University of Virginia: Only the Beginning
Published on: June 26, 2012
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  • chase

    We really need online law schools. The average lawyer who works in a small “main street” law practice doesn’t need a prestigious degree, they need to be able to get by on a modest salary – at least at the beginning – and they can’t do that owing six figures in student loans.

  • In Illinois, employment in Higher Ed (University and Community College) went from 51K people in 2000 to 89K in 2010.

    That is with a 7-9% increase in enrollment. The facts are clear. There are too many employees doing far too little, and costing far too much.

    Public employment has saddled governments, students, and citizens with so much unpayable debt that the de-leveraging will take decades.

    The fastest way to plow through these bad years is probably to fire as many as possible as quickly as possible.

  • amenhammer

    It’s a catch-22 when the administrators have to dramatically downsize the out of control size of the administration.

  • WigWag

    It’s hard to have much sympathy for any of the players involved with the UVA saga with one exception; I feel bad for memory of Thomas Jefferson who founded the institution.

    The situation at UVA is not all that different from the situation that led up to the dismissal of Larry Summers as President of Harvard a few years back. His politically incorrect (although arguably accurate) comments about women in math and the sciences was the excuse for getting rid of him. But the Harvard faculty hated Summers’ guts long before he made his famous remarks. What they disliked about Summers was his enthusiasm for change whether the faculty liked it or not. Many Harvard faculty members were incensed by the idea that change was coming, particularly in the School of Arts and Sciences.

    Giving university faculty too much input into how institutions of higher education are run is as dumb as giving parents too much input into how public schools are run; in fact it’s worse.

    It’s simply never a good idea to put lunatics in charge of the asylum; especially if those lunatics are highly paid, pampered snobs who barely work for a living.

    Professor Mead advocates a system where “rock star” professors give lectures to students through the use of technology. It’s a great idea. I have only one question; he’s a “rock star” professor (so is Peter Berger who also blogs at AI). Instead of talking about it; why isn’t he doing something about it?

  • WG

    The necessary changes will be painful, because so many jobs in higher education are likely to be shed in the upheaval. As “100 reasons NOT to go to grad school” notes, you should think twice about betting your future on a career in academia:

    That said, students will benefit from higher education reform. The problems today are a result of prioritizing interests other than those of students.

  • Steve Billingsley

    “Giving university faculty too much input into how institutions of higher education are run is as dumb as giving parents too much input into how public schools are run; in fact it’s worse.”

    Because the way public schools are run now is working out so well now.

    I can imagine a more asinine comment, but it takes effort.

  • koblog

    “University faculties are self governing institutions who are proud of their traditions, their privileges, and their autonomy….”

    Don’t ya just love the words “privileges” and “autonomy” in an article discussing “the crisis in state budgets?”

    Sounds like the “privileged” and “autonomous” professorate has forgotten that taxes from regular working people pay their cushy salaries and pensions.

  • Tom Gates

    The irony of all this is that Helen Dragas was appointed by Democratic Governor Tim Kaine. She is, or was, a highly repsected business woman who many felt had a shot at being Virginia’s first female governor. Another Dem tripped up by the slaves of the blue model which Higher Education surely is part of. Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson would totally understand what is going on, he was not a statist but a bit of a revolutionary himself.

  • I am feeling a bit of scheherazade today over the travails of the intellectual class. For you rubes, that is an Arabic word for feeling glad about another’s suffering.

    Oh to be an anti-intellectual American on the day the research university goes over the cliff!

  • Mike Gebert

    Boy, you could just about change “university” to “newspaper” and run the same piece 10 years ago.

    If we’ve learned anything from that, it’s that the behemoths are doomed regardless, but the stars who can figure out the new world will do all right.

  • “Giving university faculty too much input into how institutions of higher education are run is as dumb as giving parents too much input into how public schools are run; in fact it’s worse.”

    How would we ever know if that happened?

  • Fred

    @#9 Christopher Chantrill:

    I believe you meant to say you are feeling Schadenfreude, which is a German word for enjoying the misfortunes of another.

    Scheherazade was the female narrator in the story “The Arabian Nights”.

  • Randroideka

    Hmm, looks like spell-checker replaced “schadenfreude” with “scheherazade”. Now that’s a piece of code with a erudite sense of humor.

