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20 July 2012


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I will be pleased to publish such an article. pl


I liked this article, which was written in connection with what happened at UVA.

"A few weeks ago our president, Teresa A. Sullivan, was summarily dismissed and then summarily reinstated by the university’s board of visitors. One reason for her dismissal was the perception that she was not moving forward fast enough on Internet learning. ...

But can online education ever be education of the very best sort?

It’s here that the notion of students teaching teachers is illuminating. As a friend and fellow professor said to me: “You don’t just teach students, you have to learn ’em too.” It took a minute — it sounded like he was channeling Huck Finn — but I figured it out.

With every class we teach, we need to learn who the people in front of us are. We need to know where they are intellectually, who they are as people and what we can do to help them grow. Teaching, even when you have a group of a hundred students on hand, is a matter of dialogue."

I would think the author is right about online courses: there's no substitute for a real class, with a particular group of students being taught by an knowledgeable individual who's right with them in the classroom or lecture hall.

I certainly don't think online degrees are acceptable substitutes for real degrees. They can serve a useful role for continuing education and noncredit purposes.

I wish all the expensive lobbiests and cost-conscious people who praise all these expensive for profit schools and useless online degrees would be forced to tell us their real opinion of them. Of course virtually none of these people or their friends and relatives would have anything to do with such things themselves.

Education on the cheap is always meant for thee, not me.


Hank, I applaud your work in preparing this article, and as someone who has spent half my long professional career in the faculty ranks of Research-I universities, I am impressed by how well you have presented the salient details of what is going wrong with public higher education.

But I do have to point out one whopper of an assumption you are making, and that is the assertion that faculty should teach three or more courses at a time. That might work at a purely-teaching institution, but as leading-edge research universities (e.g., what UVa is attempting to become), it would quickly prove impossible, and especially in those programs where extramural funding is needed to support graduate students, e.g., all the STEM fields.

There is a presumption that teaching is simple, and that the time involved is merely the time spent in front of a classroom. That presumption is easy to believe if you've never taught a university course, but it's dead wrong. For every hour I've spent in front of a class of students, there have been at least four or more hours spent in preparation, in office hours, in grading, and in staying current with the material so that students are learning up-to-date content.

So three classes = around ten hours per week in the classroom, which turns out to require a full-time job just on the teaching front. And since teaching constitutes less than half of a faculty member's responsibilities in a high-quality university (research and service are the rest), your proposal implies that faculty should work at least 80 hours per week if they want to do a good job in their work (and most do... deadwood is easy to find in academia, but it's a lot harder to find in top-tier universities).

And while some of this problem can be ameliorated with some help from the university, e.g., good teaching assistants, homework graders, etc., those sources of funding have been steadily decreasing for years as public education gets less "public" every day. Many TA's get their funding from the skim universities collect from external R&D funding, but if faculty are spending their entire work-week just covering their courses, they won't be successful at gaining R&D funding, so that's not a sustainable solution, either.

The root cause of these problems is that public education just isn't supported by the public all that much anymore. Top-tier public universities obtain a minority of their operating funds from state sources, and that fraction is steadily decreasing over time. So university administrators increasingly depend on overhead obtained from R&D grants (which is why STEM faculty spend so much time doing externally-funded R&D), or on donations from wealthy alumni, which all-too-often come with oft-unpleasant strings attached.

If we want high-quality public education in this nation, we need to be willing to pay for it, and our citizenry has decided not to provide such funding. All the rest follows until we reach the unfortunate situation we have today.

But for anybody who thinks that teaching in a university is easy work, then all I can say is "try it yourself and then we'll talk".

And parenthetically, I'll note that I don't do it anymore. Who needs 80-hour work weeks during the academic year, and three months of unemployment every summer?

Hank Foresman

I have taught at the collegiate level; both as a Teaching Assistant and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of History at James Madison University and Maryville College. You are absolutely right about the amount of time it requires to get ready for a one hour class--three to four hours of prep. If you examine closely I distinguished between professors, and I quote, "Require that all faculty members teach a minimum of three course per semester; except those whose appointments are as a visiting professor, research or graduate professor, who course load would be determined by the Boards of Visitors." In a backhanded way I was suggesting that we ought to return our Colleges and Universities to their core mission education by having master professors. I am the first to admit there will be differences between Science, Engineering, which require Professors to teach Labs in addition to their Classroom teaching; and the Social Sciences and Liberal Arts.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Foresman,

A point about the idea of a 'liberal arts education'.

In recent years, the United States, with my own country, Britain, in tow, has been successfully suckered into a war in Iraq, as a result of ignorance of history -- and ended up acting as Hessians for the Iranians. Again with my own country in tow, the United States is in the process of losing a war in Afghanistan -- as a result of setting war aims which anyone with any knowledge of the relevant history would have known were unachievable.

At the moment, we are happily engaged in trying to topple the regime in Syria, blithely oblivious to the possibility that what we end up with may be materially worse than what we have now -- again, through ignorance of history.

