• September 3, 2015

Are Colleges Worth the Price of Admission?

How Colleges Can Set Things Right, and Some That Do 1

Doug Paulin for The Chronicle

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close How Colleges Can Set Things Right, and Some That Do 1

Doug Paulin for The Chronicle

Tuition charges at both public and private colleges have more than doubled—in real dollars—compared with a generation ago.

For most Americans, educating their offspring will be the largest financial outlay, after their home mortgage, they'll ever make. And if parents can't or won't pay, young people often find themselves burdened with staggering loans. Graduating with six figures' worth of debt is becoming increasingly common.

So are colleges giving good value for those investments? What are families buying? What are individuals—and our society as a whole—gaining from higher education?

Several years ago, we set out to answer those questions and began studying institutions and interviewing higher-education leaders, policy makers, and students across the country. Our conclusion: Colleges are taking on too many roles and doing none of them well. They are staffed by casts of thousands and dedicated to everything from esoteric research to vocational training—and have lost track of their basic mission to challenge the minds of young people. Higher education has become a colossus—a $420-billion industry—immune from scrutiny and in need of reform.

Here are some proposals that might begin to set things right:

Engage all students. We believe all Americans can do college work, so universal enrollment should be our nation's goal. But for that to happen, professors must make an effort to reach their students—and not, as former Secretary of Education William Bennett once said, "teach their dissertation or next article." Colleges should demand good teaching. They must become conscientious, caring, and attentive to every corner of their classrooms.

Make students use their minds. What should happen to students at college? They should become more thoughtful and interesting people. But some 64 percent of undergraduate students are enrolled in vocational majors, instead of choosing fields like philosophy, literature, or the physical sciences. We'd like to persuade them that supposedly impractical studies are a wiser use of college and ultimately a better investment. The undergraduate years are an interlude that will never come again, a time to liberate the imagination and stretch one's intellect without worrying about a possible payoff. We want that opportunity for everyone, not just the offspring of professional parents.

Replace tenure with multiyear contracts. Despite fears concerning academic freedom, higher education will lose nothing by ending tenure but will reap major gains. We conclude this reluctantly. But tenure takes a huge toll at every academic level. Professors who possess it have no reason to improve their teaching, take on introductory courses, or, in fact, accept any tasks not to their liking. Meanwhile, junior faculty members pay a brutal price by succumbing to intellectual caution. If we could achieve only one reform, that would be it.

Allow fewer sabbaticals. We hear often that academics need every seventh year to recharge their mental batteries, yet we've found no evidence that this happens during a sojourn in Tuscany. We next hear that faculty members require relief from teaching to better conduct their research. Nearly 500,000 assistant, associate, and full professors could now be eligible for sabbaticals. Do we really need that many new books or articles?

End exploitation of adjuncts. It is immoral and unseemly to have a person teaching the same course as an ensconced faculty member but for one-sixth of the pay of his or her tenured colleague down the hall. Adjuncts should receive the same per-course compensation as an assistant professor, including health insurance and other benefits. Most adjuncts are committed teachers who were overproduced by Ph.D. factories, more politely called graduate schools. Finding money to eradicate that outcast group should have highest priority—higher, certainly, than building a mega-athletic complex or a new campus in Abu Dhabi.

Make presidents be public servants. They should say "thanks, but no" if their trustees offer them salaries of $1-million, or anything near it. Colleges contend that they must pump up what they pay to get the best administrators. We're not opposed to talent, but higher education needs something more. The head of the Food and Drug Administration puts in a full day for under $200,000, as do four-star generals. Presidents needn't take vows of poverty, but do they really need quasicorporate stipends to take the job?

Spin off medical schools, research centers, and institutes. Postgraduate training has a place, as long as it doesn't divert faculties from working with undergraduates or preoccupy presidents, who should be focusing on education—not angling for another center on antiterrorist technologies. For people who want to do research, plenty of other places exist—the Brookings Institution, the Rand Corporation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute—all of which do excellent work without university ties. Princeton University has succeeded quite nicely without a medical school—which often becomes the most costly complex on a campus, commandeering resources, attention, and even mission. In fact, the "school" often becomes a minute part of a medical complex: Johns Hopkins has fewer than 500 medical students, but atop them sits an empire with more than 30,000 employees.

Give techno-teaching a fair hearing. Nothing outshines a superb teacher, whether in small seminars or large lecture halls. Yet a gripping performance on a screen may be preferable to a live teacher of doubtful competence. Unlike a textbook, software can pose interactive questions, review answers, and tell students to try again, offering hints on where they may have gone wrong. Other computer programs can meld clips from movies, plays, or ballet. Techno-teaching can't rival a seminar pondering Fermat's last theorem or King Lear, but until we improve classroom instruction, new methods shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Spread donations around. Too many benefactors donate to institutions that are already well provided for. Even in economic downturns, gifts to the wealthiest colleges keep coming in. So here's a suggestion for their donors: Pick another college—there's a long, deserving list—and send your check where it will truly do some good.

As we traveled around the country researching our book, we, in fact, found some colleges that we thought were doing their job well:

The University of Mississippi. In 1962 the Supreme Court ordered Ole Miss to admit James Meredith, a black Air Force veteran. In the riots that greeted his admission, two died and dozens were injured. President John F. Kennedy had to send in federal troops.

Today Ole Miss is a university where reconciliation and civility are at the heart of the educational mission. Much of the transformation has been the work of Robert Khayat, who retired from the chancellorship in 2009. In his 14 years there, he raised academic standards, tripled African-American enrollment, and banned Confederate flags from athletic events. Under his leadership the university reached into its past for different pieces of the state's history. Think Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams. Ole Miss has a Center for the Study of Southern Culture that focuses on the art, literature, music, and food of the region, black and white. Indeed, of all the flagship colleges we have visited, we have found Ole Miss the most appealing. The campus has the feel of a liberal-arts college. Its Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College offers as fine an education as one might find at Carleton or Kenyon Colleges.

Raritan Valley Community College. A two-year college in New Jersey where all students commute and 40 percent study part time, Raritan provides a better introduction to college work than many four-year institutions. It has no megalectures. Its classes don't exceed 40 students, and many are seminar size. Team teaching is encouraged, with both professors present throughout the term. Like most two-year colleges, Raritan's classes are taught mainly by adjuncts. Many have been with Raritan for a while, are good in their fields, and can work closely with students because classes are small. The signal fact about Raritan and colleges like it is that you can get a start with the liberal arts at a tenth of the cost of many private tuitions, and a third of what flagship colleges charge. More than that, you can learn with professors who know your name and have an interest in your future.

University of Notre Dame. Perhaps because of its religious base, the university has successfully avoided the faddish academic trends and compulsive consumerism that has overwhelmed many other colleges. The campus looks relatively spartan. Teaching appears to have genuine import; Notre Dame has a 13-to-one student-faculty ratio, and only 10 percent of the classes are taught by graduate assistants. The president, the Rev. John Jenkins, has himself taught undergraduates—and he personally counsels them if they are suffering a spiritual crisis. Interestingly, for a university famous for football, sports don't seem to overwhelm. On Notre Dame's Web site, it is academics and student life that are trumpeted. It's as if the administrators are saying, "Listen, we have our priorities."

