• August 28, 2015

Disappearing Disciplines: Degree Programs Fight for Their Lives

Disappearing Disciplines: Degree Programs Fight for Their Lives 1

Mark Wallheiser for The Chronicle

Flip Froelich (third from left), a tenured professor of oceanography at Florida State U., stands with other faculty members whose jobs will end this year because of budget cuts. "It's just immoral," he said of the university's decision to hire tenure-track faculty members and lay them off six months later.

Would you like to major in anthropology at Florida State University? Sorry: The department stopped accepting new students last year. What about economics at the University of Louisiana at Monroe? That major is also going out of business. Computational physics at Oregon State? Circling the drain.

Critics sometimes grumble that American universities' curricula constantly metastasize and never shrink. But that hasn't been true in this recession. Dozens of majors and doctoral programs have been suspended or terminated since last year, and many more have been under the shadow of the guillotine. Several state systems, including those in Pennsylvania and South Dakota, are conducting wholesale reviews of smaller degree programs, aiming to weed out the allegedly weak ones.

But who should decide whether a degree program lives or dies? The faculty, which is responsible for the curriculum? Trustees, who are responsible for a college's fiscal health? Or administrators, who straddle those two roles? In some recent cases, provosts have taken great pains to involve faculty senates. But in other cases, faculty activists say that they have been railroaded. Fundamental principles of shared governance, they say, are being placed at risk.

Ground zero for that quarrel is Florida State, where the Board of Trustees voted last June to suspend or terminate 10 undergraduate majors and three graduate-level programs. Sixty-two faculty members there, of whom 21 are tenured, have received notices that their services will no longer be needed after May 2010.

"The committee that came up with these closures included eight administrators but only three faculty members," says Jack T. Fiorito, a professor of management and president of the university's faculty union. "That doesn't sound very faculty-oriented to me." The union is now preparing for a May arbitration hearing on the layoffs.

One of the dismissed faculty members is Philip N. (Flip) Froelich Jr., a tenured professor of oceanography who joined Florida State's faculty in 1978. (The trustees voted to dismantle the oceanography department, though some of its courses will be folded into a new atmospheric-science program.) "I'm not complaining so much about my own situation," Mr. Froelich says. "I'm 63 years old, and my wife is still on the faculty here. But I'm appalled that the administration encouraged our department to hire two new tenure-track professors and then turned around six months later and laid them off. To a young faculty member, that can be a career-killer. It's just immoral."

Mr. Froelich adds that he understands that the university is in fiscal crisis. "I used to be an administrator at Georgia Tech, so I know that these decisions sometimes need to be made," he says. But he believes that if faculty members had been given more voice in Florida State's decisions, the layoffs could have been minimized or phased in over time. At the very least, he says, he would like for his tenure to have been revoked by a committee of his peers, rather than by administrative fiat.

The university's provost, Lawrence G. Abele, says Florida State is doing the best it can under adverse circumstances. (Its general-revenue appropriations from the state fell by more than $43-million this year, with more cuts expected next year.) "This was a very difficult process," Mr. Abele says. "But it was also a transparent process. We had a town-hall meeting with representatives of virtually every program that might be affected." Placing all decisions in the hands of the Faculty Senate, he says, might have led to an unnecessarily politicized process.

Faculty Rules

Mr. Abele's counterpart at Humboldt State University, in Arcata, Calif., has tried a different approach. The provost there, Robert A. Snyder, has granted the Academic Senate's wish to take the lead in identifying degree programs that might be cut. The senate has been instructed to find $1.3-million in annual savings—90 percent from undergraduate programs and 10 percent from graduate programs. If the senate does not construct such a list by April 20, Mr. Snyder has reserved the right to make the cuts unilaterally.

"The faculty are really not happy with eliminating programs," says the senate's chairman, Saeed Mortazavi. "However, we decided that we wanted to be part of this decision, rather than the decision being imposed on us."

