Monday, August 22, 2016

Modest proposals

[Exceedingly modest proposals to improve college. I regret that I did not develop them in time for fall 2016 implementation.]

~ Goodbye to Big Sports. The NBA and NFL can subsidize their own farm systems. Convert the money that supported Big Sports into increased adjunct pay, new tenure-track positions, increased academic support services, and need-based scholarships. Current players retain their scholarships.

~ Goodbye to minor administrators, who can step back into lower-paying faculty positions. Convert the money that funded those administrative positions into increased adjunct pay and new tenure-track positions.

~ Use Peter Drucker’s 20:1 salary ratio to cap salaries: the highest full-time salary on campus should be no more than twenty times greater than the lowest full-time salary. Note: there will be no basketball or football coaches to complain about drastic reductions in pay. Presidents will have to deal.

~ Goodbye to all busy work assigned by administrators to faculty. Not all elements of program review and assessment, just the busy work.

~ Establish some version of tenure or, at the least, long-term contracts for adjunct faculty of some years’ standing.

~ Reduce doctoral programs to plausible numbers of students, in proportion to the realities of the job market. Then again, creating substantial numbers of tenure-track positions may make doctoral study increasingly plausible.

~ Require all first-year students to attend a convocation about academic endeavor. No cheers, no dance-offs, no face-painting, no door prizes. The convocation should include a faculty member who says something like this: “You are not here to learn how to make a living. You are here to learn how to make a life.” Emphasis should fall on the ways in which college will differ from and be more difficult than high school.

~ Require faculty and all first-year students to read (with appropriate background material and study questions) a work of some weight and difficulty over the summer. (Not an inspiring memoir or a work with a plain and unimpeachable message.) I nominate Sophocles’s Antigone , which raises every question one might want to consider about conscience, civil disobedience, gender and power, isolation and community, morality and law, competing claims about what’s right, conflict and negotiation. Utterly relevant to our present condition. The convocation should include some consideration of the reading.

~ Require all students and faculty to participate in small-group discussions of said work. These can take place during what so many (too many) students mistakenly think of as “syllabus week”. There should be some measure by which to determine that students have in fact done their reading: a brief written quiz and participation in a discussion. The faculty-student ratio will determine the size of the groups. In a school with, say, a 20:1 ratio, each faculty member can be responsible for two groups of ten students, two hour-long meetings. Students who are unprepared will be given additional opportunities to complete this work.

~ Require writing — genuine writing — in all courses. Class sizes will be small enough to allow for careful evaluation of students’ written work.

That’s all for now. Any questions?

[“You are not here,” &c.: something I heard at my freshman orientation. I’ve never forgotten it. I haven’t forgotten the high cost of college either. My proposals here aim to improve institutions. We must also make access to institutions more affordable.]

comments: 9

Fresca said...

So interesting! Surely these will be implemented next year.

Antigone is spot-on: I saw it perfomed in high school,
and though I've never read or seen it since, I remember it well.

But I don't like reading plays on my own---I wonder if there could be an alternate prose and/or poetry reading? What might they be?

Would there be Small Sports, for fun?
I'd like circus arts (trapeze, etc.), slapstick, and stage fighting.
Touch football?

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, there can be alternate reading. (I’m not Creon!).

I think eliminating basketball and football would be change enough. Track, swimming, rugby, all of it can stay. Circus arts could be a requirement. :)

Fresca said...

Books & Circuses
I'd buy it.

Elaine said...

Except that we read 'Antigone' (and 'Oedipus Rex') in HS, I love these reform suggestions. I have always wanted to learn to juggle......

Michael Leddy said...

Polling my students over the years, I came to the conclusion that very few high-school students get to read Oedipus . (I started teaching Oedipus in Backgrounds of Western Lit because it turned out that students — English majors — hadn’t read it and didn’t even know the story.) I don’t think I ever had a student who had read Antigone in high school. But I would be happy to know that high-schoolers are reading Sophocles.

If Antigone , doesn’t work, how about Oedipus at Colonus , along with the adaptation The Gospel at Colonus ?

Frex said...

I told my friend Marz (25 y.o.) about this and she said she "had to read" Antigone in high school too.

How bout a mix-and-match, throw in Sartre's The Flies, plus the film of Iphigenia with Irene Papas?
Frex = Fresca

Michael Leddy said...

Okay, deal. I was thinking of Ajax too — a play now done as a staged reading for military audiences by the group Theater of War. I’m guessing that no one has encountered these works in an high school.

Elaine said...

I attended DeKalb County Schools (Georgia) in the years 1960-65 (8th thru 12th); by the time I graduated from college, this district was requiring all teachers to hold a Master's degree (or earn one within 5 years.) That's not where we raised our children, and I moved away from GA in 1971, never to return for more than a brief visit, so I don't know how things stand now.... The education I got during those years was rigorous and prepared me very well for college and beyond, with the exception of the math classes; (I had to wait until college to get a great math teacher, who explained the number system and changed my life!)

Michael Leddy said...

I started elementary school in those years in Brooklyn, with much the same kind of experience. Not every teacher was wonderful, but I came through with a genuine dedication to learning. My only regret: we never had phonics, at least not that I can remember. I can remember the huge shock of moving to New Jersey and hearing students identify the schwa sound with one hand tied behind their back. What?!