Also, I don't know much about philosophy (and I suspect this is far less applicable for philosophy), but in science and engineering often mastery and innovation in a field requires an extremely narrow focus that, in turn, requires a significant investment in time and resources. This includes transmission of specialist knowledge to graduate students and postdocs, grant writing, paper publishing, acquisition of equipment or access to equipment. So I don't really think it's entirely fair to chalk up lack of interdisciplinary interest and/or innovative methodology predominantly to a system that weeds out people not willing to think the way it wants them to. (Not saying that tenure doesn't have its own problems...)
As a two grad-student couple, we have mutual academic envy. I envy that she finds it easy to memorize large sums of material and pander to the system. She envies that I find it easy to acquire an intuition for the material I really care about. I envy that she's "saving the world" as an ecologist. She envies that I can make a good living out of my field.
Arguing with them on that point proved useless in the past, but now that I get interesting internships while they don't, I believe they are somehow waking up.
At least, focusing on being a 'good student' is not the worst strategy out there. If one day you come to be aware of it, it's not an irrecuperable situation.
> Me: "Why do you care?"
> Good student: "Um... I'd like to be able to plan when I
> should study for it."
> Me: "Oh, okay. I don't know when it's going to be."
> Good student: "Um... Okay. What's it going to cover?"
> Me: "I'm not sure, but it'll be really great!"
> Good student: "That's good, I guess. Can you be more specific?"
> Me: "Not really. But why do you care?"
Wow, this guy is a jerk. This just shouldn't happen. Fair enough, don't tell a student exactly what's on the exam - they should be learning all the material, not cramming for a test. But not telling them when it's going to be is ridiculous. People have lives and need to structure their time.
If a professor or lecturer had refused to tell me the date of an exam, I would have pursued a complaint as far as possible, which would probably have resulted in disciplinary action. In the UK, this just isn't acceptable. Do US universities really treat their students with such disdain?
Regarding the classifications, he missed out "cynical good student", which I suspect is overrepresented amongst HN readers. I never believed my professors were particularly smart people or worth listening to so I didn't attend lectures or hand in work to get feedback, but I did see the value of learning the material so I taught myself and aced exams.
"Um, will this be on the midterm, and by the way, when will that be?"
Every time this happens (and it actually happens a lot), you can physically observe the lecturer's train of thought derailing and exploding into a mangled pile of molten wreckage. If the professor manages to answer all of the disruptive student's concerns, they then have the difficult task of re-engaging the other 25-100 students whose concentration has since gone elsewhere.
It's incredibly rude to ask a professor whether or not the material that they are covering will be on an exam. What you're essentially asking is, "do I need to be paying attention to you right now, or can we all just zone out while you talk at us?" That thought process represents a very immature mindset that still thinks you're paying for "an education" and not paying to actually learn.
That said, I don't think that this is something that most people will understand given the rise in tuition costs and the (flawed) notion that students are paying for a 4-year "educational resort and spa" experience. As someone who got an undergrad degree then worked for a few years before going back to grad school part time, it's amazing how much I learned to appreciate the classroom environment. IMO students must not realize how infrequently after graduation they'll have the opportunity to learn new things from someone more knowledgable than themselves.
If you know exactly what you are going to teach for a semester, you can plan it all out. But god forbid if the class gets stuck on some material...if the schedule is strict the prof will just move on and let the curve sort it out. I preferred more flexible teachers in college and there were real reasons why universities in the US are high regarded.
Success as a faculty member requires one thing above all else: a good reputation in your field.
So I agree with the conclusion that the overall standard of faculty is not impressive to students, but it's not because the faculty are not risk takers or innovative - it's because for the most part, the faculty are political animals, not technical ones. They may also be very good technically, but this is an accident and not a feature of the system and untrue more often as not. The cynical students mentioned in the article will likely sniff that out quite quickly whereas, in my experience, the good students are simply more naive. Both types tend to be just as intelligent and hard working, but the cynical students will work on what they want, rather than what the professor wants.
In my experience, yes, including your minor clarification on the word 'good', the full description applies equally to chemistry as philosophy (presumably). But then that makes one wonder: Why are we entrusting this system with taxpayer resources to produce science?
Secondly, "But the university doesn't need to exert any pressure, because it's already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured..." What does this mean for controversial topics, like climate science, where political decisions are made based on 'consensus'?
"But the climate science community doesn't need to exert any pressure to conform to the accepted model, because it's already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured to accept it"?
Equally valid, to replace "climate science" with "cancer research", eg.