The downside of such involvement is that it has caused division within the senate as faculty members have lobbied for or against cuts. "This is a relatively small campus, so that when we decide to eliminate programs, we know exactly who are the colleagues who are going to lose their jobs," says Mr. Mortazavi, who is a professor of business administration. "I am sure that the emotional costs of these decisions are going to stay with us for a long time."

Is it wise for faculty senates to fight for such a role, as Humboldt State's has? Much depends on the specific institutional context, says Matthew W. Finkin, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who often writes on academic freedom and faculty employment.

In general, Mr. Finkin says, the faculty should be understood to be primarily responsible for the curriculum. "Any well-run institution ought to recognize the faculty's knowledgeability and the need to maintain the morale of the faculty" if programs need to be cut during a budget crisis, he says. "So the administration really should in due course rely quite heavily on a faculty's judgment in these matters."

But in some cases, he continues, administrators have been known to act in bad faith—for example, by withholding accurate information about the college's budget. In such cases it might be better for faculty senates to withdraw their cooperation from the process, he says.

"The faculty should insist on the observance of certain fundamental mutual understandings," Mr. Finkin says. "And if the institution is not willing to do so and is not willing to be transparent, then there is simply no purpose to be served. If the institution is seeking a faculty rubber stamp, a fig leaf of protection—if that's the scenario, under those circumstances I wouldn't participate in such a process."

Top-Down Decisions

Faculty advocates worry about provosts acting unilaterally, but they are also uneasy about another process: Statewide commands to scrutinize all academic programs according to a single measure, such as the number of graduates or the average cost per student.

The 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (which does not include the Pennsylvania State University system) have been ordered this spring to review all of their "low completion" programs—that is, those with fewer than 30 graduates during a five-year period. The campuses are being encouraged to consider consolidating or suspending those programs.

"With the limited resources we have, we want to be sure that our academic programs are appropriate to our universities' needs and to the needs of the commonwealth," says Kenn Marshall, a spokesperson for the system. "We are looking long-term, to make sure that we can operate within a balanced budget."

Several of the small departments that have come under scrutiny are philosophy programs. Wendy Lynne Lee, a professor of philosophy at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, has been leading a campaign to protect those departments.

"A university without a robust philosophy major ... is simply anathema to the mission of a university," she wrote on Leiter Reports, a philosophy blog, in March. "This is not about enrollment; it is about what distinguishes a trade/professional/technical school from a university. Every single minute we are willing to play ball according to the chancellor's rules, which fallaciously link enrollment to program quality, we are in point of fact conceding to play by these rules."

Faculty members are also anxious in South Dakota, which is conducting a similar statewide review of low-enrollment programs. But one activist there says the process has actually been a rare chance for faculty members to gain the ear of the system's leaders.

Gary G. Aguiar, president of the South Dakota Council of Higher Education, the bargaining unit for faculty members at the system's six campuses, says that he often feels the system is managed in a top-down manner, but that in this case he believes the board is acting appropriately. He says he has assured faculty members who worry about indiscriminate program cuts that the system administration is using care in conducting the review process, which he characterized as a "show horse" intended "to demonstrate to the political system we are being frugal and prudent with public dollars."

He notes that where programs have fallen under minimum-enrollment thresholds—set, at the undergraduate level, as an average of fewer than five students per year during the past five years—the most senior faculty members in the program have had an opportunity to send the system administration a report explaining the low numbers. "It is unusual for us in South Dakota to have that opportunity" to influence system decisions, he says.

Louisiana is a state that has already done away with many small programs. Since January of 2009, the Louisiana Board of Regents has decided to eliminate more than 50 degree programs that were judged to have excessively low completion rates. Considered for such action were undergraduate programs that produced an average of fewer than eight graduates and doctoral programs that produced an average of fewer than two graduates in five years.

In a letter sent last month to a state commission established to plan a restructuring of Louisiana's higher-education system, Alvin G. Burstein, president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said he was troubled that programs were being judged by their completion rates, rather than their quality. He warned that the result might be pressure on academic programs to lower their standards so more students would graduate.

