Higher education 'efficiency' doesn't work

December 20, 2010

In your article "Universities are slowly tiptoeing into taming costs with efficiency" (Dec. 19), the argument is made that universities, by increasing class size, reducing professors and lectures, adding teaching by teaching assistants and increasing computer grading, can maintain educational standards while saving money in these tough economic times.

This thesis is so oversimplified as to be simply false, or, at best, true only in a few limited cases.

I cannot speak authoritatively to whether this higher education solution is ever possible in chemistry courses and some other natural sciences, but in the humanities and social sciences it is always educationally destructive. Degrading the quality of professors and instructor-class interaction (such as in on-line courses) will always sacrifice higher education learning and sacrifice it significantly. Moreover, using "pass rate" as evidence of course success is an invalid measure of course integrity, as such rates can easily be manipulated. Subtler indices of classroom success, such as how much material students "absorb," are impossible to measure and inadequate as well.

There is nothing comparable to a reasonably small class with full-time professors leading substantive, crackling give-and-take in some variation of the Socratic method.

Columnist Jay Hancock says that "Professors and university administrators like to think their product is more important than a car." That misses the point; creating and fine-tuning a car is not analogous to creating and fine-tuning a reasoning mind.

If you remove and/or handcuff the principals in education, the outcomes will be compromised, even if you use legerdemain to make the outcomes seem unaffected.

Richard E. Vatz, Towson

The writer is a political rhetoric at Towson University and the longest serving member of that institution's faculty senate.

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