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. While many Ivies describe themselves as meritocracies, Cooper Union, a no-tuition college for engineering, fine arts, and architecture, actually is one. Art and architecture applicants are considered not only by their standardized-test scores, but through a "home test" of six or 10 open-ended questions. When one sits around a table with Cooper seniors and they speak of their futures, their tone is different from students we've met elsewhere. Without the miseries of debt, they contemplate limitless possibilities. Cooper can do that because it dedicates its endowment to a tuition-free education; other well-endowed universities might do well to follow suit.

Berea College. Berea, a liberal-arts college rated by U.S. News & World Report as one of "the best comprehensive" colleges in the South, also does not charge tuition. Instead, students are asked to contribute 10 hours a week of labor. Most of them come from the top 20 percent of their high schools and from families where the annual income is under $50,000 a year. For those fortunate enough to win admission, a first-rate education is proffered. The student-faculty ratio is 10-to-one with no graduate teaching assistants substituting for professors.

Arizona State University. At a distance, Arizona State seems like just another oversized state university: a giant credential factory with a football team. But look closer and one quickly sees that it may well be the most experimental institution in the country, a university where the old rules are up for grabs and anyone with an interesting idea can get a hearing. Many academic departments have been dissolved and re-formed within new interdisciplinary institutes, breaking the stranglehold of the disciplines that is so deadly at most colleges. Like Ole Miss, Arizona State has a first rate Honor's College. Good, bad, smart, stupid, it's possible to get new things started at this university. Even some old-time professors, tenured long before the reformer Michael Crow assumed the presidency, told us that they found it exciting to be working at an institution with so much buzz.

University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program has greatly increased the number of African-Americans in the biological sciences and engineering. In addition, although the university is a research institution focused on science and engineering, undergraduate instruction in the liberal arts is not an afterthought. President Freeman A. Hrabowski sets a tone at the top that says teaching undergraduates is important, and the faculty knows he means it. Of all the research universities we've visited, it is the place that has most capably connected research with undergraduate education.

University of Colorado at Boulder. Despite one of the longest-running football scandals in college sports and the debacle of Ward Churchill (an ethnic-studies professor who compared the victims of the World Trade Center bombing to a Nazi war criminal, and who was later charged with research misconduct), the University of Colorado is capable of doing some things right. For example, in the undergraduate course, "Physics for Everyday Life," founded by the Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman, the lessons are broken down into modules. A feedback system employing computers and clickers means that the lecturer never moves faster than the students. Trained and supervised graduate teaching assistants keep track of the students, and the lead professor gets weekly reports on their progress. Above all, the course is taught in a way that is interesting to students.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It's good to be a contingent at MIT. One part-time writing professor we know teaches two and a half courses a year and coordinates internships. For that, she earns half the compensation of a senior professor, plus benefits for five contract years. Depending on the discipline, part-timers who teach a half-time load are eligible for health insurance, making MIT the contingents' Valhalla. So far as we've heard, decency, fair pay, and health insurance have yet to bankrupt it—and they probably wouldn't other institutions, either.

Western Oregon University. A former teachers' college, Western Oregon does its job without any frills or pretense and with utter seriousness and dedication. Most of its students are either rural or working class; a majority are the first in their families to attend college. Costs are kept at a minimum. The university even offers a "tuition promise" to entering freshmen: Their fees will remain constant throughout their four years. Although the campus is attractive and modern, it has few of the bells and whistles that are routine at other institutions. While salaries are modest, faculty members are enthusiastic. There are no star professors, little research, and the administrative pool is bare bones. All energy is focused on one thing: educating undergraduates.

Evergreen State College. Evergreen is very much a product of the 1960s, when the State of Washington created a new type of public college—one rooted in the ideas of the progressive-education movement. There are no grades or set curriculum. At the end of each quarter, professors present students with long written evaluations of their work; the students, in turn, do the same for their teachers. Courses are cross-disciplinary and team taught, and they are invented or redesigned annually. Despite the university's reputation as a countercultural bastion, 82 percent of its graduates found full-time employment within a year, and 93 percent of those who applied got into graduate schools. For students who want to spend four years in an atmosphere of pure learning, this is the place.

The institutions that we've cited are exceptions to our premise that higher education has lost track of its original and enduring purpose. They reinforce our view that college should be a cultural journey, an intellectual expedition, a voyage confronting new ideas and information. Many colleges with national names and universities with imperial plans could learn a lot from them.

Andrew Hacker is a professor at Queens College and the author of Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (Scribner, 2003). Claudia Dreifus is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a writer for The New York Times. This article is adapted from Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It, published next month by Henry Holt/Times Books.


1. trendisnotdestiny - July 11, 2010 at 09:39 pm

enjoyed this!

2. mchag12 - July 12, 2010 at 10:32 am

It would seem that the authors have, as many have, forgotten the meaning of academic-- teaching AND research. They would like to turn our system of higher education in teaching factories--"who needs those articles and books, anyway," and forget that thinking--good thinking, comes from research, contemplation (damn those sabbaticals) and application in the classroom. Or we could just turn all college into community colleges, add some courses on liberal arts content and critical thinking, and be done with the whole mess. And when Harvard Alumni decide to give their money to Ole MIss, let me know-- it will be an indication that the entire economic system has gone through a needed revolution, and those elites running the country and the capitalist managers running the companies, no longer need an elite education and the contacts and networks to do so. Oh, and if you really think that getting rid of tenure will not give the power to career administrators who would just love to rid of those that irritate them on any level, you are very inexperienced. Not to mention those that may be just a tad outside the box of current state and federal politics. Remember why tenure was put into place? Good work. Dream on.

3. umassd7 - July 12, 2010 at 09:11 pm

Great ideas but cutting sabbaticals and stripping tenure is not going to get done without some carrot for faculty.

4. jshervais - July 13, 2010 at 01:36 am

Many good ideas here and some clunkers. Yes, teaching and students are important - but remember graduate students are also students, and research is central to their education. Yes, we need to engage the students minds -- but in my experience, techno-bling does not have that effect. And no, not all students are cut out for college, and will not benefit from attempts at college education. It is possible to be successful and happy without a college degree.

Tenure is, alas, still necessary (see case of Ward Churchill, if you have questions). And, yes, Adjunct abuse must end (maybe we should all be unionized).

About sabbaticals -- these should be a privilege, not a right. Its not 7 years and off we go; you must be able to document that you are productive as a scholar and that your productivity will be enhanced by a sabbatical (remember they are not vacations).

In my experience, Med schools are essentially independent entities anyway, often with important medical research roles (which accounts for the 30K staff at Johns Hopskins, not the 500 med students).

There are different universities and colleges, with distinct roles. The current system provides options for almost everyone. And when discussing college costs, lets forget the Ivies - they serve so few students they are really niche players, and unimportant in the overall scheme of things. State schools are still a fairly good deal for instate students, and most private schools have good financial aid support.

This article does a good job of stirring the pot, but seems to generate more heat than light (pardon my metaphors).

5. prje8199 - July 13, 2010 at 03:20 am

Great article. I agree with all of it. As for your most difficult topic - tenure - you are absolutely right. It is destroying higher education under the disguise of "academic freedom.