Mr. Burstein's letter also expressed concern about a December decision by the Louisiana regents to revise their policies to allow the system to declare fiscal exigency in connection with individual budget units or programs, rather than requiring entire institutions to be in such a state of financial crisis before making the sorts of work-force reductions allowed by exigency declarations.

"The absence of faculty involvement in the development and implementation of this shocking and dangerous change," Mr. Burstein wrote, "is a further rejection by the administration of the faculty's primary responsibility for curricular matters and its role as the guarantors of academic quality."

Muddle in the Middle

The pace of program cuts is likely only to accelerate during the next year. Just last week, Brandeis University terminated five degree programs, and the University of Northern Iowa did away with 16 of them.

Scott R. Olson, provost at Minnesota State University at Mankato, is overseeing a review that will probably lead to the elimination of several degree programs. The process has been tough, he says, but some of the pain has been mitigated by involving faculty members at every stage. One program, an undergraduate major in social-studies teaching, successfully persuaded the administration to remove it from the list of potential cuts by demonstrating that the state needs more qualified high-school social-studies teachers.

"There are a lot of smart people on every one of the campuses in this country," Mr. Olson says, "and using that intelligence and using all of those wise, experienced minds to help with the known problem is only going to make the decision-making be better. It's not going to make it be perfect, it's not going to make it be easy, but it's going to make it be better."

But creating that kind of faculty-administration harmony is easier said than done. The most important thing, Mr. Finkin says, is for administrators to respect the faculty's right to shape the curriculum. "This kind of process can be done the right way, or it can be done the wrong way," he says. "In the end, it really is up to the players involved to decide how they're going to live with each other."

"There's no map in the sky that says this is the wisest path to take," says Mr. Froelich, of Florida State. "The best you can do is to try to maintain the integrity and value of the university going forward."

Mr. Abele, the provost whose decisions have made Mr. Froelich so unhappy, uses very similar language. "When we made these decisions, we wanted to preserve the unique cultural heritage of the institution," he says. "These were very painful cuts. To go any further would have been almost unthinkable."

Jill Laster and Mary Helen Miller contributed to this article.

Weighing the Value of a Program

Robert C. Dickeson, a higher-education consultant and a former president of the University of Northern Colorado, has advised many institutions about program cuts. Here are some elements that he thinks should be considered, taken from his book Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance (Jossey-Bass, 2010). In addition to obvious factors, such as revenues and costs, he says, think about these:

  • History, expectations, enrollment demographics. (For instance, does the program cater to part-time, older students to help them complete degrees?)
  • Demand from incoming students
  • Demand for program's courses to fulfill distributional requirements
  • "Inputs," such as quality of faculty members, students, and curriculum
  • "Outcomes," such as test scores and scholarly research
  • Size, breadth, and depth
  • Overall impact and "essentiality" to college's strategic plan
  • Opportunity for saving or growing the program


1. tridaddy - March 29, 2010 at 09:48 am

Working at an institution in Louisiana, I can state without reservation that the administrators on my campus have worked closely with faculty groups to establish a priority decision making process for elimination of degree and non-degree programs. It is the ruling bodies outside the university that seem inclined to do "bean" counting when it comes to program elimination rather than also consider needs and quality. In addition, the metric has been changed during this process as a way, it seems, to include more programs. For example, what was originally required was an average of 5 graduates (masters)per year over a three year period; however, that was changed to an average of 8 graduates over a 5 year period during the actual review process. It doesn't seem quite fair to have us play by one set of rules and then change the rules when it come time to looking at completion or graduates per year. In addition, these increases carried no phase-in period. Furthermore, there seems to be no synchronization in the program review process. For example, a low completer program review is occurring while at the same time a duplication of program review is being done. In addition, we're waiting for a potential 20% pay reduction for the final three months of the fiscal year (Apr - June), which will result in one furlough day a week. Yet there seems to be no effort to study / evaluate these issues in conjunction with each other. This whole scenario reminds me of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Maybe coordination is occurring, if so, it would be worthwhile for the "powers that be" to clue the rest of us in.

