I recently taught a college ethics course that meets one day a week. With my original roots in education, I am having a great time being back in the classroom, if only on a limited basis…
That is probably why the buzz surrounding the new book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa at the University of Virginia caught my attention, especially since it happened to coincide with the start of another semester. As described in the New York Times article, “How Much Do College Students Learn, and Study?” By Jacques Steinberg, (www.nytimes.com). “In the book, and in an accompanying study, the authors followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen universities. They concluded that 45% ‘demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college’.”
No significant gains….that can’t be good!!
When I read the article, a few things came to mind. The first — if I were paying college tuition “no significant gains” would not be a comforting thought! Then I remembered a comment that was made when I was briefed by the department chair with the line “They really won’t read much.” Which, correctly or incorrectly I took to mean –so don’t assign them much reading; they won’t do it.
There might be something to that comment because also in the above mentioned article was this quote from the book. “…they found that 32 percent of the students whom they followed did not, in a typical semester, take ‘any courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week’ and that 50 percent ‘did not take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the course of the semester.’ ”
In fact the students in my course did read and they did write. It took a while for a few of them to realize that reading was an important part of a class on ethics. The wealth of information available and the theory and history of ethics requires a fair amount of reading just to gain a passing acquaintance with the subject. Then there was that business sense of mine which would not allow me to deliver to them anything less than the full value for their tuition dollars.
Not one student (in anonymous exit evaluations submitted after grades were already recorded) made a comment that the material was too difficult or the reading too demanding.
In the role of instructor, I am finding that the questions about what I demand of myself and my students are very similar to the questions we ask in business: Is there moral obligation to deliver an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay? Am I delivering to the customer/student the full value for what they were charged for their product, their service or their class?
Are accountability and excellence less important for students and instructors in education today than for businesses or other sectors today?
I think that the following questions are fair questions, no matter if we are talking about business, industry, healthcare, education or government:
• Do I demand excellence of myself? Do I think excellence is a realistic expectation for others?
• Is there a moral obligation associated with my work?
• As a leader do I have an obligation to do my best to create an environment where each person feels included and empowered?
• Does my behavior convey that I place importance on accountability and responsibility?
Then I thought of the Greek proverb….WHAT IS GOOD TO KNOW IS DIFFICULT TO LEARN.