Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nine kinds of wrong

Near the beginning of my career in academia, I used to worry about administrators who seemed out of touch with the classroom. Every fall, the faculty here at HHCC would file into the auditorium to listen the then-President's "State of the College" speech, in which he would outline the exciting changes happening or about to happen on our campus. One of my most common complaints about these speeches was that they rarely mentioned classroom instruction at all. The President would talk about construction plans, retention strategies, and reorganizational schemes, but he never really talked about teaching. What we needed, I would claim, was a President who was directly engaged with what goes on in classes, with the real work of the college.

Oh, to be that young and naive again.

I have since realized the truth that the faculty at the University of Toledo is living through at the moment: administrators with opinions about teaching are a faculty's worst nightmare. I have to say, though, that the claptrap coming out of the head and mouth of UT President Lloyd Jacobs surprised even me.

Look. I'm a fan of student-centered learning. I can buy into the concept of Distance Learning. I even said, at the interview for the position I've held for the past ten years, that failure to embrace instructional technology was "unconscionable"(remember, I was very young then). But when a college President starts throwing around phrases like "extreme student-centeredness" (remember when "extreme" meant going too far?) and "mass customization" (to be honest, I still can't make this phrase make sense), somebody needs to pull the plug.

If you haven't heard yet, you can help pull this particular plug by signing an online petition created by those interested in saving the idea of the Liberal Arts (the initials of which should always be capitalized, like the names of other religions) at the University of Toledo. Signing the petition is a statement that you oppose the Burger King approach to education ("have it your way"), the diminution of the Liberal Arts, the continued fetishization of assessment as panacea for all of academia's ills, and, most importantly, phrases like "mass customization." Still can't get my mind around that one.

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