The NY TImes on the Changed Relationship Between Students and Professors

June 22nd, 2016

Take a minute to read Frank Bruni’s take in NYT on the changed relationship between students and professors. In short, an increasingly large number of students view college (and I would add law school) as a way to cater to their needs, rather than providing them an education. The sense of responsibility is completely lacking. Students are not in a particularly good position to understand what getting that education entails–they haven’t done it before. Yet, they are disappointed when school does not conform with their expectations. I doubt much of this will be new for readers of this blog, but the article does a good job at crystalizing a complex dynamic. Here is the key part of the argument:

The rightful passing of that paradigm created a need for new ones, and Mr. Haidt said that the two in vogue now were “the therapeutic model and the consumer model.” In accordance with the first of those, students regard colleges as homes and places of healing. In accordance with the second, they regard colleges as providers of goods that are measurable and of services that should meet their specifications.

And that has imperfections all its own, the best laundry list of which appeared in “Customer Mentality,” an essay by Nate Kreuter, an assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University, that was published by Inside Higher Ed in 2014.

He noted a “hesitance to hold students accountable for their behavior,” be it criminal or a violation of what is too frequently a “laughable university honor code.” He noted an expectation among many students that their purchase of a college education should be automatically redeemable for a job, as if college were that precisely vocational and the process that predictable.

“That’s simply not how life works,” he said in a recent interview. “So we have a lot of students who are disenchanted.”

But what does the customer model do to their actual education?

“There’s a big difference between teaching students and serving customers,” said Mr. Schwartz at Swarthmore. “Teachers know things, and they should be telling students what’s worth knowing and what’s not, not catering to demands.”

Too often, he said, “we’ve given students a sense that they’re in just as good a position to know what’s worth knowing as we are, and we’ve contributed to the weakening of student resilience, because we’re so willing to meet their needs that they never have to suffer. That makes them incredibly vulnerable when things go wrong, as they invariably do.” He was speaking in the context of sharp upticks at many colleges in the number of students reporting anxiety and depression, and turning to campus mental health clinics for help.

“I see this as a collective abdication of intellectual and even moral responsibility,” he said.

The focus is on what they should expect, not what is expected of them. Students “have a responsibility in exchange for the subsidy that they get from either the public or nonprofit status of our schools,” said Ms. Hill, the Vassar president. “But the changed culture has suggested to students that they are owed or entitled to the education, and that sense of responsibility doesn’t seem to be there.”

I don’t mean to pick on millennials (for the time at least, I’m not much older than my students), but there is a distinct shift from previous generation of students. This changing demographic poses distinct challenges to faculty–in particularly untenured faculty. One way to ensure evaluations are strong is to make the class as easy as possible, and coddle the delicate snow flakes. They’ll love you–the education they receive may be substandard, but for a rationally self-interested untenured faculty member, it is not an irrational decision. Or, you can choose to make hard choices that make students fee unloved, in the hope they receive a better education, which will serve them in the profession. I’ve chosen the latter approach. I post all of my evaluations, and you can see how it is reflected in the comments. My sincere hope is that toughness will teach them a lesson–often when students do something particularly immature, I style it as a lesson they can internalize for the future. Will it actually work? Maybe for a few students, but who knows. It is a moral responsibility I take seriously, even if the kiddos don’t like it, and me.