Teaching and learning in a market-dominated environment

The question before those engaged in supporting general education is how to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by the market. What do good teaching and learning look like in an institution operating in a deregulated and decentralized marketplace with students demonstrating consumer tendencies? How can we foster a supportive environment for general education when student consumers are fueled by a desire for vocational training for economic gain?

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First, we should acknowledge that student consumerism and a focus on the vocational private economic good of higher education are not simply going to disappear.

These trends are ingrained in our students and the larger society, and the time for reversing these ideas is seemingly past.

Rather, what higher education must accomplish is the incorporation of general education principles within the specialized nature of teaching and research.

This is critical for responding to consumerist attitudes among students as well as the capitalistic actions of faculty (Bok, 2003; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997).

We should be addressing critical thinking, ethics, creating a logical argument, writing, and an appreciation of differences across the curriculum.

This type of approach to courses ostensibly designed for vocational purposes is possible, if not necessary, for achieving the proper professional training of vocational programs.

Viewed in this light, instruction can address the fundamental principles and benefits of general education while at the same time acknowledging the demands for job training on the part of students, parents, policy makers, and the business community.

This new conceptualization of general education is helpful in responding directly to the desires of internal and external stakeholders (while remaining true to the liberal education ideal), yet this does not fully respond to the demands of the business and political communities that often cite the graduate who is not prepared to enter and succeed in the corporate setting.

In order to respond to the concerns of the business community and the growing demands of the marketplace, students need to understand the broader contexts of their work.

As Grubb and Lazerson (2005) suggest: “One goal is to teach in more constructivist, meaning-centered, and contextualized ways, following the idea that students need to be better prepared to understand the deeper con- structs underlying practice” (p. 17).

The business community contends that too often the graduates they employ were trained in universities devoid of practical concerns and dominated by research-centric curricula and faculty.

As critical stakeholders in the future support of colleges and universities, political and business leaders are demanding the creation of a competently trained workforce.

This is achievable with an improved nexus between theory and practice.

General education concepts judiciously brought to bear through the use of interdisciplinary courses, service-learning classes, and pedagogical innovations can bridge the gap between the purely intellectual and solely practical.

A renewed approach to problems in this way leads to satisfying the concerns of the market and its consumers.

Furthermore, it solidifies the role of liberal education as part of the solution.

Excerpt from Out out, damned spot: General education in a market-driven institution

Service and tenure: Do’s and don’ts

Most everyone knows that too much service can be a problem for pre-tenure faculty. I often hear from early career faculty that are trying to figure out what is the appropriate level of service. In today’s post, I will share a few do’s and don’ts for successfully navigating service and tenure.

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At virtually every institution, tenure and promotion decisions are based, in varying degrees, on teaching and research.

Service activities such as committees or manuscript reviewing are vital to keeping higher education functioning.

However, pre-tenure faculty have to make sure that service responsibilities don’t derail one’s career.

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope everyone had a great end of the semester and you are looking forward to an exciting new year.  Today, as is our tradition, we’re taking a break from discussing the current issues facing higher education and tips for how to be more productive.

Instead, as my present to you, I want to share my three favorite Christmas music videos.  Unlike that new pair of socks from Grandma each year, these never get old.

Take some time to relax and enjoy your family and friends.

Merry Christmas!

The Grinch

Charlie Brown Christmas Dance

John Denver and the Muppets sing 12 Days of Christmas

FAU conspiracy professor is not protected by academic freedom

Florida Atlantic University is moving to terminate Communications Professor James Tracy, a critic of the media and a frequent conspiracy theorist. Predictable, Professor Tracy and his supporters have suggested his comments are protected by academic freedom and freedom of speech. In today’s post, I will explain why Tracy’s comments are not protected by tenure and academic freedom as well as why I would vote to terminate him if I was on his faculty grievance committee.

Both proponents and critics like to suggest that academic freedom provides a blank check for faculty to say or do anything they want without repercussion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For starters, academic freedom doesn’t cover cray-cray.

