Poor performance

I am concerned about the grossly mediocre classroom performance typical of many NIU undergraduate students. A number of popular causal factors have been suggested, but none of them is a truly critical factor.

For example, it is alleged that faculty members do not spend the time and intellectual effort necessary for facilitating undergraduate learning. Granting some truth to this allegation, I would suggest that only a modest reorientation of the faculty reward system is required to eliminate much of this deficiency. This problem is relatively easy to solve, indicative of its unimportance.

Another popularly discussed causal factor is based on a perceived lack of undergraduate courses producing highly marketable skills. Such scarcity leads to student boredom and disinterest. In my opinion, no such scarcity exists. In fact, too many narrow, overly specialized, skill-oriented undergraduate courses are offered at NIU. This kind of course actually belongs in a vocational school, or perhaps in a post-baccalaureate professional school. The real problem is that many students actually interested in this kind of learning are enrolled instead in undergraduate university programs. A university offers a different kind of learning, much broader and emphasizing different values. Potential students must understand their own interests and learning objectives. Then they can enroll in the type of school that reflects their interest. Appropriate student choice will stop the distortion of the learning process, and the associated inefficient use of valuable resources, currently occurring at these different kinds of schools.

In my opinion, three basic reasons for the present state of university learning are operative. First, many NIU students do not value university learning very much. Second, a large number of our students do not spend the intellectual effort required by university learning. Finally, there is an appalling lack of high school preparation which is critical for university learning.

Whatever readers may think about my suggested causal factors, and I hope the thoughts are positive, our primary attention should be focused upon efforts to improve the level of the performance of the students. Valuable time and effort should not be spent bickering about which causal factor is most important.

Lester S. Levy