May 22, 2008 - 1:43 pm
Filed in: Academic Publishing,Avia-Corner,Higher Education

Although I don’t often post material relating to faculty life, teaching, and other sundry academic matters, this morning I came across two articles on higher education that non-academics really should read.

The first is a short piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Did You Publish Today?” It’s a light-hearted column intended for those people “who believe that academics have summers off, for those who argue that we have cushy jobs because we have to teach only a few classes a week for a couple of hours at a time, and for those who think that reading books isn’t work.”

If you have ever wondered what it is that academics (especially those in the humanities) actually do, “Did You Publish Today?” is a good place to start.

The second piece is less mirthful.

Written by the necessarily anonymous “Professor X” and appearing in the current issue of The Atlantic, “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” describes the routine frustrations encountered by the author while moonlighting as a composition instructor. Called upon to

teach young men who must amass a certain number of credits before they can become police officers or state troopers, lower-echelon health-care workers who need credits to qualify for raises, and municipal employees who require college-level certification to advance at work

Professor X finds that the majority of his “students” are grossly unprepared for the basic assignments expected of them. As he insists on maintaining academic standards, the results ain’t pretty:

For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.

If the essay is anywhere off the mark, it is in Prof. X’s apparent belief that the poor quality of his students is somehow related to their status as “non-traditional, adult learners” and the nature of the institution in which they are enrolled (a community college in the northeastern United States).

The unfortunate reality is that what Professor X has observed applies as well to far too many students at colleges and universities across the USA. It’s true of institutions both public and private, both famous and forgettable, and it is especially pronounced at academe’s bottom-feeders: those state-affiliated, cardinal point colleges of last resort where administrators measure success by ever-increasing enrollments while constantly lowering admission standards to attract more student-customers.


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