2. jesor - March 29, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Too bad a lot of these processes didn't happen when there was money around. A review could have revealed a lot of high-quality, low enrollment programs that could have received extra resources to boost their enrollments while maintaining quality, and it could have also improved quality in programs that have higher enrollments but may be academically weak. Now it's just a matter of "we can keep this program regardless of quality, because it enrolls students, but how can we justify 4 tenure positions for 5 grads per year on this one?" Particularly with a public instituion where one of the reasons for existance is to produce an educated population, not just a few citizens for both work and civic life.

3. 11134078 - March 29, 2010 at 12:14 pm

But why is it that none of these admninistrators cuts money losing intercollegiate sports?

4. intered - March 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

This is one of many good reasons why public universities must learn to stop the large and increasing losses of high-margin/high-volume programs to the independents and for-profits. These losses exact repeated damage to the institution's economy. First, they diminish revenue; second, they reduce margins, net and program; third, they diminish market share and ability to control their destiny; fourth, they are left with a stable of low-margin/low-volume programs, many of which are material to their mission and public responsibility.


To regain the highest possible volume in the profitable programs, these universities must learn to compete effectively in the marketplace (given the tuition differential, competing half as effectively would do it). This means they must offer the programs students want, when and where and how the students want them. This means they must learn to manage their enterprise.

To do less is to guarantee an increased rate of loss in the programs competitors' want to steal. Increasingly, administrators will find that they have no choice but to drop otherwise mission-supporting programs. The solution is not to beg for more money. The solution is to learn how to manage the enterprise effectively.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.

5. awegweiser - March 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Pennsylvania is mentioned here as a State (Commonwealth - whatever that is) with fiscal problems in higher education.
As a retired member of one aspect of the system, I do wonder why PA has the "PA State University System" with its well known HQ in College Park plus a good number of branches or so all over with some in competition with 14 institutions called the "PA System of Higher Education" - not part of the huge Penn State outfit. Then there is also something called "State Related" schools.
Just curious.

6. jesor - March 29, 2010 at 01:16 pm

Pennsylvania, to complement its incomprehensible road system, has developed a similarly incomprehensible higher education system. The system in PA includes: the institutions of the PA system of higher education (mostly small public regional liberal arts schools), the state related schools (Penn State, Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln) that receive state funds, have a percentage of their boards appointed by the governor, and can use state bonding authority, but are constitutionally autonomous, the community colleges, and the private institutions. To complicate things more, all of the institutions receive state funds on a per capita basis in order to provide an in-state tuition break for PA residents. The privates generally actually get more per student than the state related schools while the community college and State System schools get the most per student.
Needless to say, that complexity has resulted in some of the highest in-state tuition rates and costs of education in the country. Particularly for Penn State which initially built lower division campuses in virtually every legislative district in order to fend of the community college movement, and now finds itself unable to close many of the underenrolled ones due to political reasons.

7. jaysanderson - March 29, 2010 at 02:20 pm

I worked for a few years in a PA State System of Higher Ed university. We used to refer to the system as "She-he" until a state admin type found that offensive and ordered us not to use that name. The universities are indeed much like the road system-incomprehensible. Friends tell me that my former campus is systematically breaking down any program that has insufficient political capital, regardless of enrollment or degrees awarded. Administrators mysteriously become very decisive when they must cut the jobs of others (to save their own). Dark days ahead, I fear. A career change seems imminent for me, and probably for many others in our profession.

8. philosophy - March 29, 2010 at 03:39 pm

If money is the problem, why don't they consider they amount of tuition money a department generates? See:


That is, they really do turn a profit.

9. moriard - March 29, 2010 at 04:44 pm

Penn State's main Campus is in State College, PA, not College Park.

10. awegweiser - March 29, 2010 at 06:43 pm

Thanks for the correction moriard. I confused it with another University oddly also located in a town with "College" in its name. (Maryland?) There must be a University Park somewhere.

