    1. Hanna says:

      “….This fits in with an article in the New Statesman which is a centre left periodical in the UK but in the USA would be regarded as a socialist publication…”

      Uh huh. And context?

  4. Gerald Fnord says:

    The bane of my college-level teaching (when I was a graduate student) was people who were in college because it was expected that they would go to college; a close second were engineers who felt they had no need to learn physics. (Really.)

    I could deal with ignorance and even with slight stupidity, but sullen resentment at being there doing something in which they were not interested was to me, at least, impenetrable, and such persons also dominated the cheating contingent.

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