Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Foot in the Door

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.


  1. It seems to me that they ought not be permitted to get credit toward a degree because there is no real combination of disciplines that would support such a class.

    Around here we have a "Reading" department. They teach developmental courses (lots of them) and want to branch out. They aren't qualified to teach English -- which, it seems like the college level course in "Reading" is a Lit course--- but, with one odd exception, you cannot get even a BA in "Reading". In my view, a BA includes an assumption that a student can read... although, that isn't necessarily a safe assumption.. :).

    In your case, nobody has an MA or Ph.D. in 'don't rape women'. If anything, it could go in the developmental track... which would mean that nobody would take it...

  2. What scares me is the thought that there needs to be a college class teaching men not to rape women. Shouldn't this be something they're taught from the very moment they can draw breath? I mean - it's like teaching them not to soil their pants or how to read - this should be basic as soon as kids begin to understand what sex is. So, a student might not have known this in high school when he might have raped women, but thank god he took this *college* class so he learns that he's been doing the wrong thing?!?


  3. You know, this sort of conflict between faculty and staff (particularly the student life staff) sounds like the types of conflict we're having on campus too. It's a host of things - having staff teach some intro level courses, but not thinking about standard courtesies of teaching (don't put a sign on your door that says "Intro to X canceled today" when there are 3-4 Intro to X classes in that room; having the staff decide that some programs are deficient, so creating new programs rather than working within the existing structures (okay, faculty do that one too); and having staff use the campus email for all sorts of non-academic emails (holiday greetings, forwards, etc).

    There's a different sense of how a college/university campus should work. And as faculty it's frustrating -- and I think that you're right that at the moment, the staff members are winning the PR side of the conflict.

    But I think that your post points to exactly why that is: they can articulate their ideas and we cannot articulate our objections to them. I think that's because our objections are intuitive - and we think obvious. I also think that in situations like the one you describe here, the problem is that he came to the conversation with this plan in mind - and it was so unexpected that you didn't have anything except that intuitive response.

    I think we're going to continue to see these sorts of efforts -- and especially these sorts of efforts at the administrative end (which is, in the end, what student life really is), to start new programs that wrest any sort of control from the faculty who are already providing similar programs. It may not be all that malicious on the staff's part, but that's the effect in the end.

    (If this is grumpy, it's because our staff decided to start yet another counseling-type program with people untrained for it. They printed these really fancy brochures. Which rubs me, as a member of a faculty who are all taking unpaid overloads each semester this year, the wrong way. I'm not going to lie.)

  4. A foot in the door, like, to take over the entire curriculum? His choice of words is scary to begin with.

    If he wants to *really* incorporate this concept into classes, there are several courses on campus that a lot of people already take: Psych 101, Bio 101, Eng 101, Hist 101, etc., all come to mind as places where the concept of rape and the biological and social consequences thereof could be very readily and productively handled. He'd be a lot better off enlisting professors to his cause than trying to become a professor.

    Plus...I dunno, but it seems like one college class is not going to do much for men who are disrespectful to the point of even mild violence.

    Your objection to people teaching without terminal degrees may be a *little* snobbish. ;-) Depends on the person without the degree...or with, for that matter.