Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Who's the Customer?
I don’t raise this in the spirit of defeatism or resignation, but in recognition of Hegel’s dictum that freedom is the insight into necessity. If we’re going to adapt and improve -- which we need to do -- we have to recognize the various needs out there. We may need to make some choices among them, but that requires acknowledging that those choices exist. And any new player of significant size will have to deal with many of the exact same issues.
I hope he doesn't have his money in one enterprise whose reputation takes a hit every time one of its students applies to a nearby university and gets sent to our CC to fill in some huge gaps. That word must get around eventually.
There's a reason we don't let 17-year olds write curriculum.
A lot of businesses go under because they lose track of who their customer actually is, and forget that their primary mission should be to please their customers on a daily basis. At a meeting, I asked the president of our proprietary art school who he thought that our customer was. He answered that the students are a customer, as are potential employers of our students.
There is a danger in a school or college presuming that their students are their most important customer. Under such a model, a college or university becomes indistinguishable from a typical for-profit corporation—cutting costs and increasing the revenue stream become more important than the education of the next generation of citizens, which is supposedly the reason why the school is there in the first place. Under such a corporate-style model, academic programs become franchises, students become consumers, donors become investors, the fruits of research become proprietary and secret, faculty members become employees, courses become business products, and other peer institutions become competitors. Pressures on university administrations to cut labor costs has led to an increasing “adjunctification” of the faculty—with each passing year, more and more of the classroom teaching is performed by part-time, poorly-paid workers who get no benefits, who have no job security and who have little prospect of ever getting full-time employment. In the pursuit of lower costs, college and university administrators have outsourced many university functions and jobs, ranging from groundskeeping and janitorial serves, all the way to bookstores and food services. Some university administrators are toying with outsourcing even the education function itself, investing heavily in online educational systems and packages in the hope that costs will be reduced even further. The constant pressure to cut costs has led to stagnant wages for faculty, a steady erosion of benefits, and poverty-level wages for most university workers.
The traditional openness and transparency of university educational and research initiatives is replaced by an environment of secrecy and exclusivity. New initiatives are created with sexy “brand names” designed primarily to attract wealthy donors rather than to meet perceived educational needs. Under such a corporate-style system, there is an increasing tendency for university and college administrators to confuse means and ends—academic activity becomes a means to raise money rather than the other way around.