Two pieces of news crossed my radar this Wednesday morning. One was on the decision of SACS to put universities like FAMU on probation (again) and UVa on warning status. The other was that StraighterLine will begin to allow their instructors to set the price they charge for the (often accredited) courses they offer. The two pieces of news, on the surface, seem unrelated. But, dig a little deeper, and we can find a lot of what ills higher education, and a potential solution, at least for those who have been long ignored and exploited by higher education.
The article here in IHE stated as much: the majority of the time, the reason why schools are put on probation are either financial or administrative. I want to add, not academic. Let me repeat that: the majority of the schools that are put on probation or given warning status receive these “punishments” because of reasons outside of their core mission, which is to educate students. The lone exception to that may be this year’s “warning” to UNC at Chapel Hill. But as pointed out in the comments, schools that are put on probation for financial and administrative reasons are also put through the academic wringer, often forced to meet academic standards not imposed on other institutions. Not to mention the stress and extra work placed on already over-worked and often under-funded faculty.
I know, I saw it happen.
So you have faculty being punished for crimes that they have little to nothing to do with. Now, you may argue that the faculty “let” these administrative oversights happen, but the answer to that isn’t to force them to revise the curriculum but instead to strengthen shared governance. Having said that, depending on the institution, the majority of the people actually delivering the education to the students are left out of most, if not all, of these conversations, either way: contingent, non-tenure-track faculty. Whatever financial mismanagement or administrative abuse that took place certainly never profited an adjunct; if anything, it always seems to adversely impact them, perhaps even more so than the tenured/tenure-track faculty.
Which brings me to the StraighterLine announcement. What is interesting to me, again in the comments, that it makes the point of re-establishing the close connection between instructor and student. There is a minimal middle-man involved. Is it capitalistic and free-market? You bet. Does it seem to offer a more humane alternative for both instructor and student (who are, let’s face it, almost as ignored as an actual constituent in these discussion as adjuncts; both are treated as concepts rather than actual, you know, living, breathing people). It’s up to an independent body to evaluate the courses, not the institution itself.
This is a bit different than the situation I wrote about a few years ago, when Nixty.com started up and simply asserted that, if an instructor was teaching the same course that they had or were teaching at an accredited university, then the course offered through Nixty should/would be accepted for credit. It was revolutionary, radical, and incredibly naïve (so of course I loved it). I don’t know what Nixty is doing now (it’s not clear from their homepage and refuse to sign-in using facebook), but I’m sure the idea of offering courses “for credit” quickly evaporated. It does, however, raise an important point: if an instructor has offered a course in the past through a “legitimate” delivery method, why can’t they offer it on their own?
And to say that the accreditation process makes sure that academics are taken seriously (thus “validating” your degree), remember that for most accrediting bodies, a course offered by the university only needs a warm body with 18-graduate-credit hours standing in front of the class (or the other side of the computer screen). Sure, we upload of syllabus every semester, but does that even matter (again, see the situation at UNC, Chapel Hill)? And anyone who has been an adjunct knows that the level of supervision varies wildly from institution to institution, and not always with sound pedagogy in mind. Not to mention the countless times we have been called on to teach a course only tenuously in our wheelhouse at the last minute. Seeing as how the institution itself isn’t doing a particularly good job, why can’t we be accredited as individual instructors? Have some sort of accreditation that says, yes, this person can teach these courses.
When I ran this idea past my husband, he looked at me incredulously and pointed to his PhD diploma hanging on his office wall. “We already have our accreditation,” he replied. That doesn’t seem to be enough. Why do we need a university to look at our CV and say, yup, you have 18 credit hours! when students or parents or some other body can do it just as well, not to mention cut out the massive layer of administration? Of course, the problem is that the massive layer of administration would never allow itself to become obsolete, thus even if individual instructors were accredited, there’s no reason for a university to accept the credits.
But I think there is something to this.
Either that, or I’m just as guilty of being revolutionary, radical, and incredibly naïve. It wouldn’t be the first time.
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