Empty Academics Insult My Intelligence

This week, college football fans were shocked to learn that UNC-Chapel Hill’s football players had access to sham courses so that they could remain academically eligible to  wear tight pants and throw themselves on top of unwilling victims.

Who says that athletes have nothing in common with the pleasant law-abiding citizens of fraternity row?

This was supposed to be the publicly recognized scene of the crime.  (Photo credit: yeungb)

This was supposed to be the publicly recognized scene of the crime. (Photo credit: yeungb)

This was done to help the athletes and not the school, right?  It’s not like alumni donations rise and fall with the football team’s win percentage, right?

I’m looking forward to the players’ lawsuits on this one.  They have no right to complain but I’m sure they will anyway even though they were the prime beneficiary of the university’s generosity.  What might a lawsuit look like?

“Your Honor,

I choosed Chapel Hill because they had done promised me good edjamacation. I trusted them. All they gave me is empty grades. I can’t get my edjamacation time back. I gots to learn to do a job. They stoled that from me because I play football.

Please give me ten million dollars for my brain damage.”

Unfortunately, the concussions and/or lack of education will prevent any UNC football players from trying this gambit. Too bad…

The Vagina Monologues Insult My Intelligence

You may remember recent reports that a second grade teacher had to prevent a parent from distributing vagina cookies to the class. I can’t deliver the story any better than the original, so here are a couple of excerpts:

Autumn Lily Speaker comes into the classroom with a pan full of treats. […]  “I decided you can use these to teach the kids about the woman’s vagina today”. Baffled and completely caught off guard I slowly peel the aluminum foil off the pan to behold a plethora of sugar cookie and frosting vaginas. Not just any old vagina, but ALL KINDS OF VAGINAS.

[…]

[P]erplexed I give the parent the most professional look I can muster and quietly reply “I’m sorry Autumn, but I can’t give these to my students. This just isn’t appropriate.” […] Autumn bursts with the fury of a thousand angry Andrea Dworkin’s and starts yelling in front of the class about how ‘I should be proud of my vagina’ and ‘I am settling for a women’s role in life’. Utterly bemused and frozen from shock all I can do is stand and stare at the woman as the word ‘vagina’ is yelled in front of my second grade class about 987,000 times.

It gets worse from there.  In a subsequent email, the parent implies that the children should learn how to pleasure the vagina and expresses hope that the teacher will be beaten by an abusive husband.

VM

This is what the Vagina Monologues ISN’T. Actresses proclaim the value of their vaginas; the genitals themselves don’t speak. Presumably. (Photo credit: Mattias Johansson)

News of the altercation eventually landed on Huffington Post and I’m surprised that HuffPost would feature a story that opens the floodgates for criticizing feminists.  I spent many years on college campuses and this incident reminds me of V Day.  “V Day,” or Vagina Day, is the campus feminists’ replacement for the standard February 14 holiday.  The feminists distribute vagina lollipops instead of vagina cookies and they urge “pride in your vagina” and the pleasuring thereof.  (In other words, the mother sounds like she just came from campus.)  V Day’s centerpiece is the performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” a piece that includes some value but also some pedophilia; however, proceeds are often donated to women’s support charities, which must be said in its defense.  Also to be said in its defense: Roseanne Barr performed the piece in her underwear a few years back, so there’s obviously some sweet stuff for the men too… in addition to the lollipops.  (Cool down.  This is a humor blog, remember?)

Long story short: this is what a lot of college students are being taught and the cupcake incident illustrates the unintended consequences of this well-intended V Day programming.  Just because it works in theory doesn’t mean it will work outside the university with young children, or with older children, or with adults, or with dead people.  (I take that back.  Maybe it would work with dead people because they lack brain function.)  It’s not the real world’s fault that the intellectual idealist’s ideas fall flat when removed from the academic cloister. Them students don’t remember the lesson right when they leave skool and then the kiddies hafta suffer.  The adults too.

The feminism that helps protect women on campus seems to have led at least this one mother to wish domestic violence on another woman.  The Women’s Studies professors would be so proud.

Grade Inflation Insults My Intelligence

I created this for a writing prompt I co-inspired. It’s based on the comics at Tabula Candida.

(Text version: Those who sleepwalk through their studies often find themselves on undeserved pedestals.  Eventually, they fall down the stairs in a bloody heap.  On the bright side, zombies will refuse to eat their emaciated brains.

