Tuned-out students fuel university crisis: authors TheSpec.com - Local - Tuned-out students fuel university crisis: authors
Wade Hemsworth, The Hamilton Spectator, (Jan 12, 2008)
McMaster University proved to be friendly territory for the authors of a provocative book that warns of a crisis in Canadian universities.
Anton Allahar and James Cote, the authors of Ivory Tower Blues, received a warm reception from about 100 instructors and students yesterday.
They described a growing and widespread problem with students who work less but demand higher grades, administrations that deny the problem because they need tuition money to keep going and stressed-out professors caught in the middle.
No one spoke up to disagree.
The authors, both sociology professors at the University of Western Ontario, said university degrees and grades have lost meaning on increasingly commercialized campuses where number-crunchers refer to students as "basic income units" and students expect their tuitions alone to buy them the credentials they have been raised to think they need.
"The university has been in transition from an educational institution to a place of business," Allahar said.
"I used to have students, long ago. Today, I have customers, and in the language of our culture, the customer is always right."
When those customers demand higher grades, too often they get them, the authors said, and everyone gets hurt in the process.
Cote and Allahar said it's not all the students' fault. Parents, school teachers and society in general coddle children and teenagers in a misguided attempt to help them feel good about themselves.
"Everyone gets a gold star in this generation that's coming through," Cote said.
He described a mother who called a university administrator to ask if she could set up a cot in her son's residence room to help him with his transition to university living.
In the six months since their book was published, the authors said they have been cheered by colleagues across Canada but ignored or dismissed by administrators.
They said they are only saying out loud what others have whispered for a generation or more.
Without a universal return to common, honest and accurate standards for marks, the problem will only get worse, they said.
Meanwhile, the value of a university education is falling as stressed-out lecturers teach larger classes of tuned-out students, promoting a "gulp-and-vomit" approach to teaching and learning that favours multiple choice tests over essays and seminars, they said.