You get a degree, and you get a degree, and you get a degree! Everyone gets a degree! All you have to do is show up and, incidentally, cough up for a continuously increasing tuition.
Nathaniel Bork was recently fired from his philosophy position at Aurora community college. There are two things going on here. One is that he was an adjunct, like the majority of instructors at Aurora, so he had virtually no power or authority, and was easily firable — there are damn few protections for temporary instructors, and that’s exactly the way the administrators like it.
The other problems is that those administrators on high have fewer concerns about the quality of an education, and are more concerned with the number of tuition-paying bodies shuffled through their doors, and also listen too carefully to those tuition-payers who want the guaranteed outcome of a certificate at the end of their “education”. They created some program optimistically called “Gateway to Success”, where “success” was defined as getting a degree rather than learning something.
Just days before Bork was terminated, he says, he drafted an email to the state’s Higher Learning Commission, complaining about Aurora’s new Gateway to Success initiative. The goal of the program was to increase pass rates in these gatekeeper courses but, Bork said, in reality, he’d been asked to cut 20 percent of his introductory philosophy course content; require fewer writing assignments, with a new maximum of eight pages per semester; offer small-group activities every other class session; and make works by women and minority thinkers about 30 percent of the course.
Bork said he was told to keep teaching this way until 80 percent of all student demographic groups were passing the course, which in his view violated the spirit of Colorado law on guaranteed transfer courses to a four-year institution.
I approve of the idea of insisting on more diversity in the course material — a philosophy course would benefit from having more perspectives represented. Small group activities, also fine, since philosophy students should be able to communicate with each other and share ideas. But the rest…that’s simply dumbing down the course. Only 8 written pages total per semester? My impression of philosophers is that they can produce that much text while comatose and drunk after lunch.
I’m at a university with almost no temporary faculty, and talking to them you get a completely different set of concerns. We all want to increase the amount of learning students do — I’m actually talking to my discipline this afternoon about bumping up student math exposure and focusing a little more on quantitative biology, for example. Our goal isn’t to make it easier to graduate, but to make sure our students know the material well enough to succeed in a biology career.
So maybe it’s really one problem, the reliance on faculty the administration considers expendable and a reasonable sacrifice to enrollment goals. Problem solved by giving Nathaniel Bork and his colleagues tenure track positions, instead of firing them.
That might cause some other problems, I admit. Those might be solved by state governments investing in education to a degree they deserve.