The Forces of Liberal Education…

The Forces of Liberal Education… January 23, 2014

are now squarely arrayed against your kid getting actual education. One English prof therefore heads out the door with an eloquent farewell to all that.

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  • Dave G.

    That was sad to read, and yet so true. College wasn’t like that when I went, but getting there. High schools are like that now. That course list he referenced reminded me of some elective classes offered at our local high school. Which is why we decided to home school even though our sons were all teens (except our youngest).

  • Andy

    I won’t ascribe his complaints to the forces of liberal education- rather it is the forces of you have to be cutting edge to be considered useful. The business/sports/fill-in-the-blank adage – what have you done for me now – drives much of higher education – in the era of more than 50%, some research suggests close to 70% of courses being taught by adjuncts colleges/universities are driven to be distinctive. This is market pressure. Couple that market pressure with the need for faculty to publish and to be beyond the cutting edge – to the bleeding edge- you see the strange courses that he listed.
    I agree colleges are not teaching what they used to or how they used to – both when I was a student and since I became a professor 30 years ago. The change though is not a force of liberalism – it is a force of marketing.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      I would say it’s a marriage of Hudge and Gudge. You are correct in noticing that this is marketing – the Holy Free Market that we always hear about – helping to accomplish this in academia.

      But while those that control the budgets are businessmen, those that control the academic departments are unquestionably leftists. The cuts need to be made because of the former, but the latter control who gets cut.

      • Andy

        The leftists you speak of may be in charge of some departments, most notably in my experience the humanities and some of the social sciences. These departments may be as the author in Mark’s link described. It is the humanities that “feel” the need to be out there to prove their worth – as English Professor friend of mine said – she is a Faulkner expert – the college doesn’t want to show students the need to read in depth, the college wants to show students that it si hip. I think that this comes from our society and its misunderstanding ( I know beyond that) of what thinking, writing, reflecting entail. Humanities departments, and some Social Science departments unfortunately reflect this.
        There are other departments where a pragmatic center is in charge. The cuts are made/mandated by businessmen – my own department was just told to increase our student enrollment by 25% or face the loss of lines. The decision on who to retain or let go will be made first by seniority then by courses taught. By the way we are the second largest department on campus, in a small private school. This is the same however in large state schools where I taught.
        The decision to cut cannot always be about business – if one looks at most colleges there is an overage of VPs, Associate VPs, Assistant VPs, Deans and there sundry assistants and then faculty. Many cuts are made to protect the administration in terms of looking cost efficient, while shortchanging the students.

      • The Deuce

        the Holy Free Market that we always hear about

        A rapid price bubble caused by artificially increased demand fueled by an enormous increase in government-issued non-disposable student loans may be many things, but “free market” isn’t one of them.

        • jroberts548

          Exactly. Blaming the free market is precisely backwards. Everything about higher education spending – from administrative bloat to the fragmentation of most disciplines to the over supply of professors to university hiring chasing new, sexy fields of study – is driven by government interference.

          • HornOrSilk

            No, it is driven by the “market” and the “job creators.” They FORCE people to go to “college” for skills which used to be given to new hirees by the employers before. The “free market” with the “right to work” mentality has always pushed the burden on the worker; and this is an example of it. Again and again, the employers demand “the education,” which then makes colleges feel free to raise prices, etc. It is all a market where the employees are not considered as anything but commodities and they have to “prove themselves” instead of having job creators who give them the skills that job creators used to give them.

            • jroberts548

              There’s something “wrong” with your “keyboard.” It s”ee”ms that the “quotation” mark button is stuck”,” causing you to put extraneous quotation marks throughout, for no dis”cern”ibl”e reason.”””””

              Why do you think employers demand an education? Because there’s an over-supply of educated people. If there wasn’t such an over-supply, then employers wouldn’t be able to demand an education for jobs that don’t need it (if there were only so many college-educated workers as there were jobs that required a college education, then there wouldn’t be any college-educated workers for jobs that don’t. If employers continued requiring college degrees for those jobs, then those jobs would go unfilled).

              Why are there too many people with college degrees? Because we have a government policy of subsidizing or pretending to subsidize college to encourage people to go to college. These subsidies are designed to get more people than the market will bear to go to school. If we wanted an optimal amount of college-educated people, then the government wouldn’t make student loans non-dischargeable – making loans non-dischargeable guarantees that lending will still be profitable for the lender even if the it’s a bad deal for the creditor. This isn’t true across the board. If a bank invests money in a business, and the business fails, the bank won’t get it’s money back. Both creditors and lenders have incentives not to go into business that the market won’t bear. This isn’t the case for student loans – if the lender gives a student money, and the student never works in his or her field of study, the lender still gets his money back.

