I had coffee the other day with a student, one of my favorites. Also there was a youngish male, Joe. I'd thought at first that Joe was a student, but he's a youngish looking student life administrator.
Joe was talking about a project he wanted to work on, a project aimed at teaching young men not to sexually assault women. That's a laudable project, for sure. Go Joe. His specific idea was to hire an administrator to run this project and also teach a joint class in two departments, one male dominated, one female dominated. He said, this would give them a chance to "get a foot in the door."
A foot in the door?
Let's just admit up front that I wasn't nearly as politic as I should have been. But seriously, we need to hire a new administrator of teaching men not to rape women? And that person's going to design and teach a class for academic credit to teach men not to rape women?
Did I mention we already have an office of sexual assault prevention on campus? The difference is that he wants this administrator to be a male in control, because that's how we teach men not to rape women. And no, that person can't be part of the current program.
It made me realize how totally different Joe's and my views of education are. And, alas, Joe's is winning. We will, I'm guessing, hire someone whose job it is to teach men not to rape women (and while this is a laudable goal, do we really need that to be a job description?). They can put the office right next to the people we've hired to make sure our students are aware of alcohol. We've hired several people into new positions related to student life lately, while losing tenure track lines in academic fields.
We have a small number of courses in adjusting to university life and learning to study, each of which carries academic credit and is taught by someone without a terminal degree.
So is this just me being a snob about academic credentials and academics?
I'm guessing the reason Joe really wants to attach academic credit to the course is that academic credit counts. It shows up on a transcript and counts towards the credits a student needs to graduate, and that means (some) students may be willing to use it to progress towards their degree though they wouldn't participate in it without the attached credits. Of course, the men who most need the course wouldn't take it anyway, unless it were required. But men who need to learn about resisting other men's rapes of women might take it. And they'd probably learn something. At the baseline, students go to college for academic credit; they don't pay all that money just to hang around in the dorms (well, mostly).
But does this potential course deserve academic credit? My tendency is to think it doesn't.
My tendency is also to think that the more feet the non-academic folks get in the academic door, the worse for the university. I'm sure they'd disagree and tell me that lots of student learning occurs in dorms. It does, but that doesn't mean I think we should give students academic credit for living in a dorm, either.
(It's easy to see how the competencies stuff some assessment folks love so much compounds our fundamental disagreement. The idea of competencies is that students should be able to demonstrate competencies; they could demonstrate competencies without classes or after taking classes. It's a lot cheaper, too, if students can demonstrate a competency and not actually take classes. Credit for life experience; I'm sure you've heard about that, right?)
I don't know where to go with this. I can't articulate my position well enough. And the student life folks are very, very good at articulating theirs.
But I actually think students learn a lot in classes, through reading, writing papers, studying, discussing, trying out ideas. And I don't think just putting people together without a real purpose accomplishes much. Taking classes and working towards a degree, while individual goals, are also group goals, and I think the groupness contributes to individual learning. That learning is both academic and social/non-academic.