Excellence in higher education is hard to define. How can you tell if a professor is doing a good job? I've always said that so long as my students didn't run from the room with their hands over their mouths, I guess that I was doing ok. Or better still, I guess that I did ok when I get feedback in later years. I heard from a student who had my class 10 years ago and said how much he hated me and hated the class. Now he took the Series 7 exam and 85 percent of it was covered in my class. He scored among the top 5 percentile and wanted to thank me. I also heard from a student who had my first class taught at the University of Florida in 1972.
So if I am doing ok how do I know if the school is doing its job? At the undergraduate level I teach seniors. Many are functionally illiterate in that they cannot spell – and I take off for misspelled words. They do not know literature, history, geographic or politics. This semester I have asked “who is Joe Biden” and a fourth of the students had no idea. I got answers on an exam question that showed that the students thought that a state representative or a governor could introduce legislation in the congress. Many students had no idea how many senators did a state have. I said “what have you been taught all these years?” If I had the power I would flunk all of you – not because of what you know in finance but what you don’t know.” I would not want you to be a graduate of my university. I actually had a student who asked me a couple of years ago, “Why should I know anything?” Why should I know math when I have a calculator? Why should I know geography when I have mapquest? Why should I know English when I have a word processor with grammar and spell check?
So what should we do? For starters we at the university should demand that our students be at first educated. If we turn out graduates who do not read, lack writing and communication skills, are short sighted, not global, socially insensitive and not culturally attuned, then we should not be shocked when our business leaders turn out to be myopic. So I relate finance and economics to history and the text material to current events. Generally, students eye glaze over. Some students resent the fact that I expect them to read news reports and current periodica¬ls. I was once admonished in a student evaluation that “this is not a history class. This is not an English class. This is not a political science class.” I wish he had said that in class because I my response would have been “Yes it its.”
But we the faculty need to be insistent upon excellence from the time that the students walk in the door. Many professors have simply given up saying that this is the entitlement generation. Students expect to pass with minimal effort and professors figure its not worth it to resist. At our major universities, teaching is secondary to research anyway. So why get grief from your students when more rewards go to research success? I had a professor once who told me when I was complaining about a lousy teacher that “Bad teaching does not harm good students.” That may be true. I teach my class for the 10 percent who actually want to be there and actually want to learn. Students need to be intellectually aggressive. Students should expect to be challenged in the classroom to be encouraged to think about creative solutions to problems. Yet, we have got to find the synergy between good teaching, research, business experience, and classroom participation. We must spend less time on fact gathering and technique learning and more time thinking, analyzing and dealing with people, productivity, quality and product value.
This is my last year. I am retiring in August. As much as I love what I do – the research and the teaching – this generation has driven me to distraction. As I often tell them, the world is run by those between 50 and 65. Fortunately by the time they turn 50, I should be dead.
Happy Birthday Frederic Bastiat
10 months ago