18th 2010
Prof. Pushbutton to the rescue!

Posted under: American history, students, technoskepticism, unhappy endings

Reader and commenter truffula sent this along last week.  She writes, “A colleague dared me to send the attached page from the January 1960 issue of Popular Science to our [University] President via campus mail.  Not that he needs any encouragement from the rabble.”  I thought you all might enjoy this glimpse of futures past, since many of you live with its ghosts (“distance education,” on-line classes, “concurrent enrollment,” and whatever brilliant moneysaving or -making scheme they think of next.)

Will Professor Pushbutton be available to serve on committees, or come talk to your elementary or high-school students about college or careers?  What will Prof. Pushbutton say on Constitution Day, or when the League of Women Voters asks hir to give a talk about the upcoming election, or when a sorority asks hir to give a talk for African American or Women’s History Month?  What kind of feedback does Prof. Pushbutton give students on their academic work–is ze qualified to teach only lower-division courses?  Office hours are probably not a problem, but how is Prof. Pushbutton on e-mail–does ze answer it, or just send automated replies?  Will Prof. Pushbutton write letters of recommendation for hir students?  What about advising Phi Alpha Theta, or recommending students for Phi Beta Kappa?  Is there a film reel that can be loaded so that Prof. Pushbutton can serve as an academic advisor? I wonder if this will work out as well as electronic voting has?

What will they think of next to de-skill labor and depopulate American universities?  I know:  overhead projectors that can answer e-mail and be equipped with transparencies for Freshman advising!  PowerPoint slide shows for students who have problems with a class, or want to file a grade complaint?  Throw in a Roomba, and we can fire the janitorial staff, too.  (Oh, and students–don’t bother to text or call your moms to complain.  They’ve been replaced with wire monkey moms!)


20 Responses to “Prof. Pushbutton to the rescue!”

  1. Matt L on 18 Oct 2010 at 8:44 am #

    Professor Pushbutton??? forget that! Where is my flying car gosh darn it!

    I’m guessing if it didn’t work out in the 1950s when people believed in progress, its probably not going to pan out now. Although, it certainly wont be on account of people not trying to ram this one through.

  2. GayProf on 18 Oct 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Pushbuttons are so last century. Everybody knows that touchscreen Prof. Ipad is the future.

  3. Tom on 18 Oct 2010 at 9:19 am #

    I wish I could wear one of those jet silencers whenever I hear talk about streamlining instructional costs at the expense of teachers. I will point out that my university requires employees (including faculty) to take and pass a (blissfully short) online class on car and driving safety which is the web-equivalent direct descendant of this pushbutton teacher. We must pass the quiz to be allowed to drive to a conference, for example.

  4. Historiann on 18 Oct 2010 at 9:37 am #

    WTF??? Srsly, Tom? That’s pretty hilarious. All in the name of reimbursement, I’m sure! (Or maybe it’s aimed at employees who drive uni vehicles?)

  5. truffula on 18 Oct 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Hey Tom, I can beat that. I had to complete an online certification class on using the Department credit card. Well, they don’t call them credit cards, they have some other confusing name. Anyway, I am not authorized to use it and neither do I want to be but when the university made a policy change, a certain percentage of us had to complete the training (What’s the purchasing limit? Can you buy booze with the card? etc.) before our office manager could use the card.

    Nobody was very excited about completing the training so our office manager cut up the existing card abscrhw told us that if we wanted to make any purchases we had to get a new one and to get a new one, we had to do the training. Our office manager rocks.

  6. Historiann on 18 Oct 2010 at 10:10 am #

    truffula–I don’t understand your story. Is there something missing here? Because it looks like your office manager made you do the dumb training after all.

  7. Tom on 18 Oct 2010 at 10:59 am #


    My sense is that the online auto-safety course is an insurance requirement: to conduct university business with a car, we go on university insurance somehow, and to do so, we must first pass the safety course. It’s crazy, but I can actually kind of understand it, even if it is the thin edge of the wedge in pushbuttony courses.

    As for truffula’s story, I think it meant that the office manager rocks because she is willing to cut the Gordian knot (or “credit card”) in order to get things done sometimes.