As examples, consider the Copenhagen consensus in foundations of quantum mechanics or the (currently being overturned, thanks to machine learning) Frequentist consensus in statistics.
In contrast, Bayesians use probability to represent uncertainty.
I.e., to a Frequentist, it doesn't even make sense to ask the question "what is the probability that the coin is rigged", whereas the Bayesian would come up with a probability distribution for the probability of the coin coming up heads.
 I find that battles over terminology can be the harshest and most recriminating minefields among the intelligent.
Whereas Bayesians believe P(x) is odds at which they would gamble, so to speak, that a particular proposition x is true.
Is that it?
In contrast, Bayesians compute P(null hypothesis is false | prior knowledge).
Similarly, Frequentists compute confidence intervals (say at 5%), which is an interval that represents the set of null hypothesis you can't reject with a 5% p-value cutoff. In contrast, Bayesians compute credible intervals, which represent a region having a 95% probability of containing the true value.
Personally, I'm solidly in the Bayesian camp simply because I can actually understand it. To take an example, consider Bem's "Feeling the Future" paper  which suggests that psychic powers exist. From a Bayesian perspective, I understand exactly how to interpret this - my prior suggests psychic powers are unlikely, and my posterior after reading Bem's paper is only a little different from my prior. I don't know how to interpret his paper from a Frequentist perspective.
 http://www.dbem.ws/FeelingFuture.pdf For background, his statistical methods were fairly good, and more or less the standard of psychology research. If you reject his paper on methodological grounds, you need to reject almost everything.
What you currently have is a system in which professors feel superior for some reason. And they are not punished financially if some students fail. So the best way to incentivize this system in which professors actually serve their students is to apply market mechanisms to teaching.
The result is grade inflation and it has been well documented:
They then attribute the rapid rise in grade inflation in the last couple of decades to a more “consumer-based approach” to education, which they say “has created both external and internal incentives for the faculty to grade more generously.” More generous grading can produce better instructor reviews, for example, and can help students be more competitive candidates for graduate schools and the job market.
Let me give you an example. I teach programming privately. People pay me $100/hr. Some of them found jobs thanks to my lessons. Some of them realized it's not for them and they didn't waste tons of money and time. And I've been doing this long enough to say there's a demand for my services and people generally like it. I don't grade them, I give them useful feedback on what should they improve and if they should continue. My primary goal is their success, not some stupid grade. Market works great if you apply it right.
The teaching many of them enjoy is their departmental or faculty seminars. And as a senior undergrad, those were the sessions I enjoyed attending the most. No surprises there. They were talking about the subjects they enjoyed the most.
Now - I'd argue that a professor should be bringing in revenue - either by teaching a popular set of courses that are relevant for students - or by bringing in research dollars. But then that's somewhat missing the point - universities should be exploring areas that industry doesn't yet understand and therefore doesn't want to fund... it's a quandary for sure!
Market mechanisms are excellent at solving many problems, but they're not magic. They don't work well to provide public goods like high education standards or social mobility, and they generally have a hard time with intangible goods like knowledge.
The problem? Young people are terrible at self-reflection. I know that there were many points in my youth when I said to myself, "I know all there is to know about life now." This leads to a kind of privileged arrogance that really can't be fully appreciated until one sees how lucky we are to be able to have the opportunity to learn in such safe, structured environment.
No. Some people, not just young, are terrible at it. And some are good at it. Universities don't change that because they continue to be nannies. If you want people to be able to assess themselves and know what they want in life, you better start asking them to do it earlier, not later.
We need a more thought-out solution than "the magic of markets".
Why not, indeed? I do think that a portfolio approach is much, much more effective in evaluating people's capacities to do stuff.
It's also costly. That's why we keep grade-based systems: those numbers are cheap to compose, cheap to evaluate, and provide just enough pseudo-objectivity to make bureaucrats feel all right about basing decisions on them without having to do any deeper thinking.
>When graduates are hired, why don't you look at their actual skills and knowledge?
Well they should!
>Teacher's job should be to teach and give feedback, so that students can correct themselves. It is employer's job to assess them.
Slight disagreement, here. You should not be allowed to gum up the works in Calculus 2 if you can't pass Calculus 1 to some set standard. Just saying.
Really, I couldn't disagree more that doing assignments, reading books and studying end up "closing" one's mind. From my point of view, there's no such thing as "useless knowledge". Granted that you don't learn everything you need to be successful in college, but IMO college is not there to make you successful and give you heaps and piles of money. That is not the point.
