Yesterday's faculty meeting where we wasted several hours trying to quantify things that by their nature cannot be quantified allowed me to think about the reasons why we are forced to participate in these frustrating quantification exercises.
The current system of higher education is, of course, heavily invested into destroying the erstwhile prestige of the so-called "impractical" disciplines. Departments that teach Humanities and theoretical ("pure") sciences are asked to demonstrate which practical skills they teach their students. There is a list of these practical skills that I was given, and now I will have to prove in writing how each of my courses fosters these skills in students. I wonder how I will be able to do that for the graduate seminar on Spanish Golden Age poetry that I will be teaching next semester.
This obssession with practicality stems from the administration's fear that instead of "fostering marketable skills" we will foster independent critical thinking in students. A teacher who is not dedicating 100% of class time to teaching these practical skills might actually take some time to guide students towards thinking for themselves. Oooh, scary.
For the last two semesters I have been teaching a course on Hispanic Civilization. We cover a lot of material, do many difficult readings, write several papers, and address some very complex issues. The most difficult thing for me as a teacher, however, has been explaining to the students the concept of an analytical essay. When the students hear the word "essay", their first impulse is to go online or to the library, find tons of data, and regurgitate this information in an essay format. Getting them to realize that all I want is to see their own opinions on the subject has been a losing battle. "So you mean all I have to do is write what I think?" a student asked me in utter disbelief. "No, that can't be right. Nobody ever asked me to do this before. Are you sure this is what you want?" She is in her junior year in college and she never had a chance to express her opinions before. Of course, now she hardly even knows how to go about expressing them. As for practical skills (finding tons of information online, classifying it, and passing it off as your own), my students possess them in excess.
The push for quantification made the emphasis on fostering practical skills as the main goal of education even more ridiculous than it is already. There is a certain number of skills each course has to foster in order to be successful. So during the midpoint review, we sit there counting the skills we fostered, trying desperately to hit the required number.
Apart from serving the system by destroying all independent thought, quantification also responds to some deep-seated psychological characteristics of our college administrations. These idiotic practices are promoted by the college administrators and their assistants. As everybody knows, people who go for administrative positions in academia are failed academics. When you realize that your research is not going very well, going into the administrative work is a way to avoid doing research while boosting your salary considerably at the same time. Of course, such people will be driven in their work by the need to remove any trace of prestige from the very pursuits that defeated them. Lately, certain colleges have taken to hiring people with MBAs to work as administrators. Once again, these administrators treat with dislike and suspicion anybody who does not conform to the profit-driven model they were taught as the only valid conception of the universe.
[To be continued...]