6. arrive2__net - July 13, 2010 at 05:16 am

Spinning off medical colleges and research institutes could reduce the prestige of universities, which may make it more difficult to get funding support from the state.

Many of the most competitive students seek the research universities ... because their professors are perceived as 'leading edge' ... because they are in research. I think higher education is best served by a diversity of different types of institutions, some of that diversity being the degree of emphasis placed on research. Students wanting a strictly teaching institution should be able to find a good one, but the research institutions should still be there in my view.

The authors' statement " ... universal enrollment should be our nation's goal", seems way off. Universal enrollment would imply that colleges ought to seek to enroll all of the bottom 25 percentiles of ability. Colleges would have enroll many unethically, knowing they could not succeed, or substantially lower standards.

The authors' best point is to give techno-teaching a fair hearing. Learning is a function of the student as well as the teacher and clearly technology can work very well for many students.

As to 'should college be job-training', they make a good point that a college education can and should go beyond merely being preparation for the daily grind, but it is a terrible tragedy, in my opinion, to develop a super-mind, and then live in some form of poverty. It could make you lose respect for being brilliant ... if developing that brilliance means you can't enjoy life's joys and opportunities after college.

Bernard Schuster

7. 11294136 - July 13, 2010 at 05:27 am

ASU, the nation's attrition factory? Are you serious?

8. kathden - July 13, 2010 at 05:32 am

The authors assure us that there will be no ill effects from eliminating tenure--and its their sine qua non. I suggest that readers look at July 13 piece here on chronicle.com about how the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been treating Glenn Feldman, who actually has tenure. But I guess the authors have a point: there wouldn't be any story, because when a new administrator takes office who doesn't like you, he can just say goodbye and you'll be gone.

9. bdbailey - July 13, 2010 at 07:32 am

I always understood that the basis for tenure was academic freedom. But what I hear in the comments here is the fear that I will be fired by some "administrator" who does not like me. What a childish reaction.

10. nyhist - July 13, 2010 at 08:30 am

The 'who needs research' theme of this essay strikes me as incredibly ironic. What, after all, does the book by Hacker and Dreifus represent, but their research? Did they manage to write it without fellowship support or sabbaticals? What is Hacker's teaching load as a senior professor at a branch of CUNY? (I know someone in such a position who gets a high salary for teaching one course a year.) How about full disclosure of their funding for their time off? And full disclosure of how many courses weren't taught so this book could be written?

And what about those 'lucky' students at Western Oregon, lauded by this essay, where there is 'little research'? I wouldn't be happy knowing that my teacher in any discipline did no work in the field after a dissertation. If every university in the country adopted that model, where would anyone find reading material or information for their lectures? Maybe they think that scholars already know everything they need to know and we can simply call a halt to discoveries in every field. Sorry. I don't agree.

My own research and writing, largely conducted, yes, on sabbaticals, deeply informs my teaching. The lectures I give and readings I assign these days differ greatly from those I gave and assigned early in my career.

11. rickw - July 13, 2010 at 08:35 am

Here we go again, tenure is bad, it is the greatest evil ever visited upon civilization since the Black Death. So prove it. How is it that tenure--now a rare thing indeed--can still be flogged as the cause of the ills of higher education? Are tenured faculty singularly inept? Can senior tenured faculty not teach? Are tenured faculty lounging in their offices and contibuting nothing to the life of their universities and colleges? The attack on tenure leads us back to the myth of the benefit inherent in administrative flexibilty and the wisdom generated by an entitlement bred of, well, a title like dean or president.

Ok anti-tenure people. Put up or shut up. If tenure is so bad, how did American higher education become the model for excellence to the world? And can there be a cause and effect relationship of the decline of American higher education--now reflected in various measures of global academic achievement--that is proportional to the loss of tenure and the commodification of faculty in the new American university?

Anti-tenure cultists, please give us proof, not conjecture, that tenure is, or has been, bad for hisger education in America.

OH, and anti-tenure true believers, can you document your cult-like belief that senior tenured faculty, or tenured faculty of all sorts, are less productive than term contracted faculty or, and this seems to be an embedded but avoided corollary of the anti-tenure argument, that our students and society will be better served when the landscape of academe is flooded even more than it is with roving bands of homeless adjunct faculty.

Once tenure is lost it won't be back. Please cultists, think.

12. user1934 - July 13, 2010 at 08:50 am

"We believe all Americans can do college work ..."

You've got to be joking. I teach at an elite research university in the south, and even a number of students here have needed serious remedial help just in constructing (much less actually writing) a simple, three-page essay. If universal college enrollment is the goal, then we've got to reconfigure most colleges to be something akin to the ninth grade. Which, given the further suggestions to cut tenure and sabbaticals seems to be what the authors are advocating.

13. qwerty_asdf - July 13, 2010 at 08:51 am

Sabbatical in Tuscany? Are you kidding me? What are these authors smoking? What alternative reality have they created?

14. kuyper - July 13, 2010 at 09:05 am

Higher education..."immune from scrutiny"??

Tell that to the teams of faculty and staff preparing several years out for reaccreditation visits.

15. vernaye - July 13, 2010 at 09:28 am

This article suggests:

a) eliminating tenure
b) ending adjunct exploitation
c) presidential pay needs to be scaled back
d) alumni donating to other institutions than their own

Hmmm... I wonder which one of these is likely to happen?

Anyone get the sense that these other noble suggestions are merely a red herring?

16. vernaye - July 13, 2010 at 09:29 am

I've give you a hint: "If we could achieve only one reform, that would be it."

17. sethmichaud - July 13, 2010 at 10:26 am

Interesting that a Professor Emeritus is advocating the end of tenure after having enjoy it for all of his extremely long career.

And by interesting, I mean ridiculous.

18. rab1960 - July 13, 2010 at 10:43 am

" We believe all Americans can do college work .."

Your definition of "college work" must be different from mine. How many remedial course have you taught lately? I wish you were correct.

19. unusedusername - July 13, 2010 at 10:44 am

So the authors believe that every single person is capable of getting a college degree? And not just in any major, but the tough ones like philosophy, literature, and the physical sciences?

Stay off the drugs, seriously.

20. intered - July 13, 2010 at 11:10 am

Great article! I appreciated the fact that you are willing to put yourselves on the line with concrete suggestions which, for the most part, generate empirically testable claims.

While I cannot agree with your selection of model institutions, I'm hard pressed to provide a better list on short notice. While these institutions are, as you say, innovating, their actions amount to a slight "scoot" well inside the sandbox in relation to what needs to be done. For most of these institutions, productivity has been on a downward slide for decades. Taking Arizona State as an example (only an example that I happen to have studied, they are by no means at the bottom of the list), the more a professor earns, the less he teaches, the less likely it is that he is teaching at all in a given term, and the more likely it is that he is also compensated by outside interests for consultative services. With that in mind, is it not unhelpful to point to some creative toying with internal silos?

One response to my observation above is that I have spoken only of productivity and that qualitative issues must be considered as well. I agree. First, it is a qualitative failure when your efficiency is so low that you must turn away deserving students because you cannot "afford" them. The publics you mention all do this. Second, these institutions have only shaky and inconsistent rational ground upon which to rest their claims of "quality." For the most part they don't measure or manage quality in any way that would pass elementary scientific scrutiny, either conceptually or empirically.

