Since I just attacked undergraduate
education at big-time sports universities
in the United States, a fair question is:
what could be done to solve the problem?
My answers are an elaboration on those suggested
by Murray Sperber in his Beer and Circus
and those outlined in a highly influential
report on what works and doesnt work
in American colleges, known as the Boyer
Modest proposal 1: Big-time
Us should slim down by thousands of
undergraduates until the student body is
of a size that can be handled by the faculty.
The only other alternative is to increase
the size of the faculty by an order of magnitude,
which is much more inconceivable.
Modest proposal 2: Universities
should separate undergraduate teaching from the
graduate training and research activities. Here
I part company with Sperber in that I do not propose
having a few universities devoted exclusively
to research and many more to undergraduate education,
though that is certainly a viable model. But it
is time to stop hiring faculty on the pretense
that they be good teachers when everyone knows
that they are tenured and promoted because of
their research and in spite of their teaching.
Lets hire good teachers to do the teaching
and good researchers to do the research. If a
few individuals can do both, so much the better.
Modest proposal 3: Hire at least
some faculty whose research is in pedagogy. It
is astounding that a lot is known about how the
brain learns, and on what works and doesnt
work in teaching, but that most faculty and teaching
assistants are wholly ignorant of this field of
work. Having at least a few colleagues who know
what they are doing might actually help.
Modest proposal 4: Abolish passive
teaching methods that turn undergraduates into
zombies: no more lectures (with or without PowerPoint)
and increased emphasis on inquiry-based learning,
small class discussions, open-ended research projects
and the like.
Modest proposal 5: Raise the standards
of acceptance into four-year colleges: require
a minimum (high) score on the Scholastic Aptitude
Test or equivalent exam. Despite the fact that
standardized tests have their limitations, scores
on college entrance exams actually correlate much
better than grades with students abilities
at critical thinking because of rampant grade
inflation. We need to acknowledge that while equal
opportunity to go college is a right, acceptance
into university must be based on readiness. Community
colleges exist to bridge the gap for those whose
performance indicates that they would not be best
served by the university experience.
Modest proposal 6: End athletic
scholarships. They encourage the exploitation
of athletes, cause resentment among other undergraduates
who had to work harder to get where they are,
and in general defeat the whole point of a scholar-ship.
It is not by chance that the Ivy League universities
do not award athletic scholarships and prohibit
their teams from playing bowl games.
Modest proposal 7: Shut down the
NCAA. We dont need an organization whose
only purpose is to exploit youths through the
encouragement of a beer and circus atmosphere
(March madness comes to mind as an
example) and that does absolutely nothing to further
the only legitimate goal of a university: providing
the best education possible. Playing sports is
a great thing and should be pursued at colleges,
but intramurally as a recreational activity and
extramurally only as a relaxed pastime to which
no high stakes are attached. Let the professional
teams pay to raise their future stars, as in every
other civilized country in the world (did you
realize that in 2000 the NCAA was looking at allowing
athletes to seek loans based on future professional
earnings? Do these people have no shame?).
Modest proposal 8: Treat coaches
as regular faculty, with tenure track and salaries
comparable to those of any other faculty in any
other discipline. And tell them they are lucky
to get that much, given that their job is far
less important than the one done by the rest of
Modest proposal 9: Educate university
administrators that the university is not a for-profit
business, it is a community service. Ergo, it
makes no sense at all to call in business marketers
to improve the schools image or to devise
strategies to increase the customer
base, while the true needs of students (and, by
extension, their future employers) go unmet. Schools
that provide a good education dont need
to present a spin-doctored façade.
Modest proposal 10: Vote only
for legislators who pledge to provide acceptable
levels of State funding of education at all levels,
including college. Education, together with health
care, is among the most important rights that
Americans still have to fight for, which are taken
for granted in other industrialized countries.
Is all of this going to happen?
Probably not, unless the current demographics
and economics change significantly, or a grass-roots
movement takes hold to really take our schools
back. I give it a chance in a thousand, which
is not much worse than the likelihood of getting
a good education at a big-time U anyway. Think
Back to Article Index | Home