Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Fun with Faculty Meetings

My ‘division’ (the academic departments of which I am the dean) had a meeting yesterday, so I got to stand in a lecture hall in front of 80 faculty and try to set the agenda for the coming year. These are people whose full-time job it is to stand in front of lecture halls, so a certain amount of stage fright is justified.

It went relatively well, actually, but I was surprised at what struck them as important. When a professor complained about students committing plagiarism with impunity, I offhandedly noted that he should just refer the student to the college disciplinary committee, and that would be the end of that. He (and many others) expressed surprise, and asked if I wouldn’t hold the reporting of students against the faculty.


I reassured him that I considered reporting cheating simply part of a professor’s job. Later, he sent me an email asking to have that comment in writing, so he could paste it into the faculty union newsletter.


These people are really scared. Somewhere along the line, they got the impression that they would be punished for enforcing the rules. (I gave him the blurb, btw).

The student-as-customer mentality has seeped even deeper than I had thought. A little of that is probably a good thing – to the extent that we can streamline the Byzantine registration procedures, we’ll all be happier – but to extend it to legalized cheating is just a bit much. It’s the difference between a store competing on price and a store putting out a sign saying ‘Shoplifters Welcome.’

Some of this existed at my previous school, but that was a for-profit, where ethical and scholarly imperatives competed (at a disadvantage, frequently) with stockholder returns. This is a community college; profit is off the table. Yet the pressure, apparently, is still there.

I wonder to what extent this is a sign that we’re using the wrong measures. If our sole criteria for measuring institutional success are enrollment numbers and graduation rates, faculty have every incentive to take it as easy as humanly possible on the students. (This is, more or less, the situation in American high schools.) What makes our higher education system the envy of the world (as opposed to our secondary education system, which is fairly broadly pitied) is that colleges are allowed to flunk people out. We are allowed to have standards – that’s why college degrees carry weight with employers. Not everybody can get one. To the extent that we define student attrition as institutional failure, rather than a cost of doing business, we are hollowing out our reason to exist.

Anyway, I reassured the surprisingly-frightened troops that I’d back them. We’ll see if it works…