Academically Adrift Reading Group

The Philosophy teaching blog, In Socrates’ Wake, is hosting a reading group on Richard Arum and Josipa Roska’s Academically Adrift .  Here are the details:

So the global academic buzz over Academically Adrift has prompted us to organize our third ever ISW reading group (following groups on James Lang’s On Course and Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit). Here’s our plan:

We’ll begin the group the week of February 28. You can anticipate two or three posts per week, in addition to the usual ISW content. Since the book is brief, we’re not going to adopt the chapter-based approach we followed with past reading groups. Instead, ISW contributors will offer posts highlighting themes or claims in the book, linking these themes or claims to teaching philosophy. Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, the book’s authors, have indicated they may drop by from time to time to offer comments on our discussion.

Academically Adrift?

I just saw this article in The Chroncle of Higher Ed about the recently published book, Academically Adrift, which  paints a rather depressing picture of the critical thinking skills of college grads. This paragraph caught my eye:

While these students may have developed subject-specific skills that were not tested for by the CLA, in terms of general analytical competencies assessed, large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that it is widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern.

The rest of the article is here, but it seems like a strong indictment of the current state of higher education.

TNR review of Mark C Taylor’s “unbelievably misguided book”

TNR review of Mark C Taylor’s latest book about higher education :

The syndrome has become all too common. A provocative op-ed piece appears in a major newspaper (for preference, The New York Times). Its logic is fragile and its evidence is thin, but the writing is crisp and the examples are pungent, and the assault on sacred cows arouses a storm of discussion (much of it sharply critical, but no matter). It goes viral. And almost immediately, publishers comes calling. “This should be a book,” they coo, and the author, entranced by a bit of sudden fame (not to mention, perhaps, a decent advance), eagerly agrees. He or she sets to work, and soon enough the original 800 words expand to 50,000. But far from reinforcing the original logic and evidence, the new accretions of text only strain them further, while smothering the original provocations under thick layers of padded anecdote, pop sociology and oracular pronouncement. Call the syndrome Friedmanitis, after a prominent early victim, the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Continue reading

Slippery Slopes

From today’s NY Times:

Hard times force hard choices on everyone. But that does not require bad decisions too. At Brandeis University, President Jehuda Reinharz has made hard times worse by deciding to close the university’s Rose Art Museum and sell off more than 6,000 works in its collection.

His dilemma is clear — an endowment that has dropped 23 percent, to $549 million from $712 million, since the economic downturn began, and an immediate budget shortfall of some $10 million. The Madoff scandal and its effects on some of Brandeis’s major donors have made new fund-raising possibilities especially bleak.

Selling the university’s art collection would help plug its financial gap, but it would create a gaping hole in Brandeis’s mission and its reputation. It would default on one of the great collections of contemporary art in New England, one built early on with extraordinary artistic acumen. The core works were acquired by the museum’s founding director from such young artists (at young artist prices) as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

The donors who made such purchases possible almost certainly did not think of them as temporary gifts to be cashed in during hard times. They thought of them as gifts in perpetuity, a way of enriching students, visitors, and the wider community able to see works from the Brandeis collection on loan to other museums.

Mr. Reinharz has indicated that there is a chance the university will not sell its collection if, in his words, “there’s a miracle tomorrow morning and the economy turns round and the stock market is up by 45 percent.” As thinking goes, this is about as sound as Mr. Reinharz’s decision to sell off so many valuable works in the current depressed market. Surely it would make more sense to share the pain across the university’s budget.

Unaffordable Education.

From today’s The New York Times:

The rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

The piece doesn’t really explain why the costs of education are rising – where does all the money go?

Against Schooling

This morning I was clicking around in the quasi-harmless trade journal The Chronicle of Higher Education and I came across an opinion piece entitled, “America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree.” The author, Marty Nemko concludes “College is a wise choice for far fewer people than are currently encouraged to consider it.” But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, here’s the beginning:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: “I wasn’t a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I’d be the first one in my family to do it. But it’s been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go.”

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Continue reading

Financial Crisis and Higher Education

A bit of a bombastic title for this post, but should do for now – so my university, a large private school with plenty of endowment money, is not going to proceed with any of the next year’s faculty searches. I don’t think it’s a matter of saving money, but simply a precaution, a sort of “let’s wait this one out” approach – merit-based salary raises are still scheduled to take place, promotions etc etc, it’s just new hires – I wonder what’s the situash out there where you might be? I should probably go read me some Chronicle of Higher Education, but I’m lazy. Not being an economist or good with numbers, I wonder how the present and looming crises might affect the higher education.  Does that mean that whoever’s going on the market this year is going to see the decrease in openings?

Teaching, Narcissism and Attendance Policies



Via the Philosophy Job Market Blog, I got a hold of The Ethicist column in the NY Times which wrestled with this question:

My medical school makes video recordings of most lectures and puts them online at each professor’s discretion. Many students sleep through the earliest lectures and watch the recordings later. Recently one professor withheld this useful study aid because attendance at his 8 a.m. lecture was low. Was it fair to deny us this tool meant to enhance our education? — NAME WITHHELD, NEW YORK

Not surprisingly, the ethicist wants to know motives, if it’s for self-serving narcissistic reasons then that’s no good. On the other hand, if its for pedagogic reasons, great! Here’s the full response:

If the lecturer withheld the video version out of self-regard — a wish to draw a big crowd and maximize the applause — then he was wrong to do so. The purpose of this enterprise is to educate the students, not to gratify a professor’s vanity. If online lectures are an effective way to do the former, they should be available. But do you know what his motive was? He might believe that attending a lecture is how students learn best. If any discussion is to accompany it, a sufficient number of students must be in the room. Students must be present if they are to ask questions. Even those students who never raise their hands can benefit from engaging with the queries of their livelier classmates. Some teachers can best assess how they’re doing by looking for the glint of understanding in the eyes of the students — tough to do when those eyes are closed in sleep in a dorm room miles away. All of which is to say: check with the lecturer. If he withheld the online lectures for pedagogic reasons, fair enough. If he acted out of narcissism, he is to be censured. The same act can have different ethical meanings depending on the motives that inspired it.

The writer over at the PJMB worries about falling into the self-regard category. This got me thinking about my own rationale for my attendance policy. Continue reading