One thing got me thinking: If you really don't respect the university "system" that munch, why devoting your life to it?
And students (good or bad) care about exam times because of... procrastination. The "bad" students (of the goof-off variety) don't stick around in engineering. At most of the top schools, a few C's and you're out. The cynical bad students often achieve mediocre grades but compensate by doing cool non-coursework stuff.
When your work is only relevant or approachable to less than a dozen people on the planet, how can you expect a dean to judge it? They can't. So they use (often poor) proxies.
At a public school, especially in an engineering department, there often isn't much a difference between professor and a talking head reading off information from a student's perspective. In fact, one of the things that motivated cynical students quickly realize is that not only is self-study often more efficient than than the traditional go to lecture and take notes approach--it's often a far superior way to learn and you can easily find yourself outperforming students who diligently go to class. Cynical students quickly see through the facade of going to class for the sake of going to class.
The resources at a public school aren't about teaching.
+Engage with professor who teaches your class
The flow becomes
+Study out of the textbook
+Engage with a professor on a research level and try to get out a publication
+Or forgo the research somewhat and try to graduate as soon as possible
Being a good researcher doesn't imply being a good teacher, but neither does it imply being a bad teacher! I agree more emphasis should be put on pedagogical skills when hiring professors, but overall plenty of researchers are good at teaching.
I may be wrong, but it seems the author of this article is frustrated by a lack of research accomplishment so he bitches on his colleagues that supposedly suck at teaching. And in the process, he tries to get the students on this side!
Here's a review: http://www.uow.edu.au/~bmartin/pubs/01BRrt.html
I didn't even know they're still alive.
Another interesting bit about the author (taken from the website above)
> Upon publication of Disciplined Minds, the American Institute of Physics fired author Jeff Schmidt. He had been on the editorial staff of Physics Today magazine for 19 years.
In this way, faculty are like columnists for major newspapers. Columnists for, say, the New York Times are perfectly free to write whatever they like (within appropriate professional guidelines, of course). But the range of opinion expressed in those columns is terribly narrow. The problem is not that the Times is exerting pressure on its columnists. The problem is that in order to be a columnist for the New York Times to begin with, you have to be the kind of person whose opinions already fall within a specific range. The same goes for faculty. Universities are generally pretty good about not exerting overt pressure on faculty and their research. Intellectual freedom is generally respected. But the university doesn't need to exert any pressure, because it's already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured. Those who survive are, for the most part, narrow specialists who care little about what's happening outside their own area of specialization.
When you critique the media and you say, look, here is what Anthony Lewis or somebody else is writing, they get very angry. They say, quite correctly, "nobody ever tells me what to write. I write anything I like. All this business about pressures and constraints is nonsense because I’m never under any pressure." Which is completely true, but the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going say the right thing. If they had started off at the Metro desk, or something, and had pursued the wrong kind of stories, they never would have made it to the positions where they can now say anything they like. The same is mostly true of university faculty in the more ideological disciplines. They have been through the socialization system.
I was a cynical student myself. I flunked a few of my classes simply because I looked at them and decided they weren't useful or interesting to me. This was at a particularly anti-authoritarian point in my life (and I also wasn't that happy) so consisted of me just skipping the coursework and focusing on other intellectual domains that felt right to me.
Although I am sure this made me more creative (and doing things because I wanted to know more about the world has made me love learning), I was ignorant to not acknowledge the inherent risk in following your passions in learning. The world is stratified by easily measured educational standards - my string of As and Fs did not help me here, and when you are tested by somebody that is canon (and you will be) you will be at a strong disadvantage.
I had to fill in a few holes over the last few years. You can't always be sure that you won't need something, and even if you don't need it what if you are graded on it? It's crazy luck that my industry is fast-growing and was new and unregulated enough to accept me. If I wasn't in technology I almost certainly wouldn't have managed to come out of this unscathed.
Incomplete access to the mainstream educational signalling mechanism is a very dangerous situation. The other methods of signalling intelligence are a lot more difficult and have a much smaller market. (My achilles heel is institutional leverage, but my saving grace is being obsessed with learning.)
I couldn't have stopped myself from being who I was when I was younger. I hated being told what to do. I was too depressed to make myself do something that I wasn't enjoying (the first year of University was unfortunately an emotional ground zero for me and I rebuilt myself brick by painful brick.) But it's not right to say that specialisation and conforming is only important in academia. 80/20 rule is probably best for most people, maybe 60/40 if you're extremely secure...