Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The university is dying. But, I need to serve the students who are alive!

Yesterday, I read this article, a wonderful essay, on "The slow death of the university" in which the author, Terry Eagleton, makes a number of observations including this:
There has thus been less incentive for academics to devote themselves to their teaching, and plenty of reason for them to produce for production’s sake, churning out supremely pointless articles, starting up superfluous journals online, dutifully applying for outside research grants regardless of whether they really need them, and passing the odd pleasant hour padding their CVs.
You, dear reader, can relate to this, right?  After all, my posts have covered these very issues.  More than once.

And there was more:
As professors are transformed into managers, so students are converted into consumers. Universities fall over one another in an undignified scramble to secure their fees. Once such customers are safely within the gates, there is pressure on their professors not to fail them, and thus risk losing their fees. The general idea is that if the student fails, it is the professor’s fault, rather like a hospital in which every death is laid at the door of the medical staff. One result of this hot pursuit of the student purse is the growth of courses tailored to whatever is currently in fashion among 20-year-olds. In my own discipline of English, that means vampires rather than Victorians, sexuality rather than Shelley, fanzines rather than Foucault, the contemporary world rather than the medieval one. It is thus that deep-seated political and economic forces come to shape syllabuses. 
So, of course, I tweeted about this essay.

And then a new day dawned.

I was reading assignments that students had submitted, in response to a video that I required them to watch.  One began with the following sentences:
After watching the video I had many things run through my mind, so I watched the video a second time with my husband. After watching it we both sat and talked about what we saw and how we felt about the video.
The idea of the university is dying a painful death.  Meanwhile, I have an awesome job of interacting with a few students, though not all the time, who manage to get involved despite all that background noise.  They even talk about class work with their significant others!

Eagleton wraps up his essay with this:
There are, after all, more things in life than money. 
You, dear reader, can relate to this, right?  After all, my posts have covered these very issues.  More than once.


Ramesh said...

Yeah Yeah - I can relate to all that, but I have more pressing questions for you.

1. Who or What is Foucault ? Amd what the hell is "post structuralist " ?

2. You have a married lady as a student ?? In an undergrad class ??

3. What is that video that you gave as an assignment to your students ??

4. Of course there are more things in life than money. Interestingly Eagleton did not use the word "important" :):)

Anne in Salem said...

Ramesh - This Foucault is undoubtedly Michel, the French thinker. There is another one, Leon, he of the pendulum which proves the rotation of the earth. Oddly fascinating to watch, particularly the large ones in children's museums. Search it.

People think they don't have time for discussions or deep thought. They are also afraid to appear "wrong" if they express an opinion that differs from their counterparts. People also don't want to admit their ignorance on certain topics (politics, history, economics, etc.). With these challenges facing those who have graduated from university, will students still in the university discount the value of discussions and thinking, particularly since the ability to have a cogent discussion won't necessarily bring a larger paycheck?

Sriram Khé said...

1a. Has been answered by Anne.
1b. Refer to Wikipedia ;)

2. Yes, unlike India, here it is not that out of the world for a married student (male or female) to be an undergrad. Some marry young--even at 18 or 19--and some might have taken off for a few years and then returned to the undergrad program.

3. You will also like that video, especially for the number of different inquiring questions one could raise. Here it is: http://t.co/l1js0U6rtY. Oh, btw, it is all in India ;) In case you watch it, would love to know what you think.

4. Eagleton's essay is a must-read. But, it is behind a paywall. He is so ticked off that he says he is ready to teach for whatever the students want to give him--cakes, pies, ... which is where he wraps it up with there is more to life than money. Thus, "important" had already been discussed.

Satisfied, Ramesh? We aim to please ;)

Anne, the problem is not with students. They will respond to whatever system the faculty and administrators put in place. The problem is with the faculty and administrators who have decided that their respective paychecks are what matters. And faculty complain forever that their paychecks are measly!

BTW, Anne, in case you missed in the SJ, yesterday's paper had my op-ed on college education. (twitter.com/congoboy/status/585563669448228866) Ramesh might not be familiar with some of my observations there that are about the structure we have in place here.

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