And jesor, I may be wrong again but I think Pitt, Temple and Lincoln are called "State Related" but the exalted Penn State is in its own separate category. Despite a fairly large regional Penn State campus and one of the bigger of the 14 State System of Higher Universities with its own satellite campuses, plus several very good private or religious affiliated schools, a movement is afoot to establish a Community College. (Didn't these used to be called "Junior Colleges"?)

11. jthelin - March 30, 2010 at 09:43 am

The focus here has been on reviewing and possibly cutting academic programs. Fair enough. Yet the Delta Group study of where the money goes in state flagship universities indicates a persistent increase in the percentage of state subsidies and tuition dollars going to non-instructional expenses. So, is there a comparble review and cutting of administration -- e.g., such units as institutional budget and planning, development office, public relations, and so on? Look at a state university of your choice -- has it added vice presidencies (and related staff) in the past few years? Has it deleted any vice presidencies?

How about special funds for president, provost, vice presidents, and deans used for entertainment? Notice how professors get little if any money for conference travel (necessary for tenure and promotion to present papers) yet administrators have all expenses paid for travel and lodging for conferences and meetings.

12. rtimko - March 30, 2010 at 10:33 am

One should read Robert Tucker's comment carefully and with a great deal of fear for the future of higher education. His comments represent the wrong path for both education and the good of the community. His words represent the application of a fast food model for education--serve it up fast, cheap, and sloppy without regard for quality. This is indeed a good picture of current consumer desires, but it is not the "need" of either a healthy individual or a healthy community. It is the moral obligation of universities to fulfill needs rather than wants or desires. Self-gratification and a public sector all too willing to re-inforce self-gratification have led us to the social mess that we now experience, i.e., corporate corruption, an apathetic citizenry, students underprepared for a real education. Unfortunately, voices like Tucker's have far too much influence on governments and their bureaucracies. It is time that reality be reversed. We need less quick and easy on-line university programs; we need to understand that the business model of maximizing profit is the wrong model for education. We need to understand that it is the university and its curriculum that ought to shape society, governments, and corporate practices, not the reverse.

13. intered - March 30, 2010 at 01:12 pm

I would suggest that the anonymous #12 re-read my comments with the same care he prescribes to others. The thrust and most of the specifics of my comments run in precisely the opposite direction of #12's interpretation.

Public universities have always offset the expense of important programs that cost more to deliver than they take in with the revenues from programs that produce high margins. I am making no comment on negative margin programs except to note that they may be, and often are, important to the mission and social responsibility of the university as a member of the community.

As public universities have become less efficient [ http://chronicle.com/article/Rising-Cost-of-College-We/64813/ ], by means including but not limited to losing profitable programs to competitors, it has become more difficult for them to support important but revenue negative programs. I lament this condition but, unlike, #12 who offers only illogical rambling whining about fast foods, corporate corruption, and quality shibboleths, I am proposing a concrete approach to a positive outcome.

I have modeled the gains and losses and it looks to me like regaining 5% market share in high margins programs will solve, at least, the current problems of most state institutions.

That said, I have no stake in particular remedy, only in achieving one. (A remedy is not chanting "Give us more money because we are such deserving people and so unlike those corporate bad-guys in the news.) Most of us lament the fact that among university employees are those who display an illogical fear of terms such as 'margin' and market share' but no one would take advice from them. We must still find a solution.

I would be pleased to read about other potential solutions offered by individuals with expertise, especially those who have participated in managing educational institutions at senior levels.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.

14. kleinl - March 30, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Mr. Tucker is hopelessly caught in his business model, including all the rhetoric from the corporate, business world. He is apparently ignorant about the history of public education and the evolution of state universities in the U.S. State universities were not created to "compete" with private universities, but instead to give access to a college education for all qualified high school graduates. Private universities earlier in our history had much higher tuition charges than public institutions and kids from lower socio-economic classes could not afford them.