Again, with so much rancor and narrow opinion expressed on these pages, it is refreshing to see your piece. My disagreement with some of your points is part of the rational process.

Robert W Tucker

21. observer001 - July 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

I hesitate to even bother commenting on this anti-intellectual string of anecdotes but since they are publishing a book which will no doubt be used by everyone from fiscal conservatives trying to cut university budgets to corrupt administrator trying to cow the professorate, it unfortunately can't be ignored.

The authors of this article have no idea how a research university functions, the role of research in higher education, the role of tenure, or understand the importance of the research university in keeping the US internationally competitive. They don't seem to know where real professors come from: research universities, where one gains expertise in a field and is trained to produce knowledge, not assimilate it and regurgitate it. The have no clue that interdisciplinarity is key to advances in many fields. A good example of their ignorance is that they seem to think 'Medicine' is a self-sufficient trade like plumbing that can be taught in an isolated trade school setting and assume its advances have nothing to do with research going on in biology/computing/engineering etc. But I suppose, look at where they are working to get an idea of their range of experience: Queens College and an adjunct with her real career in elsewhere.

The only scenario that would result from these "reforms" is that America's great public universities would be degraded into vocational/technical colleges for an entrenched proletariat. The 'faculty' would barely have more credentials/expertise than the students since, without the chance to make a living or the opportunity to do real research (all the real researchers are now at these amorphous research institutes in their plan, remember'), the motivation for at least some of the nation's best and brightest to do a PhD would evaporate.

I have no doubt the elite private institutions would continue to exist, though, like they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they would remain preserves just for the elite. But the ability to do a real PhD in the US would also be restricted (beyond a Capella U. online-PhD for "life experience"): those who would have access to the best graduate educations at the remaining intact private research universities in the US or institutions abroad would be even more restricted to those from privilege who could afford to go to the remaining intact private colleges. The majority of U.S. students, who would go to these diploma mills, would not be able to compete for the reduced number of spots, now only available at the private research universities. The overall result of these ridiculous suggestions, which basically would call for and usher in a massive U.S. disinvestment in higher education, would the introduction of a Victorian split between the very wealthy and everybody else and demote the US to spectator status in world innovation.

P.S. You can easily get rid of someone with tenure and the stories in the chronicle show that it happens quite often. More prosaically, heard of post-tenure review?

22. 7738373863 - July 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

The problem with the article is that it fairly bristlles with class and caste markers, applicable to both the students attending and faculty teaching at the so-called exemplary institutions of higher education. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the article's hidden agenda is to level academe in the name of doing away with such markers. While some of the ideas seem laudable--there is no university president in office today who can justify a salary of $1M+--others are questionable. Multi-year contracts would have the unintended consequences of financially driven ageism and an avalanche of litigation. Sabbaticals, monitored for their promise and productivity, should be retained. Above all, if, as the authors state of colleges and universities, "their basic mission to challenge the minds of young people," those faculty members responsible for the doing the challenging must in their turn be responding to the challenges of their respective disciplines not only as teachers, but also as researchers and debaters of the status of those disciplines.

23. 11147066 - July 13, 2010 at 11:35 am

The authors make several intersting points. I agree with those who claim that eliminating tenure is a naive suggestion, and ironic coming from those who have enjoyed its benefits. Universities could maintain tenure with adjusted standards for awarding it, more attention to equitable teaching loads, and better balance of emphasis on research and teaching. I would like to see universities get rid of the superstar system where a few high recognition professors get ridiculously inflated salaries while everyone else makes a meager living.
The list of colleges praised is idiosyncratic. Many colleges might succeed more in one aspect of education than another. The most sought after schools have teflon brand names. It is irrelevant what the Ivies actually offer because of the deeply held belief that their degrees are so desirable. What ultimate effect did the Adam Wheeler scandal have this year? It became something of a joke, although this young man proved definitively by his scam that Harvard and Stanford have a completely unprofessional record and no accountability in their admissions process and in judging academic work. Try telling a student applying to college that one of the schools listed in this article is actually better than Harvard or Stanford.

24. demery1 - July 13, 2010 at 11:39 am

Higher education immune from scrutiny?

The article (and the book) is probably more applicable to the parallel universe in which it is based. On the bright side, I am sure it will sell hundreds of copies.

25. quicksilver - July 13, 2010 at 11:48 am

The previous comments about "college for everyone" are absolutely on target, as they point to remediation, one of the biggest drains on faculty resources at any university. Since Bill Clinton announced the pie in the sky goal of sending everyone to college, Americans (high school counselors, lenders, and access programs in particular) have held to this farce of a notion...a notion wrongly validated by the hundreds of 4-year colleges who admit students who are quantifiably illiterate in math and language. Cut remedial programs, and value will increase for those students who can do the work.

26. osugrad - July 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

As an alumna of Western Oregon University I must take exception to the idea that research does not exist there. Although it's not a "research university", and because "research" is not given quite the same emphasis as it is at Oregon State University, 20 miles south, please do not assume that the faculty members who teach there (tenured or not) do not continue to read, study and write in their fields. I had some wonderful professors in the social sciences and in the arts and in the physical sciences who clearly cared deeply for their disciplines. They also had time for me when I had questions or concerns. I was pleasantly surpised that my old alma mater (where I also worked for a number of years) was included in this list. I am a different person from the one who stepped onto that campus many years ago--a better person. And it's partly because my professors taught me that it's not the answer to the question that's so important--it's knowing what question(s) to ask. What else is that but the basis of good research?

27. hmlowry - July 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm

It's a "modest proposal" the authors present, but there are so many things with which I disagree in this piece that I can't respond to them all.

Howard Adelman, in his book the Holiversity describes the evolution, ages and stages of the university and its mission--sanctuary of truth, sanctuary of method, social service station and the culture mart. Sadly, the university can't be all things to all people. But most haven't learned that.

A major problem I see among university's is that they can't decide what they really are--teaching institutions, research institutions, or an organization out to save the entire world. Perhaps Princeton is successful because it has neither a medical school, nor a law school. It concentrates on the life of the mind.

But, the life of the mind has it's problems too. Maybe those Evergreen State graduates who are so successful in their search for personal fulfillment, AND in getting jobs, find a career at Starbucks to be fulfilling. Fifty or one hundred thousand dollars of college loan debt suggests that many students own suggests you need a career in health care to take care of those who went to college when college actually was affordable.

It's amazing how many first generation immigrant children study to enter the "working" professions. Perhaps their parents have a grasp of reality and thus push their children in this direction. They recognize what others don't. You can always check books out of the public library and obtain a liberal education. You can't become an engineer, dentist, or physician solely by reading. And these are the careers that help pay off those huge college debts.

28. chron7 - July 13, 2010 at 12:59 pm

jshervais I agree - more heat than light. And since when is all or nothing a good idea? Perhaps some schools would do well without a tenure system, but why would all of them? And as for postgraduates, they are key participants in STEM research. In fact postgrads are the next generation of scientists and professors. While undergrads will always drive the system, we would be foolish to consider graduate-level education a drain on resources.

