Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Ivory Tower Disintegrates

Apr 22, 2009 12:56 pm


The Ivory Tower Disintegrates



Jeff Sandefer, the iconoclastic creator of the Acton Business School, predicts the downfall of academia as we know it, through a combination of internal decay and outside competition. On the Pope Center Web site.



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Jane S. Shaw - 4/24/2009

I know that the term "student as consumer" is a loaded phrase.

But to pick up on your example about hospitals, Americans are very much consumers in medical care, and our evaluations really matter. We want the best we can get, and thus we rely on degrees, certifications, the recommendations of others, reputation, and anything else that we can get. We may not know a scalpel from a letter-opener, but we know that we want good care and we seek what information is available. Evaluations of whether patients recovered or died, or did well or poorly, would be valuable.

It is true that students are not fully informed consumers -- part of that information comes from their education. That's why "exit interviews" in the undergraduate setting make a lot of sense. In Sandefer's case, however, the students are so motivated -- due to the cost of their education, the goals of their education, and the requirement that they devote 80 hours or more (most devote more than that) per week all suggest that they are likely to be good evaluators.


Aeon J. Skoble - 4/23/2009

"Students evaluate teachers every week, and the evaluations are publicly posted. Students evaluate their teachers at the end of the year, too. Faculty at the top can receive bonuses of up to $35,000, and the faculty member who receives the lowest evaluation won’t teach the next year."

This is a seriously flawed way of thinking of education. It's been shown in many studies that student evaluations correlate with superficialities such as perceived likelihood of getting a good grade or degree of entertainment. The underlying fallacy is that a "customer" model is the wrong way to think about education, since the uneducated by definition don't know what constitutes an education. Consumer opinion/preference is an acceptable guide to many areas of commerce -- whether I prefer a Honda or a Pontiac is truly my own affair -- but not all. A better analogy would be a hospital: since I have no medical background, I am in no position to think that my opinions/preferences should trump a surgeons. "No, I think you should that other retractor." That's nuts. I'd have no business saying that, and, more to the point, they'd be negligent if they listened. The same goes for education. We profs would be negligent to let student opinions and preferences trump our professional judgement.


Mark Brady - 4/22/2009

I read your article with interest, expecially your account of the Acton School of Business, which prompts a question about student evaluations. You write:

"Students evaluate teachers every week, and the evaluations are publicly posted. Students evaluate their teachers at the end of the year, too. Faculty at the top can receive bonuses of up to $35,000, and the faculty member who receives the lowest evaluation won’t teach the next year. At the same time, the students, who work an average of 100 hours a week, are graded on a forced curve (that is, the numbers of As and Bs are limited). Because they see their end-of-year rankings before giving teachers their final evaluations, they cannot use their evaluations to "buy" better grades."

If that's the case, wouldn't it be equally true that teachers can use the grades they award the students to "buy" better evaluations from the students?

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