The challenge of academic drift

David Riesman’s (1956) seminal work on academic drift describes the concept as a pattern of imitation where less prestigious and less resourced colleges follow the lead of more successful and high-status ones. His use of the snake metaphor describes the tendency of universities at the “tail” attempting to model themselves after those at the “head.” Academic drift occurs as less prestigious “tail” institutions follow the strategic direction laid down by institutions with the reputational and political capital to engage in innovative activity. As institutions seek to follow the lead of “head” universities, institutional diversity declines as the “snakelike procession causes a convergence upon a single organizational model” (Morphew, 2000, p. 57).

Photo credit: Tim Green

The research literature points to a number of causes for academic drift. is lack of consensus likely occurs as a result of the identified causes operating together and holding different levels of influence at various points in time (Morphew & Huisman, 2002).

The lack of clear and consistent conceptualizations of the primary aspects of academic drift as well as measurement issues proves problematic as well (Huisman, 1998). A continued effort on the part of scholars to clarify the concepts involved in the study of academic drift and institutional diversity more generally would aid our understanding of the dynamics involved.

Research on academic drift has occurred for more than 50 years, with the studies frequently focusing on systems of higher education and changes within these systems (Aldersley, 1995; Birnbaum, 1983; Morphew, 2000, 2002; Neave, 1979; Riesman, 1956). Despite evidence of the ongoing preva- lence of academic drift, limited research since the 1960s, other than that by Morphew (2000, 2002, 2009), addresses the causes and implications in American higher education. In contrast, international researchers developed a significant body of empirical work (Huisman, 1995, 1998; Meek, 1991; Neave, 1979; van Vught, 2009). The research literature would benefit from a consideration of the current dynamics in U.S. higher education and understanding the lessons from postsecondary systems across the globe to preserve and protect institutional diversity.

While institutions seek to expand to reach new student markets during economic downturns (Holley & Harris, 2010), a tenuous link exists between student demand and academic drift with researchers arguing that programs created as a result of mission creep often serve few students (Birnbaum, 1983; Morphew, 2000). In fact, research suggests that student demand for programs does not impact academic drift and an inverse relationship may even exist between the two (Schultz & Stickler, 1965). Changes within higher education that expand particular institutional types and increase homogenization occur even during periods when financial resources and student enrollments increase (Birnbaum, 1983; Huisman & Morphew, 1998). As the knowledge economy grows and student needs for education change, institutional diver- sity provides a variety of higher education opportunities to meet new necessi- ties and offers a comprehensive approach to postsecondary education. Academic drift often occurs through the growth of graduate programs, particularly doctoral programs located at universities where the doctorate was not traditionally considered part of the institution’s role or mission. As an example, in 2005, the California State University system received permission to begin offering doctorates in education (Hebel, 2005). Historically, the University of California system held the sole authority to o er doctorates with Cal State focused baccalaureate production. is change expanded the academic focus of Cal State allowing the system to move toward the research university model increasing doctoral production and an emphasis on research. Undergraduate education may su er from neglect as resources and attention focus elsewhere (Lachs, 1965; McConnell, 1962). Higher education institu- tions have yet to demonstrate a substantial commitment to undergraduate education in light of the pursuit of graduate studies and other activities believed to grow institutional prestige (Harris, 2006; Shils, 1962). The needs of students and the economy, however, suggest that higher education can no longer afford such distractions to develop the workforce needed for the 21st century (Lumina, 2012).

Studies of academic drift frequently focus on organizational variables describing the responses of institutions to expand beyond their missions (Huisman, 1995). The emphasis on the institution, however, masks the influence of the role that faculty play in guiding university behavior (Clark, 1983; Rhoades, 1990). The question remains as to what extent academic drift follows as a result of administrative and institutional decisions “or, are faculty members asserting their own values within their institutions?” (Morphew, 2000, p. 56). While the research literature fails to identify a single cause of mission drift, faculty behavior, training, and rewards often receive blame.

The training of faculty members at research universities contributes to academic drift as faculty seek to recreate their prior experiences and doctoral institution at their current university. By developing organizational structures and degree programs that mirror their own doctoral experience, faculty members transform their institution along research university norms regardless of the institutional mission and values of their current department or university. The increased specialization of faculty and disciplines is the heart of the blame of the faculty role in fostering academic drift. The creation of “cosmopolitan faculty” (Birnbaum, 1983; Riesman, 1956) divides faculty as they align more closely to their academic discipline and field of study than their department or institution.