29. frankschmidt - July 13, 2010 at 03:57 pm

Hacker and Dreifus ignore the fact that tenure serves the institution as well as the faculty, by allowing faculty to experiment in both teaching and research. For every "Professor Deadwood" anecdote I can name at least a half-dozen of my colleagues who made real advances after, and facilitated by, tenure. Indeed, how many of their anecdotal exemplars are due to the efforts of tenured faculty, as opposed to junior or adjuncts?

They put too much emphasis on only one product of higher education: narrow vocational training. Our true product is innovation - has been, ever since the western universities were founded about the time Prof. Hacker got tenure.

30. soc_sci_anon - July 13, 2010 at 04:02 pm

It's curious how two people who have produced so little original research of import over their careers are so certain that research is an expendable component of higher education. Physician, heal thyself?

31. 19682010 - July 13, 2010 at 04:24 pm

If a student of mine submitted this article as a paper -- I'd give it an F. I know this is an opinion piece (and a book is coming out), but there's abolutely NO data mentioned to support the arguments made.

* Immune from scruitiny? Seriously? Have the authors ever heard of accrediting agencies? Do they know on average how many hours of scruitiny an accreditation review requires?

* It's nice that the authors "believe" all students can do college work -- but where is the data to support this conclusion?

* "Tenure takes a huge toll" - where's your data? Like every other person I've seen arguing this point -- there is none presented.

* Allow fewer sabbaticals because most of them are uneccessary -- where is the data on this? A theoretical argument in response: professors at both the undergraduate and graduate levels spend part of their time teaching students how to do research, write, and present their research findings. In order to do this well, professors need time to do these tasks themselves. Sabbaticals provide time for faculty to burnish the skills that they are teaching students. This is equally true for faculty in the visual and performing arts who take sabbatical time to produce art of their own.

To the Editors at the Chronicle: Is there any chance you could require op-ed writers to at least include some data when making arguments about policy-related matters?

32. fizmath - July 13, 2010 at 05:39 pm

Without tenure who would have the freedom to advocate unpopular ideas?

33. mvarner - July 13, 2010 at 06:17 pm

One of the benefits of traditional universities that often go unnoticed is career placement. This feature is virtually non-existent at for-profit schools like University of Phoenix. This article does a wonderful job of highlighting the issue: http://edunerds.com/5-problems-with-career-placement-at-online-schools-how-we-can-fix-it

34. honore - July 13, 2010 at 07:09 pm

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35. sherbygirl - July 13, 2010 at 07:29 pm

I'm wondering why there is so much resistance, here and elsewhere, to trade/professional schools? My brother tried and tried to succeed in higher education but was miserable. He took a welding course, got his accreditation and is now making more money than I am, PhD and all. He is much happier working with his hands, building/fixing things; as happy as I am reading and writing. He reads a lot, historical military fiction mostly, because it interests him. If education is a public good, we should make sure that it is in the individual person's best interest as well. Public money on higher education would have been wasted on my brother and many other young people like him who would have been better off in trades, beauty school, etc. And no disrespect. They'll all have jobs, little debt, and pay taxes way sooner. If later, they want to get an "education" then they can come back. But to force a child at 17 in a mould that they do not fit into is unfair and a waste of resources.

36. tuxthepenguin - July 13, 2010 at 08:25 pm

Yes, it takes great courage to post an article on a popular website promoting your new book. I'll give anyone 3 to 1 odds that there's a deal between the book publisher and the CHE that lets them publish here.

Even by the low standards of the Chronicle, this article stands out. Have the authors ever heard of what we used to call "evidence"?

It's difficult to even respond to the article because it is fact free. Eliminating tenure will improve the experience for the students? That assumes (a) tenured faculty members can't be fired, and (b) the only way to get productivity is to fire someone. This is absurd, and what is worse, the authors know it is absurd. And they know full well that it is a lie that tenure means you don't have to teach introductory courses. It's not absurd to say that, it's just an outright lie. But I guess all's fair when you're promoting a book, right?

Funny thing that these "academics" would argue that research harms the students. And they have their own research to prove it.

I could go on but I don't see any point. This article borders on trolling. It's just a way to get clicks to sell to advertisers.

37. hilde - July 13, 2010 at 08:41 pm

Dreifus published a very set of recommendations article in the July/August issue of "More" magazine. In that article (with passages nearly verbatim to what is here, as far as I can recall) she goes further in condemning sabbaticals than she does here, saying about them: If faculty want to write books, let them do it on their own time. (A paraphrase.) Now, here, she moderates it, perhaps knowing that CHE readers would call her out on her ignorance about what faculty are actually paid to do at universities. Clearly, she's pandering and plumping an anti-intellectual line. Too bad for her that journalism is in worse shape than academia.

38. eicherd - July 13, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Perhaps the issue with "tenure" is not tenure itself, but the administrators and academic dinosaurs that have forgotten what every (or most perhaps) doctoral students already have learned....question everything, be passionately curious, deconstruct arguments....etc...

39. honore - July 14, 2010 at 09:12 am

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40. ejb_123 - July 14, 2010 at 10:03 am

According to the article, "We hear often that academics need every seventh year to recharge their mental batteries." Yet elementary, middle level, and secondary educators "recharge their mental batteries" every summer while working seasonal jobs such as campground attendants and restaurant servers, spending time with their families (the kids aren't in school either) and going on mini-vacations, enrolling in university summer courses so they can renew their teaching certificates, and catching up on their reading, including recent trends in classroom management and technology in the classroom. Do post-secondary educators, who oftentimes do not even have to be present in their offices and classrooms five days a week for eight hours a day like other educators, really need sabbaticals every seven years?

41. 22073491 - July 14, 2010 at 11:07 am

I was a student of Professor Hacker's at Queens College more than 30 years ago. He was as inspirational then as he is today. Thank you Professor Hacker!

42. radzeer - July 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm

"We believe all Americans can do college work"

This is not true except of course if college education is sufficiently dumbed down (which seems to be the trend at some public universities hungry for tuition money). I often criticize European higher education for being elitist, but now US higher education seems to be running to the opposite extreme. A college degree is simply not for everyone, sorry.

43. intered - July 14, 2010 at 12:35 pm

@radzeer and others,

Whatever our personal preferences might be, it helps to recognize the reality that higher education is no longer a cluster of very small markets serving the smart and the rich.

Today, higher education is a family resemblance construct that subsumes programs and services provided to at least 80% of the ability curve and, increasingly, all ages.

With respect to age, half of students are now adults; most work and have adult family and social responsibilities. The median age of college students is rapidly approaching 30. The last report I saw showed that the median age at for-profits is already around 35. Baby Boomers will soon push this statistic over the mark. Many are returning to prepare for a brand new post-retirement career. A few years ago, a medical school admitted its first student over the age of 60. Many others have followed since. Nursing and education programs now enroll many 50 somethings preparing for their next life.

So many of these posts are based on the implicit assumption that students are 17-21 or so and leading the classic "college life." It does not speak well for our profession that nostalgia so often overrules reason.

