TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Faculty Pretend to Teach, Students Pretend to Learn

5 YearWall Street Journal op-ed:  We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn: At Colleges Today, All Parties Are Strongly Incentivized to Maintain Low Standards, by Geoffrey L. Collier (South Carolina State University):

The parlous state of American higher education has been widely noted, but the view from the trenches is far more troubling than can be characterized by measured prose. With most students on winter break and colleges largely shut down, the lull presents an opportunity for damage assessment.

The flood of books detailing the problems includes the representative titles Bad Students, Not Bad Schools and The Five Year Party. To list only the principal faults: Students arrive woefully academically unprepared; students study little, party much and lack any semblance of internalized discipline; pride in work is supplanted by expediency; and the whole enterprise is treated as a system to be gamed in which plagiarism and cheating abound.

The problems stem from two attitudes. Social preoccupations trump the academic part of residential education, which occupies precious little of students' time or emotions. Second, students' view of education is strictly instrumental and credentialist. They regard the entire enterprise as a series of hoops they must jump through to obtain their 120 credits, which they blindly view as an automatic licensure for adulthood and a good job, an increasingly problematic belief.

BadEducation thus has degenerated into a game of "trap the rat," whereby the student and instructor view each other as adversaries. Winning or losing is determined by how much the students can be forced to study. This will never be a formula for excellence, which requires intense focus, discipline and diligence that are utterly lacking among our distracted, indifferent students. Such diligence requires emotional engagement. Engagement could be with the material, the professors, or even a competitive goal, but the idea that students can obtain a serious education even with their disengaged, credentialist attitudes is a delusion.

The professoriate plays along because teachers know they have a good racket going. They would rather be refining their research or their backhand than attending to tedious undergraduates. The result is an implicit mutually assured nondestruction pact in which the students and faculty ignore each other to the best of their abilities. This disengagement guarantees poor outcomes, as well as the eventual replacement of the professoriate by technology. When professors don't even know your name, they become remote figures of ridicule and tedium and are viewed as part of a system to be played rather than a useful resource.

(Hat Tip: Greg McNeal.)

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Wow. This professor must be extremely unhappy. If the "rate my professor" ranks are any indication, he definitely does not engage with his students.

Posted by: ann | Dec 31, 2013 5:09:26 PM

The author of this op-ed should quit his job immediately to make room for someone who actually wants to do it. He is not being fair to his students or his institution.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Jan 1, 2014 5:05:00 AM

A good place to begin the reform of American higher education would be to impose a strict austerity program on intercollegiate "athletics." Maybe if the focus of the campus were academics, rather than as a training center for the NFL, NBA, and to lesser extents the NHL and MLB, students would take their educations more seriously. Intercollegiate athletics long ago lost their educational function.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jan 2, 2014 6:44:55 AM

@Publius Novus - what percentage of undergraduate students do you think are training for their professional sports career? And why is pursuing excellence in athletic endeavors automatically considered lesser to learning about Plato? SHould we not reward and encourage both? The biggest problem with higher education was pointed out in Good Will Hunting, when Matt Damon's character says to he received the same education for $2.50 in library late fees what the Harvard student got for $250,000. College is becoming more about the networking and the getting the piece of paper than it is the actual studies. Sports is a far cry for why this has happened.

Posted by: Daniel Waters | Jan 2, 2014 9:09:37 AM

Second Ted Seto.

Posted by: michael livingston | Jan 4, 2014 8:22:30 AM