Serena Golden interviews the authors of “Zombies in the Academy”, found at http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/Z/bo15566853.html.
Some of the things the authors report have been true for years:
1. Student evaluations are not at all useful means of evaluating teaching or course content, yet we cling to them.
2. Students are expected to go to college to learn, but they quickly learn to seek good grades instead.
3. Faculty are expected to teach well, but they quickly learn to seek P&T rewards instead (usually in the form of grants and publications).
4. Post-secondary education lures students with promises that a degree increases student employ-ability, but in reality offers a high student debt paired with a set of learning outcomes that are too often unrelated to skills needed in the workforce, or to jobs that the labor force doesn’t really have. For e.g. – law degrees. There are many more newly minted lawyers out there than there are law jobs.
See an excerpt below:
Q: You write, “I take zombification here to refer to those processes within the university … which, in instrumentalizing action (teaching, research) in the service of pseudo-market principles, decapitate the real ends of that action, while reconstituting the means as a kind of spectral presence of themselves.” Can you give some examples of what you mean by this?
Whelan: Where to start?
Success in teaching is usually indicated by forms filled out by students. It is a kind of popularity contest. It collapses the future in that students are asked about the course they are taking right now, how the teaching is in that. We never ask them the following year or three years later or at any other time what they remember of that course or of the teaching in it, because, evidently, we don’t care. It is hard to understand how bribing this semester’s cohort into up-voting us on a form in a few weeks’ time safeguards the quality of their education. Perhaps this is supposed to make sense because they are being treated like customers, buying something a bit like a burger. How’s that burger you are eating right now? Quality control and customer satisfaction are synonymous. But of course, educations are not like burgers and more or less by definition it is not easy for the “customer” to judge or understand what a good education is.
Research is much the same: success is judged by your capacity to fill out forms asking for money to do research (in Australia, the only money that matters is that from the Australian Research Council). It helps if you have “outputs” in the form of previous publications around which metrics like the H-index can be generated to quantify how useful you are (in a disconcertingly short run). You should therefore publish whether you have anything to say or not. Economists have been able to demonstrate that these funding processes are ridiculously wasteful in terms of both labor hours and the allocation and dispensing of the funds: it’s basically a lottery, where the only guarantee is that most players will be losers and will be treated accordingly.
An interesting consequence of this system is that effectively the capacity to spend money is rewarded with more money. There is no discourse of frugality or sustainability. Far better to maximally inflate the cost of whatever it is you do so as to ask for the most money possible: profligacy is here the sign of quality.
Insofar as there is any logic to this at all, it appears to reside in a cultish faith in bureaucratic “transparency,” the idea that whatever supernatural weirdness research and teaching involve; they can be made visible, explicable, and rankable through forms.
Alongside this bureaucratic absurdity – which has fantastic structural implications in terms of its costs and how it has reorganized the social field and the day-to-day practice of everyday life inside the institution – there is the inane idea that having everyone compete with everyone else at every level, from nation down to individual, somehow guarantees efficiency. If we look at the other social problems we face, a case can be made that it is time to consider moving beyond this dogma and using our imaginations. We could start by imagining that, by and large, people can be trusted to do the job they are paid to do. Then we could start thinking about the work that gets done that nobody gets paid to do, and whether we value this work or not.
Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/08/12/new-book-examines-higher-education-through-lens-zombie-apocalypse#ixzz2bsXoJQSv
Inside Higher Ed