44. tigerlilie - July 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm

ejb_123, you do realize that you are offering an argument against faculty sabbatical that counters the necessity for a term off every seven years by suggesting that their job is comparable to elementary, middle and high school teachers, right? And you realize that getting 3 months a year off, every year, equates to MORE time taken off than sabbatical every seven years, right?

I agree that university administrator salary should be capped. Anything over $250K is simply ridiculous. I also applaud the authors for pointing out that adjunct abuse needs to end. I was appalled when I learned how little the adjunct faculty at my univeristy were being paid.

However, the idea that academia can exist without research is ridiculous. If the emphasis in higher education should be undergraduate enlightenment, how are these students going to become free thinkers without learning how to form their own thoughts? I attended a large research university and the semesters I learned the most were the semesters I completed independent studies. Academic inquiry and education are inextricably linked, like it or not. When we stop asking questions, we stop innovating.

And as many have said before me, the idea that everyone should go to college is absurd. Making such a tautology negates all the authors' assertions that a undergraduate education should be tailored to the student. And each student is supposed to undertake a humanities or liberal arts degree? Really? That's like saying everyone in the nation should become a welder. What if I don't want to become a welder? What if I don't want to a liberal arts student? Under this model, that means I can't go to university.

While some of the suggestions about improvements on faculty politics and infrastructure are valid, the authors' view of how the university should orient to students is both ludicrious and entirely unsustainable.

Also, good luck getting donors to allocate their generosity elsewhere. I do not know a single donor who, if turned away from their university of choice, would accept that university's recommendation to donate to an 'equally deserving' university. It's not about whether or not they deserve it. It's about what the donor wants.

45. radzeer - July 14, 2010 at 01:17 pm


I think these are two separate issues. One is the increasing age diversity. Correct me if I'm wrong, but many of these nontraditional students are in graduate or other professional degree programs, not so much in the traditional undergraduate training (while there are differences between an 18 year old starting college and a 25 year old doing the same thing as an adult, for the purposes of the argument these are essentially the same: a relatively young person starting college education).

But more importantly, those who start (or restart) college as older adults are also a selected group. Just because somebody is an adult with decades of life experience, it still does not mean that he or she is smart enough for college, or that he or she should go to college by the virtue of age and experience. I don't want higher education serving the smart and the rich, because then it is serving the rich really, but I also don't want to devaluate diplomas by giving it to anybody who can simply be present for four years. I understand the financial motive behind the "let's admit anybody" policy, but on the long run it will make American higher education less competitive, because there is an opportunity cost of struggling with those students who will always need extra assistance.

46. kudera - July 14, 2010 at 01:25 pm

This is conjecture, not the almighty proof that only a billion-dollar research grant could provide me the time to provide, but I suspect that most anyone who is on the "anti-tenure" side in some sense probably:

a) feels very vulnerable at work, does not have tenure or union protection, and resents people with such security


b) does have tenure, hustles her ass off despite this, publishes new books every year, but in free moment or two notices the tenured colleague next door is rarely in his office and when present can occasionally be seen surfing online for golf clubs and lingerie


c) is a parent who with kids in college or high school and has been reading that over half of America's undergraduate courses are taught by people with no job security or benefits


d) is tenured but affluent enough to survive this hypothetical move to FREE UNIVERSAL CONTRACT LABOR (or as Karl Rove would describe it, "Jobs and Growth")


e) believes that all research should pay for itself, presumably in the short term (which yes, now that you point that out, seems counter to the principles of research)


f) is also for moving more undergraduate tuition dollars into the classroom--perhaps where the sad sap adjunct faculty member engaged in his "regurgitation" could interupt his upchucking of the data and leap upon the students fighting for those dollars


g) is part of the demographic described in comment 44 but remains uncertain of his or her stance on tenure despite a sort of negative emotion associated with his tenured neighbor's rather nice car


h) is also irked by the contracts of athletic superstars although he can hardly imagine Stanley Fish's basketball exploits (as described in the NYTimes, no doubt a benificence brought to you by the makers of fine wine and tenure) comparing to the great feats of the Lebrons and Carmelos.

In conclusion, I suspect that choice (a) is the main reason. Folks feel vulnerable and resent others who seem less so (despite all of their incognito chronicle postings). Feel free to find me for (i) through (z). And in the mean time, fight for your long day!

Yours for all contigency apointments,
Alex Kudera

47. intered - July 14, 2010 at 02:20 pm


One of my points was to note that what you and I might agree upon as "smart enough to go to college" has evolved substantially, beginning with the post WWI GI Bill and accelerating the past two decades, due to a number of factors probably beyond this discussion.

I'm not attaching any particular evaluative labels to this discussion, only to note that if we ask the question, "What is there to mean by 'college education'." A complete answer will be much longer and more multifaceted in 2010 than it was in 1950. Today, we have institutions and programs that confer associate's degrees in Respiratory Therapy (a solid and growing profession), doctorates in Audiology (who would have thought that . . . it is entry level now and required no degree 25 years ago), and countless other specialized forms of higher education that came into existence relatively recently and may require a different level and set of skills and abilities than the more "traditional" (soon to be a minority) classical education to which I suspect we both refer.

Coming at this from a different angle, I recall a comment made by one of my undergraduate professors around 1970. He was probably 75 years old at the time and had only a master's degree. Yet he was clearly one of the smartest individuals in university. I asked how he had retained his professorship among his Ph.D. colleagues. A "grandfather clause" he explained, and then confessed, "I wasn't nearly smart enough to earn a Ph.D. in the academic environment of 1922." I don't know if his claim would have been true but clearly input and outcomes standards have broadened and evolved along a variety of dimensions.

Are these changes good . . . bad . . .? The question is moot because they are upon us. I don't have a solution because the problem is not even well formulated. I do have a suggested direction. I begin with four premises: (1) higher education is a fundamental good, even that which does not meet historical standards for inputs or outcomes, (2) within reason, everyone deserves a chance to fail, (3) the quest for comparability across institutions and within the same degree label is based on a faulty view of our institutions of higher education and what they do and deliver, and (4) transparency will address the concerns you and I have expressed.

Leaving the messy details for later, imagine degrees being delivered with a label as least as clear and detailed as the window sticker on a new car (in reality an interactive web application that would allow a consumer to drill down in specific ways to meet his needs). Among other things, degrees would specify: (a) input requirements, (b) process experiences (type, duration, etc.), (c) outcomes specified as demonstrated knowledge and proficiencies, benchmarked where possible, and (d) full institutional performance statistics (e.g., graduate rates and time-to-graduation statistics, placements, starting salaries [if appropriate to the degree], all in cost to degree, etc.).

Today, it is not unusual to see situations where Ph.D. graduates of one program may not qualify for admissions into a masters program in the same discipline at another school. These discontinuities will not go away, they are increasing. We should not attempt to eliminate them. Bringing these variances into alignment would require a draconian type and extent of control that no one wants and would not serve the needs of our society. To sort out this mess, we need only teach, evaluate, and label with greater scope and precision. Of course, we also need to teach consumers how to read our new labels.