Also, public, state universities earlier were not enrollment driven and were seen as a service institution. In other words, the mission of a state university is different than a private university. The menu of academic offerings did not have to make a "profit" and the public tax payer did not demand that. Tucker's consumer, corporate mentality has become a dominant philosophy in recent years, which is ruining the integrity of our state universities. If public universities have to pander to "customers" to get the seats filled, offering "popular," in demand courses, than it loses its integrity and the curriculum becomes susceptible to the latest fads and trends. At my institution, applications for our criminal justice program and study of forensics have doubled in one year, all because our high schools kids have been watching too much CSI on t.v.

15. wendylynnelee - March 31, 2010 at 08:53 am

As post-12 points out and post-14 reiterates, the very model animating Robert Tucker's remarks is wholly inconsistent with the mission of a university, public or private, in my view. Our missions are to educate, advance scholarship, and offer that "space," as it were, of free intellectual inquiry. Our mission is to educate responsible thinking citizens and to contribute to the generation of knowledge--not produce the next generation of technologically proficient worker/consumers who ask few questions and value their cars more than their brains. It is a disaster in the making for this mission that Chancellor Cavanaugh of the PASSHE system attends more closely to the vision of folks like Tucker than to the faculty of the 14 universities that makeup this system.

But the evidence is clear: Humanities programs are expendable, and--other than as that passing (and insulting) nod to general education--not in line with a university mission in which professors are now conceived as "instructional delivery systems," degrees as products, and students as consumers. Mr. Tucker's remark that "[t]his means they must offer the programs students want, when and where and how the students want them" wholly subverts the mission of anything I could call "education," and converts it into that of a for-profit corporation like, for example, Phoenix, Kaplan, or the newly minted and grossly misnamed "Walden." These are NOT universities; these corporate ventures simply exploit the idea of a university to profit-making ends and are, as such, as grotesque an abuse of their consumer/students as is the hawker on a Manhattan street selling "real" Gucci handbags.

Visions like Tuckers are a death sentence for pedagogy that would dare to entertain controversial ideas--for example, ideas critical of the profit-motive, scholarship that is not obviously translatable into technology, professions whose first motive is not solely tethered to the making of money. It is ironic, but I think largely true, that Tucker's vision is so consistent with that of folks like David Horowitz who, in the name of purging the institution of its "leftist indoctrinators," would be very comfortable in a "university" where the humanities offer few opportunities to challenge the capitalist or patriarchal or racist or anti-environmentalist or anti-intellectual status quo. My observation,. moreover, is--contrary to the common retort--in no way "elitist." Instead, it acknowledges the value of education in itself, the value of knowledge in itself, and in so doing acknowledges that human beings are not first and foremost merely laborers and consumers driven by competition. Post-12 is dead-on: The university should be what shapes social change--not the Walmarts of degree-purchasing.

If we're going to instantiate Tucker's consumer-wants vision of education, why not simply declare the students the experts and scholars? What if a student wants to be taught that creationism and natural selection are on par as science? Are we then required to craft such classes to meet this absurd consumer demand? What if students want to be taught something as hands-on as the practices of appropriate patient care--but without access to patients, hospital beds, and a demonstration of technique--why not just teach nursing on-line? Courses should be taught "how" the students want them? Really? So, for whatever remains in-class, we should have no quibble about, say, texting...or plagiarism? Lots of students might love this new plan--but it would hardly count as education. Then again, perhaps Mr. Tucker's vision eliminates the campus, converting what can ONLY happen in a classroom--real dialogue with real people looking at each other in a real physical space where real respect is prerequisite to inquiry--is eliminated as unneeded overhead expense.

We should greet with nothing but disdain this "new" vision of the Mc'University. But this disdain MUST be translated into collective, thoughtful action. After all, this vision of the "well-managed" profit-driven university is demonstrably NOT new at all; what's the case, in fact, is that some chancellors and "education" entrepreneurs like Tucker seek to maximize the value of the recession to implement a very old aspiration. As Naomi Klein documents in the Shock Doctrine, a good crisis ought never be allowed to go to waste. The recession is one such "crisis."

