Another interesting question I received was whether I see any differences in the way universities functioned several years ago and now. I started teaching at the college level in 2001 and working as “a real professor” in 2008, and I’m definitely seeing some changes.
The “old boys’ club” is losing power. Not everywhere, not entirely but the trend is there. There have been some important upsets to its power recently.
Students are getting better. This summer I’m teaching the same course I do every summer and I’m absolutely stunned with how articulate, intelligent and responsible the students are all of a sudden. I’m thinking I will have to revamp the course, making it harder, because it’s looking like I will have to give everybody very high grades because it’s too easy for them. Now that the job market has started recovering and many high schoolers go straight to the job market, we are getting only those students who are really prepared for college, and that’s making a difference.
The concept of a teaching institution is dying out. Everything is becoming about research, and this is creating tensions between various generations of academics.
Among the negative trends, I would list a silly and childish belief in the need to employ technology to deliver good quality instruction. This is a passing fad but it’s inflicting damage while it still hasn’t passed. Schools that are the most eager to embrace this bad strategy are the ones who cater to lower-income students. And these are precisely the students who are most likely to be hurt by this trend.
At the schools where I’ve worked, there has been no reduction in tenure lines (actually, I’ve seen the opposite) and no adjunctification. There is some growth in administrative personnel but we are a state school, so it hasn’t been outrageous.
There is a very unfortunate fixation on inter- and multidisciplinary projects which, in my experience, never produces anything of value. It’s a fad, and a pretty nasty one, at that. Funding is being diverted away from legitimate research to completely meaningless projects created only in order to satisfy the multidisciplinary requirement.
I will write more if I think of anything else. Thank you, twicerandomly, for these great questions.