Constructive Criticism for Faculty?

Dr. Scott Colley leads a discussion of the faculty
at Queens University of Charlotte

Books such as Academically Adrift, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, and The Marketplace of Ideas critically examine the role of colleges and universities. One of our issues on campuses around the nation is that we don’t take such criticism personally. But should we? Should recent analyses of higher education shape the way university faculty members carry out their responsibilities?

Dr. Scott Colley, President Emeritus of Berry College and current faculty member at the University of Virginia, presented on reform and resistance in higher education at the opening events for Queens University of Charlotte’s 2011-2012 academic year.

According to Colley, “Professor X” exposes the ivory tower’s basement by providing one instructor’s anecdotal response to higher education (in In the Basement…) whereas Arum & Roksa’s analysis of learning on college campuses is grounded and written as a social science research study (in  Academically Adrift).

One could respond to the claims represented in Academically Adrift in a satirical fashion, or question the validity of the studies. Instead, a look at some of the numbers and findings reported might actually make us consider how we work.

Arum & Roska report that time spent studying is down and cheating is up. Full-time faculty members are less involved in student lives, and numbers are dwindling in favor of adjunct faculty and managerial staff. And, students view college education as an endeavor more social than academic.

According to Arum & Roska, the best predictor of student success on the college learning assessment is family background. Those students who had a parent with an advanced degree fared better than any others. This position of privilege created a gap between students.

Perhaps, the role of higher education is to provide learning opportunities that can challenge all students and bridge this gap. Students at the most selective universities write 20 pages a term and read 40 pages a week for each course. Why wouldn’t all universities demand this performance of it’s students?

Our goal: figure out who your students are, find out how they behave, and direct learning opportunities that reach them. Instead of lamenting their failures, find out how to help them improve.

“Our students will work as hard as we oblige them to; and they will learn what we teach them,” says Colley. “Never underestimate that enormous power.”


  1. I have heard many professors complain about the apathy among students and my question to them is how passionate are you about teaching and your students. However, academia is part of a bigger cultural environment and unless we address the core issues infusing all our institutions with a narrow focus and self interest, we will not see much change.
    I address the issue of what is missing in business schools from the perspective of self awareness as at the core I believe, if we want to bring change we need to start with our selves:
    I also enjoyed the video made by an anthropology professor and his students on The Vision of Students today that also speaks to irrelevance of the current content and mode of communication in education:

    • Shalini, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and these excellent links. The question of passion is one that hits home for many in our profession. Our goal is to create passion in our students. How can we do that without demonstrating that passion?

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