Monday, May 11, 2015

Things are getting better, not worse: Higher Ed Edition

Yesterday I read what could be the worst op-ed ever.

People, you know it was in the NYT!

Allow me to summarize the creepy, illogical, smug, moralizing of one, Mark Baeurlein

In the old days students idolized and hung out with professors, and the wise professors counseled them to live well.

Now students have little contact with professors, so they have reverted to their baser instincts and only care about money, while the professoriat simply pats them on their greedy heads and gives them undeserved good grades.

But there are just a few holes in the argument (hard to believe, given that the author is a english prof at Emory).

First off while he gives statistics about "low" (25% of seniors never talk to a prof outside of class) professor contact in the current era, he only uses anecdotes from himself and his buddy Todd to argue that, in the good old days, things were very different. Not exactly a convincing argument.

Then he goes back to the data, showing that in the late 60's many more students said they cared about “developing a meaningful philosophy of life,” than they did about  “being very well off financially.”

Today the numbers are reversed.

So far so good, but then Baeurlein implies that the sea change has come from the "fact" that students no longer hang out with profs after class!


Never mind that he hasn't proven that case, what about the simple fact that many more people and different types of people go to college now than in 1968?

In other words, perhaps we should consider that the change in the volume and composition of college students caused both phenomena that Bauerlein decries (to the extent that they even exist at all).

In 1972, 25% of people between the ages of 18-24 were enrolled in degree granting institutions. In 2012 the percentage was 41%. Colleges moved from a preserve of the elite to embrace a much wider economic and social demographic. Hispanic enrollment rates went from 13% to 37%, while rates for African-Americans went from 18% to 36%.

Bauerlein's good old days were elitist and kinda racist. But hey, at least the profs had disciples and were revered and the students didn't care about money. Because that's what really matters.


Anonymous said...

I would also add, that back in the 1960s a college degree more or less guaranteed a decent job, not so now.

Simon Spero said...

I think it is quite unfair to condemn a person based on a single, short opinion piece.

Instead, judge them on their monograph length works, such as The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future(Or, Don 't Trust Anyone Under 30)

Anonymous said...

I don't blame today's students for not wanting to hang out after class, or for working part-time and not spending every waking minute studying. After all, probably only 1 in 10 will go to some kind of graduate school, and only in 100 will do a PhD.

I *do* give students a hard time for playing games and Facebooking on their laptops in class.

J Scheppers said...

For Angus and Mungowitz:

This Onion Peice say it all. "Professor Deeply Hurt by Student's Evaluation"

HT: Urban Ethics and Theory Blog.

gcallah said...

Yes, shoving more and more unqualified kids into college is a sure sign things are getting better!

Michael Gillespie said...

I read the essay differently--as a critique of faculty who are not in their offices (1 in 8 doors open at the Berkeley English Department--about right for most research universities by my experience), who mostly give out As (and thus don't have to make many comments), who are more interested in their research (and I would have added their graduate students)than in their undergraduate students (again pretty correct). No wonder students don't come talk to faculty in the same way most of them happily talked to high school teachers. I also thought that his basic suggestion of requiring students to come and talk to him about their work was educationally sound, and a reasonable way to break down the student's reluctance to talk to faculty who in general would prefer to be left alone.