Two seemingly very different stories in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention this week. (I’m writing this a few days early so I can travel to the CCCC‘s in Atlanta this week). One, “Presidents Defend Their Pay as Public Colleges Slash Budgets,” is about the ample rewards of being at the top of the higher education hierarchy, and the other, “A Perfect Storm in Undergraduate Education, Part 2,” reviews the argument, expressed in the book Academically Adrift, that undergraduates too often graduate without becoming educated.
These two stories seem to exist in weirdly separate worlds, even though the piece about undergraduate education concludes, in part, with this quote from Academically Adrift: “”A renewed commitment to improving undergraduate education is unlikely to occur without changes to the organizational cultures of colleges and universities.” I am always a little skeptical about the claim that students, overall, are not learning. The problem is that certain aspects of learning, such as critical thinking, are elusive at best. How do you quantify good thinking?
Still, it’s fairly obvious that an ugly mix of exploitation, consumerism, and standardized testing, at the very least, has undermined undergraduate education to an alarming degree. If that’s what the authors of Academically Adrift mean by “organizational culture” then I cannot disagree. But very little, if anything, in the piece about presidential salaries seems connected to any of these issues. These presidents are clearly running the system into the ground and getting rich in the process. It’s hard to see how that’s different from the corporate world at large.