With respect to competitiveness, I think it is optimized by ensuring that everyone is educated as well as possible. To a certain extent, especially in the vast middle-ranges, IQ describes a temporal dimension; i.e. a rate/effort dimension, not an absolute coefficient of learning. Again, within reason, all functional citizens can participate in various kinds of higher education and can, with practice, can even increase the rate at which they learn. Yes, some folks will never master a calculus (and will have no need) but the calculus whiz may not have the potential to be a whiz inserting a cardiac catheter. Both whiz kids need to keep learning. Higher education, appropriately labeled, should be available to both of them.

Thanks for the dialog. I have enjoyed it.

Robert W Tucker

48. cwinton - July 14, 2010 at 07:51 pm

Couldn't agree with tuxthepenguin (#36) more. This article is a blatent attempt to take a controversial and completely unsupported stance in order to promote sales of a book. I assume the book will be as worthless as this article. Let's hope it receives the kind of ho-hum reception it deserves.

49. nitkalra - July 14, 2010 at 09:42 pm

Its interesting that the writer is suggesting separating university from research. Being an international student in US, I have seen higher education setting in other parts of the world, where academe is not responsible for research. The result is that there is no innovation, there is nothing new invented. Left alone to government or private research institutions, research does not thrive, since the focus is very political or profit oriented. Academic researchers still have passion for research, which is the powerhouse for innovation for which America attracts best and brightest from around the world. And for those who do not want research, 4 year colleges are perfect setting to pursue teaching only. The availability of options and opportunities is what makes America a great place!

50. 22027212 - July 14, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Many programs of study at colleges and universities have, in recent years, adopted a "track" system: for example, if a student majors in English, she takes a core group of mandatory literature classes, then chooses after that to either continue on in literature, or to shift her focus to creative writing or film studies. The purpose behind the creation of track systems was the recognition that not all students are the same; their personal interests differ, as well as what careers they'll pursue after college.

Why don't colleges and universities adopt a similar solution for professors? All professors would teach a set minimum of classes, then they could choose either a "teaching" track or a "research" track. The teaching track would add, say, an extra class or so to those professors' schedules, but would relieve them of having to research. The research track would allow scholars to continue to research and publish. Tenure standards would differ according to the track chosen. Administrators would be able to retain researching scholars--which help promote an institution--as well as retain excellent teachers who could focus their sole attention on the classroom (which also help promote an institution). Seems like a win-win to me. Let's start recognizing that not all college professors are the same, and most have much to offer their students and institutions. Let's give them the same consideration of choices, as we do students.

51. performance_expert2 - July 15, 2010 at 12:41 am

"We believe all Americans can do college work"

That does have a nice communist ring to it. Communal wholesomeness, magic story, eliminate individual traits and espression. Communism is a lie and is used for one reason only: centralized power. The bottle of vodka is at the TOP. The above statement does several things. For one thing, it appropriates American identity. There is a vast sea of persons in America who have no interest in college, none. To mandate that everything academic be adjusted to this collective utopia is a fine way to destroy a country and make it ripe for centralized power to profit the same few who are mandating these utopian fictions. What is applicaple to the whole are basic "socialist" support servers that keep people from desperate conditions, protect people from being eploited, and serve to build wealth both individually and collectively. Destroying the function of institutions in the name of communist utopia and bucking up and having fuctioning institutions that provide base level services are two very different things and unfortunately, most Americans do not know the difference in the function of these two concepts and for whom they each serve.

52. performance_expert2 - July 15, 2010 at 12:49 am

Oh! Just noted the "we speak." Use of "the royal we." Sharpen up, folks and be quick to recognize appropriation. Scanning the article... well, this is a surprise. There's two authors. That must be the "we" that is referred to. As Benjamin Franklin so handily stated, "Please do not include me into an organization that I have not joined." Franklin did not allow himself to be co-opted. On a different note, the identity of General Patton was co-opted for a widely distributed Hollywood movie. Patton was dead and he could do nothing to stop it. He likely would not have even remotely allowed this happen. Hmmm I wonder how these two "white males" would be viewed today? Probably as dangerous. Put them in the corner office close to the door.

53. performance_expert2 - July 15, 2010 at 01:00 am

"It's not a conspiracy, it's math." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1DchGc07TY

54. fruupp - July 15, 2010 at 02:16 am

Citing William Bennett approvingly while dissing Ward Churchill tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the authors' motivations.

I'm surprised they didn't include DePaul University in their list of "approved" schools. Doing so would have provided them the opportunity to denigrate Norman Finkelstein, who, for expressing unpopular views, was denied tenure by the DePaul cowards who took their marching orders from Alan Dershowitz.

Tell us again why tenure should be abolished?

55. performance_expert2 - July 15, 2010 at 10:39 am

Here you go! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zw3i5Rzpx5A

56. hilde - July 15, 2010 at 11:57 am

The book will be out on Amazon on Aug. 3. I suggest reviewers post their comments (with ratings) there and then. I know I will.

57. intered - July 15, 2010 at 01:47 pm


Ah yes. Let's stir up a lynch party. Show those tergiversant academics what happens when someone dares to break ranks with the Mandarins.

58. bjkingape - July 15, 2010 at 03:00 pm

I don't mind controvery, but I do mind gratuitous controversy, which the 'Tuscany' provoking comment about sabbaticals clearly is meant to be, on the part of the authors.

But I want to veer in a different direction. As the mother of a rising high school senior, I was interested in the colleges praised in the article. So I looked up Berea College. How interesting to note in its mission statement, online, that it "continues today as an educational institution still firmly rooted in its historic purpose, to promote the cause of Christ." That this wasn't noted by the authors, who only mention the liberal-arts nature of the college and its fortunate students who work instead of pay tuition, strikes me as a pretty serious lapse in reporting.

59. cliftonw - July 15, 2010 at 03:30 pm

As pleased as I am that our institution, Western Oregon University, is cited by the author as one among many who "get it right", and I must confess I do believe that our undergraduate education experience is exemplary, I would like to interject a couple of important points: First, that Western Oregon University's faculty consists of some very fine professors who are committed to teaching undergraduates but who also are fine researchers published in peer-reviewed journals and contribute significant hours of service locally, nationally and internationally. Our faculty and staff are committed to student success and they been recognized for outstanding academic advising by NACADA for the past three years.

Our mid-sized university, has a vigorous graduate studies program that offers on campus and online degree options, e.g. M.A. Criminal Justice and M.S. Education: Information Technology among eight others. Moreover, we are in the process of implementing a number of additional graduate programs within the next biennium.

I believe we get it right on a multitude of levels: our campus community is a great place to be whether faculty, student or staff and this is reflected in our accomplishments and our commitment to one another.

Wanda Clifton-faber, PhD
Director Academic Affairs/Assistant to Provost
Western Oregon University

60. ejb_123 - July 15, 2010 at 04:00 pm

tigerlilie wrote in post 44: "ejb_123, you do realize that you are offering an argument against faculty sabbatical that counters the necessity for a term off every seven years by suggesting that their job is comparable to elementary, middle and high school teachers, right? And you realize that getting 3 months a year off, every year, equates to MORE time taken off than sabbatical every seven years, right?"