History repeats itself every semester.  I’m not making this up, you know.)

Talking About Communism Insults My Intelligence

I love politics as much as I love academe and clogged toilets.  It all smells like crap.  Nevertheless, I’ve decided to teach you about some especially stenchful crap today.

Specifically, “communism.”

Ah yes, that oh so loaded word that everyone loves to throw around whenever it suits their purposes.  Depending on who you ask, it’s the scourge of civilization or an ideal to be emulated.

And since I love politics so much, I’m not letting anyone off the hook here.  Readers of all political persuasions (in the U.S.) will be forced to suffer today.  I even brought the necessary torture devices…

This Karl Marx memorial still stands in the former Karl Marx Stadt (now called Chemnitz) in Germany.  (Photo credit: André Karwath)

This Karl Marx memorial still stands in the former Karl Marx Stadt (now called Chemnitz) in Germany. (Photo credit: André Karwath)

 

I’ll start with conservatives, those elephants who never forget the mass murders and gulags, plus the economic destruction Communism wrought in so much of Eastern Europe.  Communism opposed us in the Cold War and, as such, it became an easy and convenient label one could use to destroy any unappealing legislation.  Fairly or not.

For example, enter Obamacare or whatever Orwellian name the current administration has given the law.  I’m no fan of Obamacare and I’ve written a few posts about it (here and here and here) but I’m always taken aback when critics call it “communist.”

Let’s start with a simple definition.  Communism means public ownership of the means of production.  (“Means of production” are factories, mines, restaurants, and anything else that is used to create goods and services.)  In pure Marxist philosophy, “public” does not mean “big government;” instead, the state was supposed to wither away and leave everything behind for the public as a whole.  Big-government communism was a 20th century political invention.

You read that correctly.  Karl Marx belongs in the Tea Party.  Not that they’d take him…

And so Obamacare creates public ownership of what, exactly?  Not the hospitals, not the insurance companies, and not the viruses.

Too bad, though.  I hear viruses are a growth industry…

And then the far Left (often humanities professors) reads and rereads the philosophy and writes theoretical tract after theoretical tract (which gets boring and boring and boring) but this group conveniently forgets that reality exists… and has existed for quite a while now.  Or they just want it to go away.   The gulags can be forgotten because they make communism look bad and academic “research” has to make the politics look good.

Sadly, I’m not joking.  Peruse any literary theory textbook and you’ll find entry after entry that proclaims the importance of putting political aims (always of the Left) ahead of any attempts to perform unbiased scholarship.  Of course, they’ve conveniently declared “unbiased scholarship” impossible.

Remember how Bush and Cheney were accused of “encouraging” intelligence researchers to produce reports that would justify a war in Iraq?  Same thing, different politics.

But back to communism.

With faculty like this, the curriculum ends up as propaganda because you can’t criticize the politics; it’s considered anti-intellectual to do so.  Funny thing is, these professors conveniently don’t remember that the philosophy wasn’t reflected in the overbearing government entities that committed so many atrocities.  Marxism, at its root, was a small-government philosophy like the one the Tea Party supports.  And the far Left can’t allow its opponents to gain an advantage…

And that, my friends, is what you’ll learn if you choose to spend $100,000 to $200,000 of your parents’ money on a college education in the wrong major.  You could learn just as much by attending a Tea Party rally or watching your dog drink from the toilet.

In the meantime, just rest comfortably with the knowledge that the Tea Party is a bunch of communists who want to destroy America.

The University Industry Insults My Intelligence

I was lucky.  One year after I finished my undergraduate degree in Subject With Declining Enrollments, Professor X had his career chopped off.  He didn’t even make it to a tenure review hearing; several years separated his departure and what he hoped might have been.  When I visited campus shortly after his firing, Dr. Y recalled with horror that he hadn’t published a word during his several years at the university.

Fair enough.  If your contract requires you to publish, you need to publish or face the consequences.  Pesky little legal issue, I know…

She also told me that Professor X was “scaring away students.”  Being a naive early-20-something, I couldn’t comprehend what she meant.  Dr. X was the friendliest member of the department, a fact that even Dr. Y recognized.  On the other hand, lots of students considered Dr. Y to be profoundly disturbing to their psychological health.  (I liked Dr. Y, but my regular readers already know how weird I am.)  How was he scaring away students while she wasn’t?