  8. Indyanna on 18 Oct 2010 at 11:10 am #

    This thing looks like Denis Diderot’s prototype for the “Learning Management System” in Futureland. I had this baby (the image) printed out and posted in my “Excellence Without Money” corner of the Fac-staff bulletin board before I even read the underlying post. That reel-to-reel feature has got to go, however. What a nightmare!

  9. rustonite on 18 Oct 2010 at 11:56 am #

    I had to do this when I started working at Walmart. Like eight hours of watching videos and then doing mindless computer quizzes, to prove I had listened to the anti-union propaganda.

  10. truffula on 18 Oct 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Tom took my meaning. The training was stupid and nobody wanted to do it. But if we didn’t do it, our office manager was in a bind. In the aggregate, we respect hir as much as we we respect the arbiter of the training rule. Ze knew the only way to get us to act was to make us companions in hir suffering.

  11. Historiann on 18 Oct 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Gotcha. Sorry–low on caffeine this a.m.

  12. Emma on 18 Oct 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Has anybody here ever done an online language learning course like Rosetta Stone? I’m taking one for Hindi right now and it’s really great within its limits.

    Anyway, that’s exactly Prof. Pushbutton and I wonder if academics would find it useful to talk about the limits of that kind of learning when talking about de-skilling universities. It’s a great program — for what it is. But it’s not really a “language learning” course, more of a phrasebook learning course.

  13. Notorious Ph.D. on 18 Oct 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Why does nobody talk about Associate Vice-Provost Pushbutton? Because that, IMO, would save us tons of cash.

  14. Historiann on 18 Oct 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Heh. For realz, Notorious!

    I’ve never done a Rosetta Stone course, but I think Emma’s point is a good one. WE know our work is varied and valuable beyond teaching–and that much of our teaching goes beyond what Rosetta Stone/Prof. Pushbutton can do–but that’s not how our work is presented in public discourse.

    I’m not sure it will make all that much difference in terms of countering the “public employees are leeches on the body politic” rhetoric, but it might be a useful exercise to see if we could come up with a brief but useful description of our work. I’m just looking forward to better economic times, so that we can go back to being insulted by the free marketeers as lazy underachievers who “settle” for $50 or $70K, instead of being seen as leeches on the system. That would be progress, I think. (I ask for so little!)

  15. truffula on 18 Oct 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Prof. Pushbutton is kind of the ideal state in the “banking method” of teaching, is it not? I think what Emma wrote about Rosetta Stone is appropriate for Prof. Pushbutton, et al.: But it’s not really a “language learning” course, more of a phrasebook learning course.

  16. Bing on 18 Oct 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Nobody but nobody is going to take away my electronic friend box.


  17. FrauTech on 19 Oct 2010 at 11:12 am #

    I learned more through my company’s LENGTHY drug training than I had ever known about drugs. Sometimes you got to wonder who puts this together (this was provided by an outside company) when it comes off more as a sales pitch than as a warning.

  18. Historiann on 19 Oct 2010 at 11:18 am #

    Ha. I had to do an on-line sexual harassment training program pushbutton thingie last year, along with every other faculty and staff member of my uni. It was so easy to game–just assume that the most severe, most draconian answer/action is the right one at all times, and you’ll get 100%!

    I only got 89%, because I kept thinking like I was a department chair dealing with real people and sometimes ambiguous situations.

  19. Dr. Virago on 23 Oct 2010 at 11:29 am #

    truffula – Are we by any chance at the same university? Oh no, wait, my training wasn’t online, it was in person. But yeah, we now have to make all of our plane, car rental, and hotel purchases on a university purchasing card rather than getting reimbursed, and we had to get training to use it, sitting around the room with a dozen other people with entirely different budgeting (coaches, profs with huge private grants, profs with measly college travel funding, department managers, etc.). I *wish* ours had been online.

  20. (Re-)inventing the educratic wheel : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 28 Sep 2011 at 7:56 am #

    [...] member who “doesn’t really interact” with the students are complete drags.  Professor Pushbutton to the rescue! There are also two types of professors at UMR. One group’s only responsibility is to work [...]

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