On Ends… and Means

A prof in the GTA applies the principle of Luke 12:34 to the sphere of educational policy:

Thanks you for providing a forum for us to share our perceptions, insights, experiences, ideas and the raw truths that no one likes to acknowledge.

This last post suggests that quality education is the goal management strives to attain, and that part of the difficulty in achieving that goal is the continuing underfunding of the college system. I will, and can, accept that to be true if this reality was proven to be the case.

It may be time (perhaps long overdue) that the provincial auditor general takes the financial affairs of all colleges under the microscope, and assisted by forenic accountants. Let’s really examine where taxpayers money to colleges is being allocated and spent.

I bring this issue to the forefront of our discussion because I do not see management’s goal for students as providing quality education, but rather trying to get away with mediocrity. As long as there is no true oversight about the way colleges spend the funding, then they only need to provide the bare minimum for students.

Just look at the skewed employment placement stats produced, the catch phrases and slogans of “success” and “we’re here for you” that are marketed to the innocent, naive high school students, parents and the community. And yes, more skewed data: Key Performance Indictors, student withdrawal rates and the truth behind leaving college, the increase in service requests for peer tutoring, math and language help and help of any kind, as well as the flood of students seeking counselling services for more pervasive “crash and burn” life challenges brought on by extreme stress.

So, College Management’s approach seems no different than ” we’ll do what we want to until we get caught and are forced to provide excellence to our students (our future leaders by the way).

I would disagree only with one point here: I don’t personally think the colleges are  “trying to get away with mediocrity”, I think they (and the province, and most of the students) are seeking simple adequacy.  That pervasive notion of adequacy (which is not in and of itself evil, I suppose) can be seen in our learning outcomes, our faculty training courses, our preprogrammed online environments — a vast structure devoted to providing an education that is “good enough”, with the inevitable consequent limits to greatness.  (As anybody who has struggled to escape WebCT’s limited preprogrammed options might understand.)

But the question is, of course, is it adequate?  Is the education that we give . . . that our students receive good enough?  And who gets to decide?  (And why?)

Right now, we seem to have abandoned our claim to deciding.  By voting against academic freedom (or at least by voting to continue working uninterruptedly until August 31, 2012, in its absence) — by voting to leave the final word on what should be taught in our classes and how it should be taught in the hands of non-subject experts.  But I digress.

So if the colleges (and the government’s own accountants and consultants) are trying to provide the bare minimum (of faculty, of library resources — of pretty much anything that is preceded by the adjective “need-based” in college memos), we can only dispute their choices if we can make the argument that their understanding of the bare minimum is itself inadequate.  That their standards fail to account for something necessary, for which we as professors need something currently denied, in order to produce.

Because if we can’t cogently argue that the colleges’ or the government’s definition of “good enough” is insufficent, then we fail to make an argument that change — that more (from funding, from our students, from ourselves)  is necessary.  Just like we will fail if we can’t articulate why we need workload limits (or more library books, or more full-time faculty), and what we need those things in order to accomplish.

If we want change, then we need to explain — to politicians and taxpayers and managers and the media — that what we are doing that is not good enough and cannot be good enough unless we are granted sufficient resources.

We know what the colleges’ definition of “good enough” is — we’re living it, just like our students are.  Does that definition hit the mark, or miss it?  Why?

And most importantly: Do we ourselves assert that we have the right to an opinion on that question?

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