              We have a system that’s specifically designed to put more money into higher education than the free market would. Perhaps, charitably, because we believe higher education is worth it. Perhaps it’s because we want to give lenders trillions of dollars at the expense of young, intelligent people.

              • HornOrSilk

                If you had an education, you would understand the use of quotation marks.

                The reason why employers demand education is so they don’t have to train and use resources themselves. They put the demands on the workers. This is exactly what happens with the market when there is no moral regulation lying behind it.

                • jroberts548

                  If it were up to employers, every one they hired would be a physically healthy genius with a PhD and job experience who was willing to work for free.

                  The labor market is a market. If there are too many people with college degrees, then the value of college degrees on the labor market goes down. If there are too few, the value goes up. If I’m an employer, and I can only afford to hire an 8th grade drop-out because everyone else has better jobs, then I’ll hire the 8th grade drop-out. If I’m an employer, and I can hire someone with a college degree because there are way too many people with college degrees, then I’ll hire someone with a college degree.

                  The problem is too many people are going to college. I don’t know what moral regulation at the employer level is going to fix that.

                  Are you saying that employers shouldn’t be allowed to hire college educated workers unless the job really requires a college degree? What are we going to about the over-supply of college grads? Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the problem at the source by shutting off the government created surplus of college educated workers?

    • Thank you for sharing your insights. In your experience, were the post author’s salary figures for full time and adjunct professors representative of most state schools? If so, why can’t they retain more instructors when college tuition exceeds pretty much every consumer price index? I. e. where’s all the money going?

      • Andy

        In my experience the costs are going up because of a business model that elevates the salaries of administration, and externals such as coaches – marketing – while shortchanging the true needs of college – solid education and courses that for the most part lead to something useful. By useful, I mean courses that either lead to a major or cause thinking and reflection.
        The salaries of most faculty are not as high as one would believe. There are superstars, just as there are everywhere, but the average faculty member is not wealthy. THe health related fields and business faculty can demand higher salaries because of the perceived importance of those fields.
        As far as salaries for adjuncts vs. full-time faculty, the cost differential per course lies somewhere in the 30% range – adjuncts cost about 30% to teach a course coma red to full-time faculty. Of course adjuncts are not available for office hours, do not have a commitment of the students or the institution.

  • HornOrSilk

    I think there are many forces at work here. However, one of the big ones, is the “Rush Limbaugh” view of education: you are supposed to “study” so you can get “job skills” so that you can, on the day after graduation, go directly to work. For a job which you might have for five years until the employer thinks you make too much money after all your raises, fires you, and makes it difficult for you to get another job, because you are no longer working and no longer have the job skills wanted by employers. So you are supposed to go for more education, and repeat, several times in your life. This way businesses and “colleges” can make sure they both benefit: businesses get people with “skills” and colleges get the same people returning, over and over again for new “skill.”

    It used to be, and it should be, that employers were interested in long term relationships with their employees and showed loyalty to them. This began with on the job training: you were not expected to have “all the skills” before you got the job; it was expected the employer would train you. College education was seen, not as the place where you picked up “the skills” (except for specific careers), but where you showed you were capable of learning, adapting and being brought into a work place and trained with a mind of your own. This is why people, like my grandfather, said, if you have a college degree, they will know you are capable of learning and they will want you for their work. Now, that is not the case, and so this is why “liberal arts” which taught how to think so one can adapt better to new circumstances, is downplayed as “useless” (also, if you have a background in humanities, you are more likely to ask the tough questions no one wants asked). It’s because employers are now free to ask you to PAY for specific skills instead of being trained and PAID to learn them. You want to be a librarian? Get a Master’s Degree in Library science (who cares if 50 years ago, there was no such thing, showing it wasn’t needed). If you want to teach, get an “education degree” but have no knowledge of what to teach. It’s all the same. We want mindless people who don’t think, just “skills” to be used as a “resource.”

    As you can see, the work situation is turning people away from personhood, but to specifically programmed machines. And the more the humanities is “disgraced” the easier this will be (and colleges will make a killing).