I should note that Dr. X’s job description also contained one unusual detail.  He provided pedagogical training to the new graduate students who staffed the introductory and mid-level courses.  He mentored them, observed their teaching, and designed the curriculum.  The homework load didn’t block my social life while the textbook, though being of a halloweenish orange color, could hardly count as ferocious unless the teacher decided to throw a copy at your head.  Damn hardbacks.

So how could this friendly little fellow scare away students?

I eventually went to graduate school and had the pleasure of partaking in an initial teacher preparation seminar; in that course, I learned that Dr. X’s instructional methods had become outdated.  Big time.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn from them.  I consider myself fortunate to have gone through the undergraduate system while he was in charge, before the department was overhauled to teach Rocksforjocks instead.

I hope this picture of "Rocks for Jocks" won't offend the distinguished geologists among you.  (Photo credit: somewheregladlybeyond at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecb/136287275/)

I hope this picture of “Rocks for Jocks” won’t offend the distinguished geologists among you. (Photo credit: somewheregladlybeyond at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecb/136287275/)

Are the new methods worse?  Not necessarily.

However…

Let the words of Dr. Y echo through your head: “He was scaring away the students.”  The new methods entertain the students much more (which, in itself, is not a bad thing) and that encourages students to take more courses in the subject.  That also helps the professors keep their jobs.  Few methods exist for firing a tenured professor, but eliminating a department is one of them.  So of course it didn’t seem to matter so much to Dr. Y that Dr. X’s syllabi didn’t meet departmental or university expectations for maintaining up-to-date instructional practices.  Suffice it to say that his classes probably inspired much gratitude from local espresso merchants but it’s the academic merchants who are trying to sell their wares.

So, out with the old!

The new methods, despite some legitimate educational advantages and antidepressant side effects, have also helped permit the major to become significantly more fluffy.  People graduating with that major today do not possess sufficient skills to tell a prospective employer that they can be of use in the workforce.  However, an easy A will attract students to any course and that’s why families sacrifice so much to pay for college.  That, and beer pong.

And then you’ll discover a few nefarious aspects.  (Yeah… I started with the kid-friendly version.)  In a major publication of the American Association for Rocksforjocks Education, a prominent teaching specialist encouraged college Rocksforjocks faculty to make convenient use of placement exams.  “Convenient” means letting students skip over as many of the boring introductory courses as possible so that they can get to the interesting stuff, making them more likely to select Rocksforjocks as a major which in turn maintains desirable levels of Rocksforjocks funding as well as (once again) the faculty’s jobs.

And make no mistake about it: students don’t complain about this arrangement.  If you inflate their grades in the advanced courses, they’ll never know how unprepared they were.  At least while they’re still at the university plunking down all those tuition dollars…

Similarly, the faculty would judge teaching methods based on students’ enjoyment and appreciation of them, not on whether learning actually transpires.  Some of the new methods created astoundingly positive effects but they were chosen for the wrong reasons.

But let’s fast forward a little, shall we?

Now that I have finished my education and have been unemployed for a while, I can only growl at what education in my former field has become.  Although my skills are up to snuff, employers surely look at my resume and assume the opposite.  The new grads can’t cut it, so why would I be able to?

And then I apply for teaching jobs at the high school level.  I’m competent to teach more than that one subject but I’m constantly asked about the one I majored in.  Even if a school isn’t seeking a teacher for that subject.  Today, a job applicant is believed to only be capable of doing what he majored in… even if the resume indicates otherwise.  But in my old field, applicants are now assumed to be incapable of performing within the major, for obvious reasons.

Needless to say, I am never going back to teaching Rocksforjocks.  Some people get desperate when they’re unemployed and they take any available position.  I’m desperate to not inflict the same fate I’ve experienced on any future students.  A few would surely benefit from the legitimate information that Rocksforjocks provides but it’s not worth the collateral damage.

Let’s leave the jock’s rocks at the docks.  They’re a crock.

I also know from observation that Rocksforjocks teachers in high school and college spend considerable effort recruiting students into their courses.  To anyone preparing for college entrance, I’d suggest never enrolling in a course that the faculty is actively advertising.  Professors have their own agendas and the associated needs do not always coincide with what will benefit you most as a student.  You don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes pressures that school administrations place on your teachers.  You should not assume that they are your benevolent advisers, although you will find some who will behave honestly and honorably towards you.

