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Higher Education As Boiler Room, Part 2


By Professor Doom


So, last time around, I was examining the vision of the modern university, as presented by a highly paid Poo Bah, who despite his complex job justifying (supposedly) $900,000 a year plus extraordinary benefits, had plenty of time to write a book.

First part of his vision was to turn mathematics into a boiler room, where students play with some software for a while, certify that they eventually did ok with the software, and move on.

Posting at Dojo: To achieve the ranks past Black Belt, the student must take individualized instruction…

--in martial arts, you can learn basic skills in rooms filled with other basic students, but as you move up to advanced skills, you really need a personal teacher. You know, like every other skill human beings learn: the more refined the skill, the less possible it is to mass produce. The US Military doesn’t have 3,000,000 Navy Seals for a reason, after all.

A few posts back, I wrote what the Poo Bah wants to do with English education: make the courses larger, with less instruction, far less than what any expert in the field says is necessary to actually help a student improve. The Poo Bah also has the brilliant idea of having the instructors of these courses do 25% more work with no more pay. I can visualize the Pooh Bah twirling his mustache as he came up with that nefarious plan. I grant that it must have been hard to find a Poo Bah that thinks like a comic book villain, but I’m not sure this level of respect for education and educators is worth the money he gets.

I understand that instructors in other discipline areas teach a [five-course-per-semester] load, and if I could just give my students Scantron tests, I would not mind the increase,” Kelly said. “But teaching composition is different, and I will not be able to continue these best-practice approaches if our load is increased.”

--the bogus “PowerPoint and Scantron Test” college course is the model in higher education now, because it’s all you can do with class sizes in the hundreds. English departments have tried to keep it away from their courses, but are failing, across the country.

So, the vision for our universities is destroy math education, destroy English education. Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic are no longer to be part of education. Any other clever ideas? Oh yes.

See, it’s no secret that graduation rates in, say, computer science are much lower than graduation rates in, say, Women’s Studies. ASU, like every other institution, doesn’t give a damn about helping students pay for the loans they took out for tuition, but absolutely cares about getting better graduation rates.

So, what do to do about all those pesky students that keep trying to get into majors that give jobs (because not everyone can do them), instead of going into majors that anyone can pass (but there are no jobs for, so that the loans will never be repaid)? Again, ASU is “ahead of the pack”, with an e-advisor (more computers!) to steer students into degree programs that make the Poo Bah happy, even if they ultimately screw the student.

What exactly does the e-advisor do? Well, here goes:

advising programs such as ASU’s eAdvisor which creates a “personalized” degree path for students based on identifying majors where they can “succeed and graduate on time.”

What success means in this context isn’t clear, but one assumes we’re talking about grades. Courses are recommended not based on student curiosity or interest, but the likelihood of completion.

On the one hand, I approve of not screwing students by putting them into programs where they absolutely cannot succeed…but it’s only a coincidence that the e-advisor does this. The e-advisor takes students out of “hard” degree programs, and puts them into easy ones where they’ll likely graduate…and then fail to repay their loans because, yeah, stuff that everyone can do just doesn’t have a high market value. Realize this puts immense pressure on the departments on campus: they now compete amongst themselves to offer the easiest programs, lest the e-adviser steer students away from them.

Seriously, let’s think about this: ASU’s e-advisor would totally send every student to UNC’s bogus paper courses in the African Studies department—those courses gave GREAT grades, after all, and everyone “succeeded” in them.

But when people say that these pathways are “personalized,” they gloss over the ways in which they’re “personalized,” which is by making use of socioeconomic and demographic data in order to draw conclusions about the individual. This is the “science” of predictive analytics. Depending on one’s race or gender or any number of other factors entirely outside of the individual’s control, different students finding themselves in similar academic standing may be shown different paths.

An education at ASU is clearly being set up to have all the legitimacy of any boiler room operation.

So far, then, the Poo Bah’s clever ideas for higher education is to get rid of educators, get rid of more educators, and shove students into “social advancement” degree programs that might do well for graduation rates, but do absolutely nothing for the students (or for jobs, or for the economy, or for education, or for the prestige of ASU).

The Poo Bah wants a lean caste of extremely hard working educators trapped in dead end jobs, but maybe he’ll trim down the immense administrative bloat? HAhahahah. I present to you (via the linked article) ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, which as you can tell from the title, has…oh wait, you probably can’t tell what this department does from the title. Heck, nobody can guess from the title what that “office” does. It’s a typical title of a fiefdom.

I’ve written before the administrative fiefdoms that overwhelm many campuses. These fiefdoms are huge money-sinks for institutions, packed with grotesquely overpaid administrators doing nothing at all but getting huge checks. Go to that link and click on the organization chart to see what I mean: 14 executives with spiffy titles like “Senior Economic Development Advisor” and “Senior Vice President” (and many Vice Presidents) each pulling down well over $100,000 a year, doing nothing at all that any student or educator on campus can tell you, much less doing anything meriting such ridiculous pay.

Every institution has such fiefdoms, but ASU is swarming with fiefdoms like this with corporatespeak names like Decision Theatre Network and Global Institute of Sustainability, or whatever. Seriously, legitimate education could be possible, and much, much cheaper if we’d just get rid of all these mystery fiefdoms sucking up student dollars in exchange for…nothing.

So, to summarize the vision of ASU: no education, minimal faculty, lots of highly paid administrative jobs, run with no more integrity or decency than any other boiler room operation. I want to point out, again, just how far administration is from understanding education: in his book the Poo Bah here is, quite literally, crowing about his achievements in destroying higher education, while our elite cheer him on.


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