I am afraid that the industry of higher education is putting itself out of business. During this past 9 years, I have been living and breathing higher education in multiple states and observing one of the jewels of american society decaying itself quickly. Education these days is so out of touch with reality which makes me wonder how much more time do we have before the industry implodes itself. The idea that we must publish or perish and leave students hanging is very dangerous. After all, education should be about students not perishable papers that only the ivory tower scholars pay attention to. Trying to argue that research (at least in media) helps students to get jobs in television is ludicrous. It doesn’t and it never will. What helps students to get positions in the workforce is praxis. Let me give you an example… The photo book that I am signing above isn’t considered scholarship in too many media departments across institutions of higher learning in the United States. The reason for this crazy reality is because the book doesn’t have academic citations or what we call, “scholarly content.” What is has, however, is a collection of highly sophisticated angles and edits that students can learn and apply in order to to find positions in marketing, advertising, and photojournalism. Clearly, we have a major problem in higher education in this country. We premium theory and punish practice, at least from a faculty’s standpoint in most institutions of higher education. The good news is that we can fix the problem rather quickly. There are de facto many ways we can fix this issue. These are my three solutions to solve this ongoing problem.
- Stop being what you are not. Institutions of higher learning are trying to be what they are not. Because of lack of state appropriations which leads to the need for some institutions to fundraise, colleges whose primary focus is teaching are trying to become what we call in academia research universities. A good analogy to explain how unwise this strategy is can be understood using examples of boxing. What do you think would happen to Sugar Ray Leonard if he had to fight heads on with Mike Tyson? You know, as much as I do, that Sugar Ray would be destroyed quickly by a heavy weight. What do you think will happen to teaching schools without the required resources and infrastructure when they face a well equipped research university with well established resources and systems? Sometimes I wonder what higher level administrators are thinking.
- Change the promotion and tenure protocols of your school. If you work in a teaching institution and the promotion and tenure policies of your college or university clearly states that one must publish or perish in order to keep his or her job, you need to mobilize a critical mass of faculty members to present a logical argument to administration proposing a revision to such policies or leave that school if management is sticking to ideas of the past. I am an optimist who believes that good leadership can fix things. The industry of higher education cannot afford to keep old promotion and tenure protocols in the new economy. We have reach a point of saturation and of no return. The way we keep and promote faculty must change yesterday.
- Trash mandatory student evaluations. Make student evaluations a component of hiring and retaining faculty but avoid using student evaluation data as a primary means to promote or keep/fire faculty members. The prefrontal lobe of students between the ages of 18 and 22 isn’t totally developed yet. Therefore, some of what we consider to be illogical decisions, e.g., paying 20K to attend college to party and finishing the semester with a 1.2 GPA… criticize good professors for receiving a C or a D grade when students themselves don’t come to class to do their work, are some of the observable behavioral responses of young adults whose prefrontal lobe is quite underdeveloped. Making personnel decisions using data given from students whose brains aren’t fully developed yet doesn’t seem to be a good idea for any institution. The way to judge whether a faculty member should have his or her job is by having a Chair coming and observing faculty classes at random and evaluate how the class is prepared, whether students are engaged with course content or not, if the professor delivers superb oral content with distinction… not by analyzing responses given by 19 year olds thinking that a PhD in mathematics doesn’t know their discipline. Students evaluations are important but they can be a very bias instrument and should not, by themselves, be the primary means by which colleges and universities hire and retain faculty.
The time is past gone for higher education to be in synch with the demands of the 21st century. If we are not careful, the industry of higher education is going to put itself out of business. I am not aware of any millennial who has either the money or the patience to pursue a college degree under the current state of affairs of our overall educational system. Higher education must change now, I say.