RatS 9: The Campus as Factory

Jacob Howland is an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Tulsa. For the last couple of years Howland has been watching the demise of his university, and the perversion of other American universities from the same anti-academic forces. (Of course, Australian universities are entirely immune from such anti-academic perversions.) This has come together in Howland’s article,

The Campus as Factory: corporatist progressivism and the crisis of American education.

13 Replies to “RatS 9: The Campus as Factory”

  1. I agree with the general tenor of Howland’s article and we are seeing similar trends in Australia.

    I have often asked “What would be the purpose of universities if there were no league tables?”

    However, having been an online student for a few years, I think Howland’s assessment of on-line learning is too harsh.

    My experience as an on-line student at Deakin and ACER over the last few years has been excellent. I could study the material, and ask questions of the lecturers and other colleagues, at my leisure. There was no need to go to a class: indeed, there was no opportunity to go to class. And the coffee is better at home.

    Now you might say that this is because I was highly motivated. True. All university students should be highly motivated.

    I was able to get a sense of the personalities of lecturers and colleagues from this mode of communication.

    When I was an undergraduate student (1965-1968), my best lecturers especially in the first two years did not know me personally. How could they in a lecture room of hundreds of students? BTW, Howland did his undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College which has about 1500 students in toto.

    A colleague used to say that by the time that they get to university, students should be “lecturer-proof”. That too is a tad harsh (my friend was very outspoken) but there is a grain of truth in his opinion.

    1. I have a lot to say about online learning for mathematics. But for now all I want to say is that it is definitely not the case that university students are automatically engaged; neither was it the case before, nor will it ever be. Good curriculum design, good lesson design, should have at least some strategies to mitigate this. Online that already challenging task becomes quite a lot more difficult.

      1. I agree that many university students are not engaged. However, in my years of teaching at university, I can say that there have always been university students who are engaged, and it shows. So at university, I say that if you don’t want to be there, go away and spend your money on something else.

        1. Nonsense. Many students need the piece of paper, independent of whether the piece of paper indicates any relevant learning.

        1. You say obviously, but I see MANY people start their teaching-teachers-how-to-teach classes by saying “we assume that learners are engaged and ready to learn”. If they say anything about that at all, they might say “get your students ready to learn by doing blah”. But they need repeated attempts at engagement, especially in a longer class.

          In my brief experience teaching at primary and secondary, I found the students MORE engaged than at university. It’s a big problem, maybe the single biggest problem, that stops students from actually learning math. (Most are just exposed to it, and let it wash over them.)

          1. Sorry, Glen, I was being vague. My “obviously” was in reference to to the fact that onlining makes things way, way tougher.

            As for the engagement or otherwise of university students:

            1) teaching-teachers-how-to-teach classes are, of course, garbage. KKK.

            2) I never found it as bad as people suggest. Perhaps I was blind, although I doubt it. Maybe I was just more realistic, that I would only expect students at level X to be so much engaged, and tried to meet them where I could. KKK.

            3) Whatever the level of engagement was, it seems clear that, well before the plague, it was getting worse, and I am sure it is way worse now. I really miss the lecturing I used to do, and God couldn’t convince me try it now, even given the opportunity.

            I am not sure how much this increasing disengagement is due to the general neoliberal narcissism of our era – a narcissism encouraged and exploited by university management. But, it obviously doesn’t help. And, in this sense the onlining of subjects is just a symptom of the much more general and dangerous disease of atomisation.

            1. You’re right that it is a symptom. It’s hard to turn around, and I only have success when I can clearly demonstrate how not-engaging results in not-learning, whereas engaging results in learning. This lesson takes a different amount of time for each student (some don’t need it at all, but that’s rare IME) and it often completes only after they have personally experienced both (non-engaging and then non-learning, plus engaging and learning) and reflected on them.

              Once students get it, it’s really great. In some cases this can spread to a cohort quite quickly, if a few get it, then they convince their friends, that can be brilliant. Shame it often only happens by about Week 5, so tough luck on getting through all the topics. Still, better that they understand and learn some things than just get “exposed” to many things. (And a small percentage that are already engaged learn.) Just my opinion of course….

    2. Sigh.

      Terry, there have always been students and lecturers who went through the motions. That is different from university management encouraging, bordering on demanding, that students and lecturers go through the motions.

      Your anecdote about Deakin and fucking ACER is indicative of nothing.

      1. Howland based his anecdote on a sample of one; so I did too.

        As for university management, I have noticed recently that several vice-chancellors came from a non-academic background. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

  2. Results of the student satisfaction surveys in Australia can be found at


    Which university has the highest level of satisfaction from its students in 2020?

    Go to > 2020 SES National Report Tables
    > The undergraduate student experience, by university, 2019 and 2020 (% positive rating, with 90% confidence intervals)*
    > Look at 2020: Quality of entire educational experience (and the same for 2019)
    > Which university is constantly top (- across a wide range of criteria)?

    University of Divinity.

    Why is it so? Let me suggest that a key factor is engagement. Students are there because they want to learn.

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