Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Rhyme About Higher Ed

I wrote the rhyme in response to this piece from yesterday's Chronicle, which upset me. With apologies to my readers, because it is not elevating.

* * * * *
Higher Ed looks to be in big trouble,
From burst of the housing market bubble.

There’s a mad scramble for revenue and to reduce cost.
Some already feel all has been lost.

Others think modest cuts will suffice.
Underestimating problems has long been their vice.

Few have looked to reexamine the mission.
It’s far easier to consider raising tuition.

That would reduce access to those of modest means.
College no longer promotes upward mobility, or so it seems.

The issues have been with us for more years than twenty,
Student engagement, Campus commitment, and others, of which there are plenty.

Part of the trouble is rising income inequality in the larger society,
Causing wasteful inter campus competition beyond all sense of propriety.

Superstar faculty first come and then go.
So ambitious department heads can put on a show.

The movement of the stars cast a large net.
The rest of the faculty want to know what they will get.

The resulting dynamic creates constant hunger for new money,
Although this vicious cycle now no longer seems funny.

New research areas arise from discovery and need,
Creating new Centers and buildings at alarming speed.

While traditional programs keep on going,
Though their prestige and income is necessarily slowing.

The students too are culpable I fear,
It goes way beyond their drinking too much beer.

They’re jaded, incurious, and work not enough.
It’s not that the courses they take are too tough.

They go to college for the sheepskin rather than to learn,
For after all it’s well paying jobs that they yearn.

For freedom from responsibility college is one last gasp,
Before they graduate and enter into the rat race grasp.

All this has been happening for a while let’s be clear.
It’s not that it just started this year.

Though it finally seems that the dam has been burst.
Making the current situation feel like the worst.

Something surely true, though it seems strange.
Crisis affords the best opportunity for real change.

It alters our perspective about what we care,
Encouraging us to take the intelligent dare.

To demand more from all participants is a must.
That’s the only way to reestablish the trust.

Beyond that the entire system must reform.
Unilateral action by individual campuses will only worsen the storm.

But first we’ll think near term and so we will flail,
Only realizing later it was all to no avail.

Then we’ll finally be ready to ask,
Which really should be our fundamental task,

What would an effective system look like and how would it behave?
If we knew that surely it should be the road that we pave.

Until we ask those questions watch out for Higher Ed.
For if that doesn’t happen soon it might end up dead.

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