    Methinks many university types will emulate Scheherazade’s method of continually postponing death.

  • Recovering Lutheran

    “Giving university faculty too much input into how institutions of higher education are run is as dumb as giving parents too much input into how public schools are run; in fact it’s worse.”

    What a bizarre statement! Parents are taxpayers who are paying for the schools. It has been my experience that most parents take little or no interest in the schools their children attend. These parents view public education as a giant babysitting service that is supposed to produce college-ready kids with no effort on their part. More parental involvement, please!

    On the other hand, faculty represent a tiny minority of the campus population. Theoretically they are hired to teach, although a growing number of them seem to think that universities should fund (without limit) whatever goofball research schemes they cook up. It is on university campuses that you will find every genocidal Marxist fantasy being loudly advocated in the guise of “higher education”. Most university administrators and boards of trustees are cowards who rubber-stamp whatever the most vocal faculty members demand.

  • Anthony

    WRM, your essay highlights UVA but the change spoken to generally applies to our current social arrangements – political, economics, social, etc. Institutions (electoral politics, municipalities, corporate structures, etc.) country wide are flashpoints of change. UVA, for the attentive, is but an example of future approaches to changing environment by unsustainable institutions – all the while despair and cynicism deepens in America. For me WRM an overriding question is how do we begin anew.

  • Charles

    When I was in medical school many years ago (late 60’s) I was appalled at the poor quality of teaching at the school I attended for the first two years. I thought then that there should be regional or national sharing of the best professors via video tape. After all, every medical school in the country teaches the same courses in the first two years, though not necessarily in the same sequence or with the same course organization. Local faculty could provide further elucidation of the material and individual help, etc.

    Technology has now become far more advanced and I believe there is an even more compelling rationale for such an arrangement. Were the “rock star” approach to be adopted, there would be havoc among the local medical school faculties, but the students would receive better instruction and would be likely to remember more of what was conveyed.

  • The accreditation agency SACS sends a letter yesterday that the Board of Visitors actions may have valued it standards of accreditation. The accreditors control who retains access to th federal student loan program. Arne Duncan just released a report affirming just how powerful the accreditors are in the world of higher ed.

    I think the reinstatement just showed every governing board in higher ed that they may not touch an administrator pushing policies the accreditors like. We have noticed something similar going on with the same accreditors and what school boards are being told.

    In Australia which is about 5 years ahead of the US on the same higher ed template, the administrators outnumber the teaching faculty as a percentage of staff. No lean and mean at all.

  • That should be violated, not valued.

    My apologies but I genuinely believe that today was a watershed event in higher ed to show both governing boards AND faculty that neither has power over administrators committed to the social change agent work that is ramping up so completely right now as the Common Core is implemented this fall. The implementation calls for a radically different vision for college as well.

  • MC

    What happens to liberal arts courses like history, politics, and philosophy in this New Model University? What worries me is that this new institutional model will transform the university into a vo-tech school, with nothing but science, math, and business classes.

    Goodbye Paul Rahe and Tim Groseclose?

    Considering how poorly high schools teach those courses now, do we want them shunted aside at the university level?

  • gracepmc

    Schadenfreude and Scheherazade all the more amusing as it was explained for all you “rubes”.

  • Doug in SD

    The problem is that the business model is collapsing, and it’s hard to figure out how to cross the chasm. Newspapers faced the same issue starting more than ten years ago, and have had to shrink considerably as ad revenue disappeared.

    It’s obvious that online learning will take off, but how do you monetize it, especially when you’re a me too player. UVa may be a top 50 bricks and mortar school, which has its value, but online education will be a winner take all world, and anyone offering a course beyond second or third in market share in a field will be irrelevant, and unable to monetize their instruction.

    Change is hard when the job requires herding cats who appreciate the acquired perks and privelege, but non-elite schools are as doomed as all but the top white shoe law firms. The business model is unsustainable – for the universities, the students, and the states.

  • jaed

    “One of the great flashpoints for change will be the learned professions. These are still structured like medieval guilds in many ways. University faculties are self governing institutions who are proud of their traditions, their privileges, and their autonomy, and it is not at all clear that these guilds can survive in the present form in any but the richest universities.”

