Reinventing College

I had planned to write something somewhat subterraneanly witty, inspired while sitting in medical waiting rooms and doing a mashup of Oliver!, Animal House, and something about strings. Sadly, that will have to wait.

Instead, I was presented with this tweet in my timeline.

Instant karmic clickbait to me. No way I could resist.

Nutshelling his (Adam J. Copeland) excellent post into the five bullet points reads thus.

1. Allow no high school credits to transfer.
2. No graduating college early.
3. No declaring one’s major until the spring one’s sophomore year.
4. Offer no more than 10 majors total.
5. Do away with minors.

From my minimalist perspective and a desire to keep things somewhat simple and deep, these are great ideas. I’ve never been a particular fan of AP credits, although my experience includes “credit-in-escrow” which simply means that the summer between my junior and senior I spent the mornings on the campus of MSSC (now MSSU) in BIOL-101.

Graduating college in less than four years is rarely ever much of an issue. Very few students do so in Virginia. (You want proof? I’ve got data right here – .)

As for not declaring one’s major until fourth semester, I’m all for it. This was the policy at Willamette University when I was there in the 90s. The last time we checked, 35% of undergraduate majors changed majors between fall and spring of their sophomore at Virginia public four-year institutions (excluding undeclared majors). There shouldn’t need to be any rush. Of course, the US Department of Education (USED) (PLEASE NOTE THIS – USDOE is the Department of ENERGY) does not seem to understand this as they are insisting (although it may be an unintended design flaw by the contractor who built the financial aid processing system) that undeclared majors be reported as Liberal Arts majors. Most majors are absolutely irrelevant to career choices. The concept of the major field of study is really to provide a focal point on which to apply and sharpen the skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, literacy, numeracy, and reasoning learned in general ed.

This bit about offering no more than 10 majors and eliminating minors. Hmmm. Yes, a large part of my legislature might jump at that idea. Here’s the rub though. If you think legislators are going to fund faculty in the remaining discipline areas at the graduate level, with low class loads, I suspect you are sadly mistaken. Further, graduate programs tend toward wanting applicants with a matching undergraduate programs.

But the larger problem is this.

To have a well-rounded general ed program, we need a variety of faculty representing various disciplines. What I have noticed about faculty throughout my career and as a faculty brat, is that as much as they work alone (or at least take credit alone) they really prefer to travel in packs. (Although herd is really more appropriate most of the time. Until they smell blood. Or grant money.) One PhD in sociology is going to waste away until another is found. They will soon want a third. Before long you have a department offering a major and multiple subspecialities, each representing their pet interests. Art faculty are the worst as they can convert just about any wannabe artist with an advanced degree into an art faculty member. Late 20th century art using junk and found objects is ample proof of this. (I got bit by junk art angel once upon a time in Alton, Illinois – I still have the scar.)

More seriously, building a solid academic program around a liberal education ideal, tends to require more diversity in faculty than allows an easy limit to a small number of majors. After all, any number selected is pretty much arbitrary in the absence of research on the topic. Faculty will push for more majors. So will administrators. Sometimes students will do so. So the number grows.

We also have an obligation to ensure that the knowledge continues to be shared, developed, and renewed in all disciplines. Colleges and universities are not just about educating the current flock of excellent and semi-excellent sheep.

The big question is this. Are their schools out there now that match this idea? Are there any that wish to do so?






Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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