A few years ago, a book named Academically Adrift pointed out the results everyone working in higher ed already knew: many college courses have no content. The book showed nearly half of students gain no measurable skill after years of college.
How could this be? I mean, our colleges charge plenty, and any look at the syllabus and course requirements shows that our students must be reading fairly advanced content as well as writing about all the heady concepts they’re reading about.Academically Adrift found that despite what it says on the syllabus most students barely have to read, barely have to write, in their college courses, and can spend their years on campus without ever having to do as much reading as a single one of my blog posts, much less writing so much.
In other words, many of our campuses practice fraud. The worst offenders are community colleges, which studies have found to be unhinged—literally what you find on the syllabus and textbooks for the course has nothing to do with what actually happens in the course. Fraud.
“Why don’t faculty stop the fraud?” is a natural question, but the answer is simple: we’ve tried. Any faculty who attempts to have standards is removed. At the universities, tenure has slowed down this process, but it takes little effort to see tenure is dying as an institution. Even without tenure, an entire department could form a unified front, though I’ve seen multiple faculty fired for trying this.
The community colleges don’t generally have tenure, and don’t have departments, either. Instead, they’re run from a top-down design, with most faculty utterly powerless. So, there’s nothing to slow the fraud of community college.
Every few months we learn of new sex scandals on campus that went on for years, decades even. The only reason these scandals are eventually discovered is because the crimes are so horrible, the victims so numerous, that they can’t be covered up forever.
On the other hand, the academic fraud, though vile, I concede isn’t nearly as horrific as what went on in the Penn State showers. We also don’t have nearly so many victims complaining—not many kids will complain about a free ‘A,’ after all. I assure the gentle reader long running academic frauds are definitely in progress on many campuses. They’ve been going on so long that faculty being fired for having integrity is something of a rare event nowadays, so I feel the need to highlight an example, to show that it still goes on:
Now, obviously, admin doesn’t tell faculty directly to “dumb it down.” What do they say?
Nathaniel Bork, a philosophy teacher, was fired after questioning the Community College of Aurora’s new “student success initiative.”
Doesn’t “student success initiative” sound better than “remove a few more chapters and writing assignments”? It sure does, but the latter is more honest. On the surface you do get “student success” this way, but year after year of removing content leads to students now spending years on campus without having to do anything at all…besides pay that tuition. “Suck up all the student loan money” is a success in administration’s eyes, I assure the gentle reader.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recently released a report about a community college professor who was terminated for maintaining high academic standards for his students. The higher ed institution was the Community College of Aurora (CCA), Colorado, and the professor was Nathaniel Bork, a teacher of philosophy.
I cite the link above; honest, there are scholars trying to keep academic standards, but it does no good. Admin holds all the cards. The largest sex scandals are probably going on at the universities (mostly because of sportsball), but the biggest academic scandals are at the community colleges. The gentle reader might recall the huge UNC scandal, but that was revealed, after 18 years, because there were some protocols for revealing fraud that slowly did their job; the community college frauds are essentially immortal because they have no such protocols.
So what happened when this professor said he would continue to have academic standards?
[I]n September, Bork received a call from his department chair and dean at Aurora, who told him that he was done teaching there — effective immediately. The college eventually blamed the decision on what it called Bork’s ‘lack of effectiveness in implementing the philosophy curriculum redesign.’
Seriously, that’s how quick it is. Complain, and you’re gone, overnight. Oh, they’ll use long words like “curriculum redesign” but “fraud” really is all we’re talking about here.
What exactly was the “redesign”?
“…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…”
Please understand, this course likely had already taken 20% cuts to content multiple times in previous years. Just as the “College Algebra” course I taught in community college now holds less than half the material than the algebra course I took in the 10th grade, so too are other courses finding their content reduced by admin to insignificance.
Administrative department head: “Welcome to our new college algebra course. It’s algebra without the algebra.”
–the above is from a state university I worked at.
I’ve mentioned many times how the math classes have been gutted. The philosophy courses are being dumbed down for the same reason:
“…he was told to keep teaching this way until 80 percent of all student demographic groups were passing the course…”
Again, this “80% pass rate” is the goal. Most faculty today get this memo, and simply pass everyone, even students who might not even have come to class or done even a single assignment (assuming the course has even a single assignment). Is education supposed to be about learning, or about just making it into the “at least 80%” category?
“…violated the spirit of Colorado law on guaranteed transfer courses to a four-year institution.”
The above ultimately is the problem. Community colleges suck in students with promises of “we’ll prepare you for university, and we’re cheaper” while the reality is very little of community college is worthwhile. It’s why 80% of community college students get nothing from community college. Imagine if the reality of my previous and documented sentence were well known…would we still waste tax dollars on those pits?
Alas, that knowledge will likely never be known outside of this blog, any more than the fact that most community colleges have “cleaned” out the few remaining faculty who think there should be standards. For all I know, this will be the last faculty member that needed removal.