    I’m not at all sure but that I think this is backwards. The essence of a university is the student and teacher sitting together; if we go back in history, universities started out as collections of learned people offering teaching to students who wanted to show up. It’s a guild system because the current experts pass on who is entitled to teach in turn (= the doctorate).

    Over the past few decades, universities have become much less governed by their faculties, and decisions have become much more the province of professional administrators (whose numbers are growing like kudzu, in fact at the expense of faculty numbers). Faculty are no longer independent experts who take on students, but corporate employees tasked by their employers with meeting particular goals. I believe this – not faculty governance – is the unsustainable trend. To correct the situation in which higher education finds itself, a renewed emphasis on the encounter between teacher and student is required, a new acknowledgement that students and faculty are central and administrators are merely ancillary personnel.

    This acknowledgement would lead to a number of changes. A return to faculty governance would be one. Massive cuts in administrative personnel, administrative expenses, and most of all in the status of administration and the deference paid it, would be another. Abuse of adjunct status to create armies of low-status pseudo-faculty would be yet another change.

    Research and its relationship with teaching is another issue. The availability of funds for research but not teaching has badly distorted universities, making teaching a secondary purpose at best, but this isn’t the case for online classes – in which teaching is primary. Much research might end up being divorced from universities, taking place in labs funded by (government or other) patrons. That’s largely what happens now – research rock-stars don’t teach if they can help it. Teaching is low-status on a typical university campus and that, too, will need to change.

    (Of course, good luck with any of this while administrators are the powerful decision-making element on campus. There’s the rub.)

  • elkh1

    Money run out? Ha, talk like a right wing extremist. Tax the “rich” for our children’s “education”.

  • Crocodile Chuck

    A concise, cracking post. Well done.

  • teapartydoc

    I live in a university town. Every time I drive through campus I wonder what all of those huge buildings will end up being used for, or if they will just be allowed to deteriorate. I figure the place will be a ghost town in fifteen years. But I bet there will still be football.

  • chase

    Professor Mead, put your courses online! I seriously can’t wait to watch them

  • WigWag

    “It has been my experience that most parents take little or no interest in the schools their children attend. These parents view public education as a giant babysitting service that is supposed to produce college-ready kids with no effort on their part. More parental involvement, please!” (Recovering Lutheran)

    So let me see if I have this straight, Recovering Lutheran; most parents (at least the ones you know) are so disinterested in the education their children receive that they view the public schools as little more than a giant baby sitting service. Sure, by all means, let’s put those parents in charge of the schools; that should work out just fine.

    What a wonderful solution that would be; can you imagine how much better public education will be when the laconic and apathetic parents you know are more empowered than they already are?

    You’ve hit on the solution!

  • WigWag

    Several commentators have mentioned the unfortunate fact that most colleges and universities are bloated bureaucracies that waste unimaginable amounts of money; this is absolutely true.

    What has not been mentioned is how extraordinarily lazy college faculty tend to be, especially in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Most tenured faculty outside of the community college setting teach one or at most two courses a semester. When Department Chairs or Deans ask senior faculty to teach a second course, the default position of most tenured professors is outrage bordering on hysteria. If you’ve ever been in an office where the Dean has asked a professor to teach a second course, its a sight to behold; you haven’t witnessed a hussy fit until you’ve been in the presence of a professor who has experienced the indignity of being told that they would have to stand in front of students for a burdensome six hours a week instead of the anticipated three.

    When you point out to these pampered sybarites that teaching six hours a week doesn’t seem particularly taxing, they always point out all the preparation time that goes into their lectures and all the time needed to grade examinations and term papers. What they inevitably fail to mention (at least if their senior faculty) is that they’ve probably taught the same course 30 times and that they could deliver their lectures from memory while half asleep. The idea that they need preparation time is a joke. They also usually fail to mention that it’s the graduate student or postdoctoral fellow who they are mentoring who grade all the papers and exams.

    I doubt that there is a less productive or lazier profession in the United States than college/university faculty. University administrators do a lot of work and accomplish very little. University faculty are worse; they hardly work.