I'm not a university professor, but I do wonder how many college professors actually teach summer courses, and among those who do, how many of them teach as many courses during the summer months as they do during the fall and spring semesters. Universities seem pretty dead from the beginning of May to the end of August, and professors seem to seldom be on campus. If professors don't teach during the summer months, then they get three months off during the summer just like elementary, middle level, and secondary level teachers. Besides, I know very few elementary, middle level, and secondary level teachers who don't hold some kind of summer employment, so it's not like they just sit around and play golf for three months.

College professors may work hard and remain very busy during the academic year, but then so too are elementary, middle level, and secondary level teachers, most of whom also have at least one -- and often more than one -- extracurricular that they are in charge of, from coaching basketball and track to advising the yearbook and the school newspaper.

61. cranefly - July 15, 2010 at 09:24 pm

@ejb You do realize that teaching is only a small part of our job, right? We're not "Teachers". We're "Professors". There IS a difference. According to my contract, teaching is 40% of my job. You want me to spend 40 hours a week on teaching, and then do the other 60% of my job--when, exactly?

We don't get summers "off". We get summers to conduct research, catch up on the technology and reading we've missed during the year while we work 80 hour weeks to try to keep up with that other 60% of our job. We also spend that time doing a lot of service work, attending conferences to keep up with the latest, etc. etc.

It's not time off.

62. optimysticynic - July 16, 2010 at 02:13 pm

Everyone can get a college degree. Yes, absolutely. Here's how: Keep lowering demands, expectations and evaluation standards while hiring more and more student services helpers (tutoring, remedial courses, writing assistance, math supplementation, first-year how-to, second year pick-me-up, special classes for fill-in-the-blank type students etc. etc.) until you reach the point that the bar is SO LOW that NO ONE falls beneath it. There...done!! My institution is explicitly doing exactly this. Now guess what the outcome is: students who "have a degree" and are utterly umemployable, to their shock, horror and outrage. Because now they not only want any old job; they want the creative, high-prestige, big salary job they were "promised" would follow with the degree.

63. aarobinson - July 18, 2010 at 09:48 am

One thing I found infuriating was the number of comments directed at the authors' suggestion that "all Americans can do college work...". In general the argument seems to be: Many of the students in my remedial classes are not performing well. Therefore, most people are incapable of a college education. Increasing access to these people will lower the quality of education and devalue degrees.

It is mistaken to think that because students don't already come with the skills necessary for college, they don't belong at college. The point of a college education is to acquire those skills. If this requires special classes or an extra year, so be it. We do need to be weary of lowering the bar. But our aim should be helping everyone who is willing to reach the bar, if we claim to be educators. I think the real problem is not the lack of a capacity for learning, but a lack of a willingness to teach.

My view might be utopian. But I perfer this brand of optimism to the arrogance inherent in the 'cynicism' that rests on a self-agrandizing hierarchical understanding of the human capacity for thought. This elitism, far from being a stalwart opposition to communism, is detrimental to democracy. In contrast, the humanism the authors express is integral to the concept of democracy.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” - Thomas Jefferson

64. eukaryote - July 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

I disagree. College is not useful for everyone: universal enrollment idealizes human character, ability and motivation. It should be available to anyone, certainly, but expecting universal enrollment is unrealistic. Pumping a D student into a liberal arts college begs for abuse by student and teacher alike. Inflated enrollment justifies the existence of a school, inflated grades justify the existence of useless classes - how many readers have taught the same class three times a day, semester after semester in order to keep student teacher/ratios low? It is a stupid, false and exhausting approach to education that is seen as necessary by the education industry and not because it is a better way to teach. Student enrollment is artificially high, so administrative slight of hands keep ratios low. Does it not seem contradictory when institutions that promote low ratios also promote online education, where there is no direct contact? The actual problem is not one of being incapable of selling education as a road to a better society or life, it is in the belief that we must sell education at all. Education is a social responsibility, not a product for packaging. Someone should see the need for it within themselves and then reach for it. A student stuck in a classroom because of peer pressure or marketing strategies is losing time in their life.

Expecting that a student who has no academic inclination to see a light and become interested actually is an indoctrination itself into abstract thinking. The utility of intellectualism every intellectual believes exists may very well be illusory, and given our headlong rush into an overpopulated world totally dependent on the support of technology, intellectuals may be forgiven if they see a fleeting image of the world in collapse as the result of college education. What created the environment for all those 10 billion people anyway, who will face a world without oil in 2050? It there an educational, technological fix for that?

65. my2cents - July 18, 2010 at 03:45 pm

The authors here fail to mention one important suggestion:

- stop giving As to all students for sub-standard work.

In many respects this op-ed piece is both an example and the result of such substandard work. The authors have no data to back up their claims, make sweeping generalizations ("all students should go to university") and forget important axioms (the university is a place for research, not just teaching)... Henry Holt/Times Books obviously is not targeting a educated readership here, just folks who buy books with provocative titles and spew stereotypial conventions.

66. performance_expert2 - July 18, 2010 at 05:35 pm

To add, pipe fitters, electricians, welders, where these learn their trade is on the job through apprenticeship. Their "university" is the trade union. Other workers still learn through apprenticeship on the job, though without union; these include heavy equipment operators and person who build roads and do the labor part of civil engineering projects, drainage and that sort of thing. A skilled dragline operator or bulldozer driver is likely resistant to "college" for any number of reasons, chief being the need to go to work every day and earn a living. In an urban environment, for trade work, univerisity or college is not a necessary career path for bartenders and floor technicians who keep the floors waxed and repaired in office buildings, malls, etc. Therefore to project the "all-speak" is incorrect and is also depersonalizing and reductive to the identity and productivity of these workers.

67. physicsprof - July 18, 2010 at 09:30 pm

"We believe all Americans can do college work, so universal enrollment should be our nation's goal."

What about plumbers, should they also enroll universally? If yes, what for? Wouldn't that be a waste of society's resources? Or may be there would be no need for plumbers in the future as universally college-educated Americans will stop to produce waste?

68. fruupp - July 19, 2010 at 01:52 am

#64 said: "A student stuck in a classroom because of peer pressure or marketing strategies is losing time in their life."

To wit:

"...the higher education industry is becoming a racket: Buy our product or be condemned to life of penury..." - Barbara Ehrenreich, "The Higher Education Scam"


69. theblesseddamozel - August 01, 2010 at 06:47 pm

In response to bjkingape's snipe about Berea College's Christian mission... The college was founded in 1855 by abolitionists to serve the poor of Appalachia... black, white and female. In 1855! It was their religious convictions that inspired the founders in their controversial undertaking. while the college was originally aligned with the Church of Christ,it is non-denominational and unafiliated now. They do require you to take three religion classes. In my day they were "Issues and Values", "Religious and Historical Perspectives" and "Art and the Sacred".I'm a graduate of Berea who was raised Catholic and I never felt that any particular viewpoint was foisted on me in any class. Also, thanks to Berea's commitment to helping socioeconomically deprived students around the world we always had international classmates of varied religous and cultural practices. Berea is not an easy school and it offers few luxuries for its students. All students work and the professors are actively involved with students on a daily basis. I don't understand why there aren't more Bereas when the model is so successful.

70. mrmars - August 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I found the criticisms of many of the commenters to be more on the mark than the point of view expressed in the article. Good luck with that book.

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