One of These Things is Not Like the Other

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.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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