Sunday, February 2, 2014

Problems of Universities

Well, I've been retired from professing for over three years now; and I pretty kept my peace about the general state of university life.  Admittedly, my perspective is limited; I was employed full-time at only two state universities.  One for 38 years.

There are a lot of things that are being done well; some not so much.

The biggest problem that immediately confronts potential students is the cost.  Costs of tuition and other expenses have greatly outstripped what might be expected due to general inflation.  And, let's face it: some university towns tend to milk students for what they're worth on rent, food, and other amenities.   Therefore, they come out of universities with massive debts: possibly as much as $100,000 dollars!  How about being saddled with that at such a young age?

But universities don't keep costs down, either.  Some of that is self-defense due to decreasing levels of state assistance per annum.  After all, the money must come from somewhere.  But there's also a lot of baggage.

One of the things I've noticed is the general proliferation of administrative-level personnel (oops, human resources!).  There's a lot of these persons that are involved in decision-making and they have dramatically increased the overhead of many universities.  And the salaries!  While it's reasonable to expect that a dean or a vice-president should be paid more than a professor, some of them draw fantastic salaries.  Not to mention the presidents or chancellors!  The former President of Ohio State drew $1.9 million a year!

But when it comes to actual instruction, more and more class sections are taught by adjunct (part-time) instructors.  These are paid very poorly by comparison.  As a matter of fact, full-time tenure-track faculty positions are declining as these carry more of a load.  And, what makes it worse, they are given no health insurance or retirement benefits.  Universities should be ashamed of this, if they were capable of shame.

Not to mention how teaching assistants are trained!

Athletics, of course, is overemphasized.  But it was also the case 40 years ago too.

And there are fraternities, some of which are known for their boorish behavior.  When will these relics of the past go away?

Another problem is legislative interference.  State legislatures are the source of funding, and they sometimes tack on their own agendas.  For example, at one institutions I had been employed many years ago, all students were required to take a course, Americanism Versus Communism.  (Guess what side they were supposed to take.)

The American university system is perhaps the glory of our education system,  especially on the graduate level.  But these aspects are real problems.