The study of politics, as the English philosopher-historian R.G. Collingwood argued in his Autobiography, published in 1939, ought, by its very nature, to have history at its centre. Moreover, as technical military considerations are commonly more significant both in making sense of contemporary politics, and of history, than is generally recognised, military history should be an important part of a correctly conceived political science.

Military history is a study best pursued by military men and civilians in collaboration -- a belief which was central to the creation by General William Richardson, then Commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, of the Soviet Army Studies Office in 1986. Its first director was a civilian, Dr Bruce Menning, and its first head of research, subsequently director, was your fellow VMI alumni Colonel David Glantz -- a, if not the, preeminent Western expert on the war in the East in 1941-5.

How anyone expects seriously to study military history without linguistic knowledge defeats me. For VMI to marginalise German would seem a stupid thing to do.

If these historical researches seem irrelevant to current concerns, this is not so. At the time when Gorbachev introduced the so-called 'new thinking' into Soviet security policy, almost all the Western intelligence and security studies community was at sea. One of the few places where they had an accurate idea of what was going on was SASO.

An interesting account by Jacob W. Kipp of the creation of the organisation -- which later became the Foreign Military Studies Office -- is available in the October-December 2005 issue of Military Intelligence.

(See http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/army/mipb/2005_04.pdf )


David Habakkuk, Hank F. et al

One of the great beauties of VMI as it has been was the insistence on solid core curriculum designed to provide "leavening" for young minds soaked in engineering, science and a spartan military life. Such a system produced many exceptional graduates. George Marshall, Leonard Gerow, and Sun li-Jen are examples. Without a solid Humanities component in the curriculum what can we expect to see in the future? BTW, I knew Dave Glantz well and I agree with your assessment of him. pl

Chairman Miao

At the risk of pushing the limits of PL's tolerance:

One: I have come to believe that the vast public does not want a University any more. It wants a Trade School. There is not much support for the idea of a small-l liberal education any more, especially now that most of the jobs which the liberally educated middle class might aspire to have been sent to the 3rd World or eliminated by technology.

Two: I suspect that Universities are coming under withering attack because they are the last centers of opposition to corporation control. The private-sector unions are now irrelevant and the public unions' backs are to the wall.

My background is as support staff at a flagship state university.



Since you use the term "trade school" in your comment, would you care to define what you mean by that? In a previous thread on the UVa mess, I found myself uninterested in commenting because I often couldn't figure out what people meant, hence my question here.

Is a business school a trade school? Nursing? A university that awards degrees in K-12 education? A college of engineering? A creative writing program?

The term "trade school" to me implies a very narrow focus, e.g., learning to become a diesel mechanic. I don't think of this term in any pejorative sense, because the world needs plenty of good diesel mechanics, and nurses, K-12 teachers, etc, etc.,

Hence my curiosity about particulars of meaning. Thanks in advance for your consideration.



The curriculum you describe sounds like heaven to me.

I've long believed that the world doesn't need better technology as much as it needs better humanity, and I don't see a way towards the latter without a deep and rich appreciation for the humanities. Here's hoping that it's still possible to gain the kind of quality education you earned at VMI.

Chairman Miao

to Cieran:

Trade school vs. University: What I observe is that the goal, of both the students and the higher ed institutions, is revolving more and more around immediate employability after graduation. (This ties in with the rise of the just-in-time work force: employers don't want to develop their staff any more, they want plug-in parts.) Some states are even talking of tying state funding to evaluations like these.

The classical ideas of education -- learning how to think and learn, how to write, how to debate, how to lead a good life, learning a basic background across all science and history, and having a good grounding in one's own civilization and the ability to look at the civilizations of others -- all that is getting shoved aside, at least at the public institutions.

I've shared laments with a few others whose undergraduate days were 35-45 years ago: college, for us, was an intellectual adventure. (I did a technical degree in computer science, but I also learned about the craft of writing, about literature, about economics and politics, about the arts, and I started on a decades-long journey of amateur study of history.) But from what we read in the voices of contemporary students on the net, most students see college as a set of hoops to jump through to get a credential, preferably while partying all the time.



I guess I'm more sanguine than you about the possibility of gaining a higher education with depth and breadth. Universities don't always make it easy, but generally speaking, curriculum requirements for graduation are a floor, not a ceiling, i.e., students can take more courses and add more diversity to their intellectual efforts. The most important constraints are time and money, but youth have plenty of time.

Many of my most well-educated students have taken as much as 50% more course credits than what is required for graduation -- they viewed their education as an investment for their futures, and acted accordingly.

And as far as the money side of the question, the view that the goal of higher education should be immediate employment is not a problem that it limited to universities -- it's merely the projection into academia of the emerging notion in the west that the marketplace should constitute the basis for our beliefs and our morals. That's an ugly worldview, but it isn't confined to academia, and in a period of economic retrenchment, parents sending kids through college are entirely justified in wanting a return on investment as soon as possible.

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