Saturday, October 14, 2006

Accountability and Five-Year Plans

In his NY Times op-ed column No Undergrad Left Behind, Eugene Hickok writes:

[Higher education] is a culture that cherishes independence and freedom. And it is a culture seriously out of touch with much of America.
Hickok almost certainly rued his phrasing the instant he saw it in the Times, for it is patently ridiculous: a Republican appointee who doesn't cherish independence and freedom and thinks that those values are "seriously out of touch"?

The next paragraph is full of the standard baloney critique of professors:

Faculty members decide what they want to teach and when they want to teach, if, indeed, they teach at all. This is particularly true regarding undergraduate instruction, which is something of an afterthought on many campuses. Faculty members typically spend fewer than 200 hours a year in the classroom. That amounts to just five 40-hour weeks.

Mr. Hickok, please tell me how many "many" is, because the vast majority of colleges and universities in this country focus on undergraduate and masters programs (covering 69% of all higher-ed enrollments, according to the Carnegie Foundation's classifications and 2005 IPEDS data). The vast majority of colleges and universities have faculty who work hard at teaching. At most, his remarks are accurate for certain parts of Harvard, the University of Chicago, and a few flagship public universities. And don't get me started with counting the time in the classroom vs. the time preparing, grading, and advising.

But Hickok's Freudian slip is more important than his substantive baloney. It reveals how controlling Hickok and other accountability jingoists are. I fear this language is not about transparency but a deep psychological need to control and manage. Hostility to freedom sounds remarkably like the stereotypical description of a former adversary of the United States. All that we need is a Five-Year Plan.

Well, we don't have a Five-Year Plan. We have a Twelve-Year Plan (NCLB), which followed an Eleven-Year Plan (America 2000), which was not met by its deadline. Are these stretch goals or Soviet-like silliness? The more I see language such as Hickok's, the more I tend to see the silliness.


A. G. Rud said...

Like Sherman, I too find such POVs about college life, particularly the professoriate, frustrating and narrow-minded. Such POVs surface because in part the professoriate is not an easily controlled group. Professors too are varied in their outlooks and workloads and in a myriad other ways.

But as Sherman may have hinted elsewhere, many of our universities and professors within are not engaged in idle cultural critique. I work at a behemoth land grant, where technical solutions to pressing problems are prized and where phrases such as the "commercialization" of ideas are spoken with no irony.

Given that this piece appears in the NYT, the audience for it is likely people whose familiarity with college life is limited to private, perhaps East Coast, liberal arts institutions.

I am now reading Rebekah Nathan's _My Freshman Year_ which is totally engrossing to me as a faculty member. I particularly like the way that Nathan approaches her "research question" namely how to understand today's undergraduate. I wish that there were like chroniclers of today's professoriate. It might be quite an eye opener to folks like Hickok.

A. G. Rud said...

I mentioned this term in the previous comment, but here it is from our news service today: " a Purdue professor who is this year's recipient of the university's Outstanding Commercialization Award."