Just like banks and credit card companies, colleges are businesses and you are their customer.  If they make you feel happy with their product, they have achieved their goal.  Just be sure to maintain that idiotic grin as you’re being ripped off.

Valentine’s Fundraising Insults My Intelligence

I’ve written about my wealthy Alma Mater’s brilliant fundraising techniques twice before (here and here), but yesterday’s attempt at moneygrabbing takes the cake.  Here’s the email I received.  I’m sure it will warm your heart as much as it did mine:

Subject: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today is a day for letting others know how much we care about them.  Why not show current students and faculty how much you care about their success through a gift to the University Development Fund.  The University Development Fund supports student and faculty research, scholarships, libraries, and much more.

You can share your love for the university by ensuring it has the resources it needs to continue on its path to excellence.  Make a gift today, we promise it’s better than flowers!

There’s so much wrong with this that I feel the need to just start listing punchlines:

1- If we’re talking Valentine’s Day and showing my love for 18-22 year olds, I can do that.  As a result, you may receive dollars from us in about 19 years if we forget to use a condom.  Since I couldn’t do that when I was a TA, I might not mind making up for lost time.

2- I have no interest in showing the faculty how much I love them in a Valentine’s-inspired way.

3- Why didn’t I think of that?  What woman wouldn’t prefer a donation made in her name as opposed to flowers?  How romantic!  (However, if you know a woman who would prefer a donation to a much less fabulously wealthy organization that does charity work instead, I might like her phone number.  🙂 )

4- The university is on a path to excellence?  Since students are going so far into debt to attend there, I would hope that the university is already providing them with excellence.  If you provided me with something less than excellence, it doesn’t make me love you.

5- I know you’re a research university, but shouldn’t teaching resources figure somewhere in what the Development Fund supports?  Sorry, but the libraries don’t quite count.

6- When I was a student, much was made of Valentine’s Day being V-Day, meaning Vagina Day.  I realize that “Vagina Monologues” performances make a substantial contribution to funding important charities that serve women, but you don’t need to keep the genital-themed discussion going by acting like a [CENSORED].  It’s all in bad taste.

7- I remember how much you spent on landscaping and I wonder how many students could have graduated debt-free if you had gone for a simpler aesthetic.  I can’t imagine how much of the Development Fund goes towards plants.  But then again, university officials would likely cite that old poem:  “Elsewhere I think I’ll never see a school as lovely as a tree.”  I support that environmental sentiment in theory, but in practice your tree looks more like this:

Created by n-rg.  The original is at http://n-rg.deviantart.com/art/Money-Tree-74891232

Created by n-rg. The original is at http://n-rg.deviantart.com/art/Money-Tree-74891232

8- Is it really such a good idea to ask for money on the same day so many people are giving such expensive gifts?  However, I might be able to contribute if you’ll accept leftover chocolate.  The grocery store is having a sale.

College Fundraising Insults My Intelligence

In one of my first posts, I slammed a college fundraiser for the buffoonish tactics she used when asking me for money.  To refresh your memory, I went to graduate school at a university that costs undergraduates upwards of $45,000 per year… or is it $55,000 by now?  The institution possesses an enormous financial reserve while thousands of suckers graduate with enormous debt every year.

But hooray!  Financial aid comes to the rescue!

Unbeknownst to many students (and their checkbook-wielding parents), colleges have borrowed a marketing tactic from retailers.  Raise prices through the roof, let those high prices make people believe that those prices mean higher quality, and offer discounts to make people think they’re getting a deal… all while soaking the poor saps who pay full price.

And then come the fundraisers who want to pull your heartstrings out with a pitchfork.  Those poor students!  So many of them are on financial aid and they need your help to make it through.  Let our tuition marketing scheme fool you into thinking your donation will make a difference in their lives.  And listen to the stories of some especially needy students who could never have afforded our artificially inflated prices without the markdowns we had budgeted for anyway.

So give us money, dammit.  The psychologically manipulated student body will remain forever grateful.

(Sadly, that last line is probably true.)

I’ll close with a second reminder.  I did my bachelor’s at a large public university and my graduate work at the prestigious University of Money.  While I can’t complain about my experiences at the U. of M., I don’t see how the undergraduate education offered there exceeded what I got at my other, more lowly alma mater.