Monday, 14 July 2014

University Standards: Yahoo University, USA

An American correspondent writes to me about university standards.

1 What do you think of the quality of education in your university and in your country?

U.S. & my specific university-the whole spectrum. You can major in physics or fashion merchandising.

2 Which circumstances encourage or prevent your university from educating students to a high level?

Politics. At the center of the university is an emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism. This emphasis is seen by the newest building constructed at the center of campus (the multicultural center) during an extremely tight budget. This emphasis is seen in faculty awards in which numerous are given for excellence in diversity, whatever that means, and only one for research. My guess is that preference is given for those who research diversity.

I identify this emphasis as a hindrance for education because the focus is ideology and not “truth”. The two are at odds and ideology has been chosen.

3 How many of your students are able to follow “College Format”, which means that although they attend lectures they can also learn based on gathering and inferring their own information, and establishing and applying general principles rather than following checklists. They do their own reading and show autonomy in learning. Learners are expected to search for faults in what they are taught. They can deal with tasks which require the application of specialised background knowledge, dis-embedding the features of a problem from a text, and drawing high-level inferences from highly complex text with multiple distractors. For more guidance, they will be in the top 5% of the population, or better still, top 2%.

A handful. I don’t have a good feel for the “college format” concept so I can’t estimate a percentage.

4 Does your university recognise that students have different levels of ability, and factor that into exam results and student opinions about the teaching they receive?

I am having trouble understanding this question. Is it asking if students receive extra points on exams for having lower abilities, kind of a sliding scale? If this is the question the answer is no. If it is asking if teacher evaluations are adjusted for student ability, the answer is no as well.

5 Are you allowed to set demanding examinations, even if many students fail your test and some are asked to leave the university?

Yes, but it is not encouraged. Your student evaluations would suffer. If untenured, you would risk receiving tenure. If tenured, you risk performance pay raises.

Besides no one likes being disliked or the extra work that results from unhappy and failing students.

6 Are you allowed to give extra attention to your brightest students, including additional seminars and research work?


7 Does your university recognise that university staff have different levels of ability?

Given the focus of the university the ability = diversity and those who are more diverse are given awards.

8 Do you feel able to teach about group differences in ability without negative consequences to your career?

As with the level of difficulty for the courses I have tried to balance honesty/integrity and living in the real world teaching at my university. The direct question of group differences finally came up in a graduate course I was teaching last fall. I said I don’t discuss the issue in class because anything I say will most likely be misconstrued and that I would be more than willing to direct any interested students toward readings that would introduce them to multiple sides of the issue.

We had read a little bit of Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate and he mentions something about group differences in this particular summary. A student brought a section to the attention of the class that alludes to group differences in intelligence. The student’s intention was to cast the whole reading as bullshit because of this allusion. When I responded to the student that group differences were an empirical, not political question (a question I would personally not discuss), I got the feeling that this seen as an unsatisfactory response on my part.

It was interesting, I believe the students wanted me to dismiss the possibility of group differences out of hand, but they couldn’t argue against it being an empirical question. This seemed to bother several of them even more.

9 Are there other aspects of university standards which are relevant to the overall quality of the education provided to students?

I can’t get my head around this question either.


Comment: I look forward to hearing from other readers.


  1. This is a great Q&A. Hopefully more people will chime in.

  2. fascinating that variance in skin color/ethnicity is applauded, while ability is assumed not to vary.

  3. possibly rather tangential but, I once taught an A level student who already had a place to study medicine at one of the top 3 British unis but still he was allotted 15 mins extra exam time for one of the dys-syndromes, it wasn't lexia but I forget what it was called. Anyway it just felt a bit like kicking mud in the eyes of less able students.

    also, and again possibly diverging a bit from the post's main thrust, and also slightly in trepidation of associations people are wont to make, I do genuinely think that Peter Frost's work on the European phenotype aught to be a means to confront diversity dogma, after all it really is true that the European phenotype offers a diversity not seen in other ethnicities. Why should we be ashamed to give voice to preserving something so colourful and varied? Typically, Europeans are depicted in the diversity milieu as one redhead, one brown head, one blond - if that,
    But really one needs the following to accurately reflect European diversity:
    hair - mouse, dk brown, black, carrot, auburn, blond, brown-red, blond-red, white
    eyes - grey, blue-blue, dark blue, turquoise blue, turquoise green, brown, hazel, yellow-green, and black and violet if Susan Hampshire and Elizabeth Taylor are included.

    I just think it is worth talking about I'm not trying to claim any sort of pre-eminence.