A Modest Proposal

AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum just called my attention to what he called “the best opinion piece I have read in the Chronicle [of Higher Education] in years.”  Written by Douglas Anderson, professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University, “Clear the Way for More Good Teachers” is indeed essential reading.  But the modest but brilliant proposal at its heart may be found in these key paragraphs:

Higher education has become an industry of meeting-holders whose task is to “solve” problems — real or imagined. And in my tenure as a teacher at three different colleges, the actual problems in educating our young people and older students have deepened, while the number of people hired — not to teach but to hold meetings to solve problems — has increased significantly. Every new problem creates a new job for an administrative fixer. Take our Center for Teaching Excellence: Contrary to its title, the center is a clearing house for using technology in classrooms and in online courses. It’s an administrative sham of the kind that has proliferated over the last 30 years.

I offer a simple hypothesis in response: Many of our problems — retention, class attendance, educational success, student happiness and well-being, faculty morale — might be ameliorated by ratcheting down the bureaucratic mechanisms and meetings and hiring an army of good teachers. If we replaced half of our administrative staff with classroom teachers, we might actually get a majority of our classes back to 20 or fewer students per teacher. This would be an environment in which teachers and students actually knew each other.

The teachers in this experiment must be free to teach in their own way — the curriculum should be generic enough so that they can use their individual talents to achieve the goals of the course. Additionally, they should be allowed to teach, and be rewarded for doing it well.

And then, once more, in the essay’s conclusion:

Just one college should cut its administrative staff in half and hire an army of good teachers and see what 10 years of such an experiment might yield. The teachers are available — the so-called business model of education has been a disaster and has left us with more qualified teachers than jobs. It is time to see what serious, hard-core teaching can do for a college — and its students.

What a great idea!

Once again, to read the entire piece go to http://chronicle.com/article/Clear-the-Way-for-More-Good/234773

3 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. I would only add that the teachers should be hired on tenure track and should come from the ranks of the thousands of adjuncts populating the campuses of nearly every college and university.

  2. I would certainly agree with this although I must say that getting classes down to 20 is an aspiration and neither practical nor historically the norm. As an undergraduate 50 years ago, all of my freshman courses except English were lectures in auditorium settings ranging from 90 to 300 students. Most were taught by experienced senior professors, however, recitations sessions and labs were run by graduate teaching assistants. None of these individuals knew me by name. Even in my master’s program, with one exception, all of my classes had at least 30 students (one had nearly 50 and the instructor asked us not to interrupt with questions).

    In most of the institutions where I have taught as an adjunct faculty member (In some cases I was not treated as a faculty member), I was told to avoid lecturing and to address students by name. Today, I have 35 to 50 students in a class and with three classes at one institution, I cannot remember those names. Add in the courses I teach elsewhere and I am overwhelmed by trying to recognize students.

    I would love to have a class with 20 students. That would allow me to use computer labs and advanced technology classrooms that are typically limited to 24 seats. In our school, some of the advanced classrooms sit unoccupied for the better part of the day because few classes are small enough to fit. We will never have small classes as long as the corporate mentality of maximizing resources prevails.

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