A last example: The Pennsylvania 2010 Governor's Conference on Higher Education is scheduled for June 10th-11th in Lancaster Pennsylvania. With such a title, you'd expect the presence of professors among its attendees. But in fact, we're not even listed in it's column titled "who should attend?" I suggest looking to the list of sponsors to get a clearer picture of what this is really about. It reads like a compendium of "education industry" stars--including on-line Mc'U's like Kaplan, and Academy one (each of which includes a link to their websites). Among the conference's keynote speakers is President of University of Pennsylvania Amy Guttman--but I can only wonder: Is University of Pennsylvania then prepared to accept credits from Kaplan? I very much doubt this. Does U. Penn, however, benefit when it becomes the privates who in this brave new world are the sole proprietors of the humanities? This is the scenario we ought to regard as elitist. Indeed, "industry" is precisely the right word to describe the motives of these conference sponsors, and if we as serious state university academics committed both to education and to scholarship let this gutting of our mission happen, we will have only ourselves to blame.

Wendy Lynne Lee
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

16. rtimko - March 31, 2010 at 10:23 am

As #12, it was not anonymous. My name appears at the top right next to the number, and I have been both a corporate manager in the business world and an Academic Dean, both with a great deal of success. I hope this subverts Tucker's attemopt to "poison the well."

R.M. Timko

17. rtimko - March 31, 2010 at 10:24 am

sorry about the typo in "attempt" -bob T.

18. wendylynnelee - March 31, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Correction of typo: "it's" in last paragraph sentence "But in fact..." should be "its." Apologies!

Wendy Lynne Lee

19. kurtsmith - March 31, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I too find Mr. Tucker's position problematic. I think that both Professors Timko and Lee are right in their take on Tucker, contrary to what he insists. To claim that universities (or higher education more generally) MUST assume a (for-profit) business model does nothing less than to misdirect the AIM of such institutions. As it does with healthcare, I think, the service-consumer retail model, in serving to misdirect higher education's end, serves to harm the institution: it thwarts its INHERENT aim. As Milton Friedman and the other prophets of "capitalism" have argued, the aim of a corporation is profit. The institution serves the shareholders. So, as we have seen so many times, when the interest of patients, for example, comes into conflict with the interest of shareholders, corporate healthcare MUST decide in favor of the latter. To decide otherwise, Friedman has argued, is irresponsible. So too with casting higher education as a for-profit business. When the interest of students comes into conflict with the interest of shareholders (does the company of which Tucker is president have shareholders, I wonder?) a for-profit "university" MUST choose in the interest of the latter. Socrates, in Plato's _Republic_, has much to say about the physician who acts for the benefit of the patient (the aim being to bring about health) versus for the benefit of him or herself (the physician acts to bring about wealth for him or herself). The first is practicing medicine, the second money-making. They are NOT coextensive activities. The same, I think, will hold in the analogous case of higher education.

20. fizmath - April 01, 2010 at 10:49 am

Yes, let me also ask why sports programs were not cut. Can we even see the athletic budget of a school? Shouldn't it be publicly available if we are talking about a public institution?

21. intered - April 01, 2010 at 02:12 pm

Reasonable people will disagree as to the most appropriate mission and purpose of a university. They will debate with passion because it is an important matter.

Reasonably well informed people will engage in this debate with the following understanding in mind:

1. Whatever mission we should attempt to realize for a particular university, however broad or narrow, however theoretical or practical, however conservative or forward looking, the instantiation entails personnel, operating costs, sources of revenue, expenditure targets and, responsibly, a budget. All professors, whether of philosophy or agriculture, cash their paychecks. It is the duty of the university to ensure that the funds are in place to honor them. I can tell you that it is embarrassing to a university's leaders when employees who earn their living teaching science, logic, and other rational foundations construct and attack a straw man, while displaying profound ignorance of fundamental organizational structure. Embarrassing, but not surprising.

