Harvesting education by hand a new concept

There is no more more.

It’s a fact most NIU professors have failed to grasp when it comes to funding for higher education in the state of Illinois.

Prof. David Ripley, one of NIU’s faculty leaders, recently called the pending down sizing of public higher education “Machiavellian.” A bit of a hyperbole on his part, no doubt…but, most certainly a denial of reality.

The reality is the days of higher education getting more money, in some cases a lot more money, from one year to the next are simply over. The taxpayers have had it with pouring more and more money into an enterprise they’ve come to believe returns less and less.

Higher education has fallen from grace in large measure because its professors have failed to do their jobs to the satisfaction of the taxpayers. Professors have made higher education a personal enclave for their own benefit at the expense of their students. The taxpayers have finally caught on to the ruse and are saying “enough already”.

Here’s what has happened over the last 30 or so years in higher education. The professors, who essentially run the state’s colleges and universities, have cut their teaching loads so they can do research. As a result more and more classes are taught by teaching assistants—students teaching students. Class sizes have grown to the point where there’s no real contact between students and professors. Students may as well watch a video.

To top it all off, much of the research that professors forsake their students for is simply worthless garbage. Sad to say, but this is what some of the nation’s most highly respected, first class scholars have come to think of the research efforts of their brethren.

A five-part series that ran this summer in the Chicago Tribune which chronicled higher education’s shortcomings at the U of I and NIU ends with a lament on what wasn’t talked about at a national gathering of educators, “The one thing that many college graduates recall as being the essence of their campus experience—the exposure of a young mind to a great mind—wasn’t even mentioned.”

The only way for higher education to win back its favored place is to prove to the people who pay the tab, the taxpayers and tuition payers, that students come first.

This can be done only by putting teaching ahead of research, by putting professors back into the classroom. That means teaching more courses, something many if not most professors loathe to do. (Heaven forbid that professors might have to spend as much as nine hours a week in a classroom with undergrads.) It means getting rid of superfluous, irrelevant and duplicated courses and programs created more for the benefit of the professors than for the students, again something the professors are loathe to do.

The down sizing that’s sure to come can be turned into an opportunity to flush out what’s bad in higher education today and build on the good. It’s a chance to clean house and renew and invigorate the enterprise.

Professors should seize the moment and relish the challenge to improve their precious enterprise instead of engaging in hyperbole. Leave the hyperbole to the politicians.

Some professors are circling the wagons to protect their turf when instead they should roll up their sleeves and cut the wheat from the chaff. Win back the respect of the people the old fashioned way—earn it. The support which has been taken for granted will surely follow.

Until then there isn’t likely to be any more more.

Editor’s note: Jerry Thompson is currently the faculty advisor of The Northern Star at Northern Illinois University. He holds a master’s degree from NIU in Liberal Arts. Thompson studied as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois – Champaign. He has been employed at NIU by the Northern Star for the past 21 years.