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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Has the American University Changed for the Worse?

There is this article on the changes within the American system of higher education that many people like and quote. I suggest you read it because it makes some very interesting and convincing arguments.

I, however, hated it. The main reason is that right after first reading the article I alighted on the following excerpt from an American newspaper in the 1920s:

I surrounded the relevant words in red for you. Professors are men, got it?

Of course, this magical university that the author of the OP bemoans is not that of the 1920s but of the 1950s and 1960s. However, as a recent immigrant with the name that sounds like ‘Tanya Kolbaskova”, I could only strive for a position of a cleaning lady at that amazing, super-inclusive, ultra-intellectual university of the 1950s. I couldn’t even aspire to be a secretary at that university because of my accent.

The blogger I quoted speaks of “a slow and ruinous trend” that has destroyed the American system of higher education. I would have to practice an extreme degree of oblivion not to recognize that, for all its disadvantages, this trend has brought me a possibility to practice a career where I can engage my intellect and not be discriminated against. I look around at the faculty meeting and see that over half of my colleagues are female. And now we have finally started seeing faces that are not white at that table. I’m sorry, but this matters to me. I’m not ready to immolate myself at the altar of some middle-class WASP who isn’t capable of listing these hugely positive advances alongside the negative developments because for him or her people like my female, immigrant and non-white colleagues are too insignificant even to be mentioned.

As this blogger says in an earlier post:

In the 1970s, more than 70% of all college professors were hired as full-time, tenure-track faculty. As you might expect, they were given private offices in which to do their work and meet with their students and colleagues. They had office staff to assist them in their daily activities.

Of course, the gender breakdown between those full-time professors and the assisting office staff is never mentioned. I think we can all make a pretty good guess at what it was, though. Seriously, all that is missing from this quote is to say that after teaching his one lecture a day, every professor had money and leisure to go get his shoes shined by a servile black person who knew his place in the world and didn’t get above his station too much, after which the fortunate tenured intellectual could proceed to his home where a perky housewife would gladden his heart with her Saran-wrapped body parts.

When the OP’s author says that,

The only people immediately benefitting inside this system are the administrative class – whores to the corporatized colonizers, earning money in this system in order to oversee this travesty

I feel that s/he willfully disregards the very existence of people like me, people who, for the first time ever, have a chance at what in those beautiful 1950s and 1960 was completely unattainable for us. Of course, I have had these very words, “a corporate whore” thrown in my face by a rich brat who couldn’t deal with the idea that I had better career prospects because while he snorted cocaine and trawled clubs, I worked like an immigrant that I am.

Another thing that bothered me about the article is the idea that our universities have “dumbed down” their programs to cater to subpar student populations. Once again, I see a huge amount of classism and racism behind this belief. The absolute majority of my students are the first people ever in their family to attend college. A significant percentage of students is black. And, of course, these students have never traveled anywhere, attended the opera with their doting parents, or read as many good books as the well-off students of the 1950s did. But this does not give anybody the right to call them dumb. My students are curious, eager to learn, wonderful people who have an entirely new world open itself to them because they have a chance to attend college.

The following list of practices sounds scary, indeed:

You dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason. Instead, they are learning to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams”, to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse. Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.

However, nothing even remotely similar exists at my university. It would be nice to hear this author mention the existence of schools like mine. But that would make for a less dramatic piece of writing, I guess.

The blogger whose writing I discussed in this post has important things to say. However, a relentless erasure of the issues of gender, class and race from the analysis makes it worthless to me.

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3 thoughts on “Has the American University Changed for the Worse?

  1. Yes. Universities have improved in terms of gender, class and race. When I was a student, all of the professors with one exception were white males. That being said there is a concerted effort to demean educators in general. Recently a school board member in Wisconsin compared school staff to cattle who have to be hit over the head with a two by four to get their attention.

    http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/burlington-school-board-member-censured-for-comparing-school-staff-to/article_f084f54a-eaf9-11e1-aa43-0019bb2963f4.html

    As for many of the other comments, Upton Sinclair in his book, Goose-step, published in 1923 said the same things about universities in his time. U.S. also shared the same gender and race blindness.

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    • Finally, somebody noticed my brilliant post! 🙂

      “That being said there is a concerted effort to demean educators in general. Recently a school board member in Wisconsin compared school staff to cattle who have to be hit over the head with a two by four to get their attention.”

      – And the OP does just that by dismissing today’s educators as somehow more deficient in comparison with the rich male WASPS of the 1950s. As long as people despise women and POC, we will not see any respect for the profession that is becoming more open in terms of race, class and gender.

      Like

  2. Luna on said:

    Your university is an exception. I wish one could say the same of more universities!

    At our university, as class sizes have ballooned and TA and resources have declined over the years, so has the average class quality. Grading for such large classes is a terrible chore, and as a result, there has been an increasing shift towards multiple-choice questions over questions which ask students to make actual creative arguments. The result is students who do not know how to make scientific arguments after a STEM undergraduate degree. It’s really quite sad.

    Like

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