  • HiringManager

    I can tell you as someone who over my 25 years, 20 of which are as a manager who has hired hundreds of engineers and non-engineers that I use the college brand as one of the first factors in whether to interview someone and to add assurance as interviews can never be detailed enough to elicit how well rounded and competent someone is. An online degree is not going to cut it with me or any of the managers I know. There is extreme value in a young person being exposed to intelligent people from all sorts of disciplines as their brain is absorbing knowledge in their chosen discipline. This applies particularly to people in the STEM fields – especially if they ever want to advance beyond a worker on the line.

  • thibaud

    What #29 Hiring Manager said. Y’all are forgetting the main reason this overpriced, inefficiently-delivered credential has such power: it’s the big employers who insist on it, for good reason.

    The corporation’s human capital, like its financial assets, carry with them a huge amount of risk. One of the ways the corporation mitigates that risk is by using screening devices when it absorbs new talent. A quality undergraduate degree is such a screen, as is a good MBA or graduate engineering or other specialized degree.

    In every case, the degree represents that the holder can master a huge amount of information in a short period of time and that he or she has a certain amount of mental flexibility along with interpersonal or cultural savvy. The degree holder may or may not quite attain the status of being “at home anywhere in the world,” but at least he or she’s not “at sea if unmoored from my computer.” For those of us lacking the insight and brilliance of an Emily Dickinson or Jane Austen, it’s near-impossible to develop much worldliness by sitting at home.

    Virtual or online classes can be used to transmit some basic skills, but until human social interaction evolves to another level – or UX/UI wizards vastly improve the current lame experience of online collaboration – the virtual alternative will not be terribly useful as a screen for ROI-hungry hiring managers.

  • Interesting comment Hiring Manager which I think points correctly to online learning still being a an unknown quantity.But I believer that is changing. My career was in Educational Technology and I have always been skeptical of the ability of technology to replace teachers. However, About 10 years ago I did research on post secondary distance education in Australia and, while my skepticism remained, it was shaken for the first time. What is happening now in online education looks breathtaking. Sebastian Thrun was so successful at Staford that he has left his tenured position to start his own education company. He may fail, but this is his description of the response to a 2011 course he gave: “We spent endless nights recording ourselves on video, and interacting with tens of thousands of students. Volunteer students translated some of our classes into over 40 languages; and in the end we graduated over 23,000 students from 190 countries. In fact, Peter and I taught more students AI, than all AI professors in the world combined.This one class had more educational impact than my entire career.”

  • I sometimes find it necessary to explain to people that while I once tried to learn some of the Ojibwe language, a lot of the internet materials have gone away, and chimokomans like myself (“Long Knives” = Americans) are not necessarily welcome to learn it, and especially not online. It’s not so much that I’m starting as an outsider, which I am, but that the language is something that is supposed to be learned along with the rest of the culture, at the feet of the elders. There are a few more nuances than that, but it has sometimes been hard to begin to explain all this to university people who were brought up in a liberal tradition.

    What I didn’t realize until just now is that it’s the same way with a university education. It’s not something you get online, and the language skills (written and not just oral in this case) are not something to learned in isolation. Instead, there is an entire culture to become part of, and you do it by interacting with the elders and the other members of the culture. (It used to be a liberal culture; these days it’s more fascist and repressive, but the principle is the same either way.)

  • valuemonitor

    A deeper vein of this story might be the baneful influence of business on academic life. Thirty years ago it was alright for campuses to go with marginal maintenance. Ratty was in. Today every campus looks like Harvard, and every college president is aware that her or she is competing for students within a strata of other colleges. So they must impress the parents, even if maintenance and housing are outsourced.

    In the late ’70s, professors, like public school teachers, earned low salaries and it was tacitly assumed that they had either remarkable characteristics of thrift and personal discipline or some other means of support. Costs have spiraled out of control in imitation of business, which now rains money on CEOs, regardless of performance.

  • But what will the University of Chicago become without a football team?

    (yeah I know – they have one again)

  • Theophilus

    “Many students might be much better served with a system in which a “rock star” professor delivers lectures online, while specially trained and qualified (but quite likely non-PhD) instructors lead discussions, work one-on-one with students, and grade papers.”

    Is this simply an e-version of the (oft maligned) model that most R1 institutions currently use for much undergraduate education? The possible economic upside is having one fully-paid “rock star” professor in place of the few thousand, scattered in classrooms across the country. The obvious economic downside is that “specially trained and qualified (but quite likely non-PhD) instructors” would probably not work as cheaply as those tens-of-thousands of TAs do, who make far, far less than your typical high-school teacher.