2. The few small niche markets that once defined higher education and served less than 5% of the populace (some of the smart and the rich) have exploded into a complex family of large and small markets, some closely related, some sharing few attributes, and together, serving three-quarters of the common definitions of target populations (roughly 60% of the secondary wave goes on to attend college and, increasingly, mid-career individuals attend).

Given, these many markets of many different constituents having different abilities, environments, and goals, does it not seem obtuse to argue as if there were one mission for universities?

3. Some of the comments above seem uninformed by the fact that nearly half of the 18M people attending regionally accredited colleges and universities are adults. Most of these students have jobs, families, civic responsibilities, and lead responsible adult lives. It is patronizingly insulting to suggest that the professoriate has the self-appointed duty to enlighten these individuals with their world views. It is empirically false to imply in doing so that the professoriate leads a better, more responsible or more intelligent life than they do. These individuals are in school to learn the subject matter for which they signed up paid (through tuition and as taxpayers), nothing more, and nothing less. Some members of the professoriate find it difficult to get used to the idea that many students don't care what you think about the political environment. They want you to teach them how to write effectively or to evaluate a pro forma.

So much of what we hear from the small but vocal group of Mandarins -- those professors who claim anointed vision and believe they are accountable only to themselves -- is transmittable only in the rarefied atmosphere of unchallenged myth in which they operate.

They imply that they have a pedagogy and to be pedagogical experts when, in fact, they teach the same way their great grand-professors taught, ignoring the last 50 years of modern learning and pedagogical sciences. Their idea of curriculum is a 1-5 page syllabus of reading assignments, perhaps updated, perhaps not. They do not understand such things as structured design, learning objects, activity properties, and validated rubrics. It matters not, however, they are suspicious of them because they are new (i.e., post-1950).

They claim to be dedicated to students when, in fact, their teaching productivity has declined for the past 50 years while their compensation increases at a rate well above the CPI. The last study I conducted showed that lass than two-thirds of them showed up for scheduled appointments with students, even after allowing being 30 minutes late.

They characterize sincere attempts at innovation as "McUniversity" thereby bestowing ridicule devoid of any substance and committing an argumentative fallacy they teach against.

They invoke an apodictic notion of quality, using it as a shibboleth, unaware of and/or refusing to employ the last 50 years of measurement sciences to determine what quality might mean with respect to their teaching. They appear unaware the rational foundation of any modern definition of quality entails the construct "suitability to purpose" (i.e., quality for what).

They assess student learning via inauthentic multiple choice and essay tests which, when subjected to measurement science analyses, fail fundamental validity tests that would be required of a passing student in measurement science 501.

They criticize their university's leaders, implying or outright claiming that they could run the university better. The fact is that few of them have managed anything more complex than their classrooms and, judging from student evaluations, many of them don't manage it that well. Mandarins are more likely to be found among those who have never held a mid-level or higher position outside the university. They remind me of the couch potato who watches the news and bellows out to the president how he should run the country.

Hopefully, we are witnessing the last gasps of the Mandarin-class professoriate, a small but vocal percentage among those who teach for a living. Watch them carefully as they struggle to retain the good old days of self-serving, self-deceiving, self-determination. They will attempt to retain their hegemony by professing concern for your enlightenment.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.

22. beatitude - April 02, 2010 at 06:09 pm

Given that Mr. Tucker's education company's website advertises that "If you need to grow, refine, or re-direct your adult-centered or professional programs, we will get you where you want to be and take responsibility for it," I think he and those who are responding to his posts are talking about apples and oranges. His company is clearly geared towards aiding adult learning and professional programs (and institions?), and his advice/model for educational services in those types of programs may well be what is needed, especially in community colleges or private trade schools. However, a state university's mission has little in common with those of the above types of institutions and shouldn't be expected to conform to a business model anymore than a police or fire department should. Even though state universities have professional programs, these are, with very few exception, undergirded by a strong liberal arts general education program (required of even the adult learners). The emphasis at a university is on obtaining a well rounded education as opposed to simply training for a given profession or "learning" a few job market friendly skills.

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