    • AquinasMan

      You’re what I’d call an “optimist”. This is more accurate: College kid graduates, loan bills kick in, moves back home, doesn’t get a single paycheck related to field of study, skills are outdated, goes back to College online, learns a new skill, finds out his Internet degree is worthless, finds out the government is demanding $400 a month for health insurance he doesn’t need, takes job managing a car wash, marries his XBOX.

    • AquinasMan

      Never fear, “The Internet of Things” will make it all good…

      “…things matter more than ideas.”

      • Expanding on that quote a bit:

        “We’re physical, and so is our environment. Our economy, society and survival aren’t based on ideas or information—they’re based on things. You can’t eat bits, burn them to stay warm or put them in your gas tank. Ideas and information are important, but things matter much more.”
        Because the assertion that things matter more than ideas sure isn’t a whatcha call it…idea!
        A sterling example of the rule that any philosophy which eliminates the philosopher is BS.

    • Sigroli

      I “have” an education. As jroberts548 “pointed out,” you do “indeed” use far to many “quotation” marks. Just “sayin’.”

      • HornOrSilk

        Or, you don’t know the meaning of the quotes. Tell me, what do they mean?

  • AquinasMan

    The university system is no longer about the vocation to educate. It’s about endowments, athletic programs, bigger endowments, maybe some research facilities, even BIGGER endowments, and jacking up tuition at will since the gov’t will happily traffic in debt-slavery for any high school graduate who realizes he can’t send out a resume that has no information next to “Advanced Education”.

    All this points to is the continuing and well-documented decay of our social structure, which leaves no institution untouched. People are commodities from the moment they’re conceived. Your economic value is the only argument you have against deserving early-onset euthanasia in this culture. How tragic for this professor — how tragic for his students, who are being armed with pea-shooters for the “great accounting” that will sweep our society in the years to come. Your access to rotten health care is guaranteed. Your access to good healthcare will depend on your economic aptitude — your ability to earn what it takes to retain a private doctor. And those that excel will be those that can figure out bigger and better ways to make human beings fungible sources of simple skills (as HornOrSilk eloquently describes below). Success will hinge on your ability to dehumanize those around you even further. It’s unfolding before our very eyes. Without a sea-change in many different segments of our culture, we will become a nation of poorly-educated, impotent consumers at the mercy of the elites in government and corporate life. We’re well on the way…

    • Paxton Reis

      “The university system is no longer about the vocation to educate. It’s
      about endowments, athletic programs, bigger endowments, maybe some
      research facilities,…”

      The sports spending at the Division I level is warped. The schools should at least have some skin in the game that allows the student athletes on scholarship the right to return to complete an education…perhaps up to 10 years after that were suppose to “graduate”. Too many are used by College Sports Inc.

      And universities are loaded up on top with far too many deans, vice deans, assistant deans, assistant vice deans, etc.

  • LSUStatman

    While I sympathize with the author of the original article, I must add as a father of two college age sons and two more soon to follow, that the pressures of tuition will soon make his model impossible to continue.
    My sons have earned full tuition scholarships, but the hidden fees are still there. Son#1 got full tuition, until of course tuition goes up and the original scholarship doesn’t. He will end his undergraduate with about $30,000 in student loans. And that was the best deal we could get on merit scholarships at a public school.

    Private schools are completely out of control. Son#2 is a National Merit Finalist, and all of the private colleges he got into (including Notre Dame, BTW) would have cost us at least $20,000 per-year out-of-pocket after grants and student loans were already awarded. Between my military retirement (which completely screws me for need-based assistance), my current salary and my wife’s salary, we make about $105,000, and they wanted one fifth of it for one kid. And he would still end up with $100,000 in student loan debt. Sorry, not going to happen. So son#2 is at the state engineering school (which does have a great reputation) and because of his CO-OP program will leave college with no debt. No brand label (insert name of highly regarded private school) is worth that amount of debt slavery.
    Son#3 is a junior in high school, and gets college circulars every day in the mail.
    I wish I had a solution, but I don’t. Just know that out here in the real world, we have to make real decisions with our real money.

    • Paxton Reis

      Our oldest received a nice scholarship off (received an in-state tuition package from an out-of-state public school, plus a little more) that really goes a long long way in planning ahead for our other two kids and college. You are correct about the fees. Everywhere we turn there is a fee for this or that, and it adds another $1,600/semester to our tab.