  • Nobel winner Richard Feynman got it a long time ago. His videos – many on line for free are a treasure.

  • Also Buckminster Fuller in “Education Automation” from the 50s. This is not new stuff. It is just new to those not (yet) paying attention. Bucky is online too.

  • HiringManager June 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I go after the people your selection criteria missed. There are a LOT of them out there. And I can get them a LOT cheaper. And then raise them up. I look for people with an interest and ambition.

    M. Simon – non-degreed aerospace engineer.

  • Thibaud, you are again making a lot of sense in your comments. You seem to inhabit in the real world, as opposed to taking all your cues from the blogosphere 😉

  • thibaud

    M. Simon – sure, that’s a good approach, but presumably your comment about “rais[ing] them up” implies you’re willing to train people. Few corporations in the US do that – maybe they should, the way that IIUC the German companies do, but until that shift happens, they will continue to use the degree as a proxy for an intelligence test.

    Not saying this is right, just trying to inject a little reality into the breathlessness about digital instruction’s ability to lead us into a brave new world. Won’t happen anytime soon, I think.

  • Christopher Burd

    According to Wikipedia, Scheherazade comes from Arabic for “one whose realm is noble”.

    But excellent put-down of the “rubes”.

  • “This kind of change would have to come almost literally over the dead bodies of the current faculties in many schools, and it would dramatically reduce the demand for PhD programs in most fields outside of science and math around the country.”

    Frankly I would like to see an end to the PhD requirement for teaching outside math and the hard sciences. It is a ridiculous degree. A good Masters would be better.

  • Got to disagree with thibaud when he says a “degree represents that the holder can master a huge amount of information in a short period of time.” At the Ivies now it just means you got in.

  • Bob Jones

    Thibaud, it isn’t a case of being willing to train people; it’s a case of understanding that you almost certainly have to train them. Very few good technical positions have candidates that can come in on the first day and simply start working. Internal systems and constraints have to be learned. Tribal knowledge of what works and what doesn’t has to be acquired. But what is truly difficult to teach are the personality traits of proactive employees. No degree guarantees that although advanced degrees may give a slight hint of that capability and possibly gives them the tools to learn to do a job.

    I found amusing your earlier comment that an advanced degree holder, “can master a huge amount of information in a short period of time and that he or she has a certain amount of mental flexibility along with interpersonal or cultural savvy.” I can attest from personal experience that having a PhD is hardly strongly correlated to interpersonal or cultural savvy. In fact, most PhD’s are more of a reflection on the candidate’s endurance and perseverance than any other special quality of mastering vast sums of information or plying the intercultural waters.

    M.Simon, how’s Polywell doing? And no, you don’t have better music than us.

  • thibaud

    Luke – the second benefit (after the alumni network) of business school, at least the top business schools, is the acquisition of advanced skills in winnowing down an extraordinary amount of work to a manageable level. Partly this is through intelligent distribution of labor, partly by hook and crook, partly by figuring out what’s not necessary.

    All of these are absolutely critical to success as a business manager – much more important than expertise with financial statements or fluency in marketing buzzwords.

    Bob Jones (no affiliation with the B.J. “university,” I trust?) – I never mentioned PhDs. The Germans seem to groove on that degree but I’ve never met a hiring manager who saw much added merit (ie beyond a good masters or undergrad degree) to it.

    So enjoy that red herring of yours – may I suggest trying it with an olive tapenade, on toast.

  • Torestin

    Education is what the learner chooses to make and invest in their own outcomes. Online or in person. With respect to HiringManager and related comments, I would agree that an online degree may not work well for engineering related, full degree programs, however, you have to consider the trajectory and speed of information and knowledge transfer and that out of date printed texts and wasting enormous amts of time going to a classroom are conflicting and prohibitive. As a VP level hiring manager in the services industry with a tradtional undergrad degree and then 24 years of experience, enrolled in an online Master’s program in Law in 2007. I completed the program in 21 months with some 1900 hours of study and have been very pleased with my results as it was what I made of it. A hybrid of in class (could be via cloud conferencing)and online is absolutely the future and hiring managers from the old traditional school model need to wake up and accept this new reality. Same wake up call for lazy, tenured professors.

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