November
18th 2010
Thursday round-up: beating dead horses edition

Posted under: fluff, jobs, students, wankers, weirdness

Let's give it a whirl!

Some random thoughts inspired by yesterday’s conversation about Cheatergate at UCF yesterday and other trivial events:

  • Liberal Arts majors are frequently subjected to the “but what will you DO with THAT degree?” question from parents, friends, and random busybodies.  (History majors often get the derisive punchline of “Teach??from the parents and busybodies, as though teaching were an undignified and completely unthinkable career.)  But do parents and the general public understand that business majors at some universities are offered “senior-level” classes with 600 students in them?  Speaking for my department only, our 100-level classes (still far too large IMHO) are capped at 123.  We have no 200-level classes, nearly all of our upper-division (300-400 level) courses are capped at 44, and usually end up with fewer than 35 students if they require even a modest level of work on the students’ part.  Our senior seminars are built around writing research papers and are capped 15.  I’m not saying that any of these numbers is optimal–but my bet is that my department’s classes are classes in which faculty know students’ names and have time to talk to them (in class discussions and outside of class), design creative syllabi not focused around a damn textbook, give them constructive advice on their reading and writing, and focus on their development as students.  In the end, which do you think offers the better education? 
  • I did a little research on the internets:  my uni offers eight sections of “Strategic Management” (BUS 479) next semester that are capped at 50.  However, there appear to be some senior-level topics courses (BUS 405A and 405B) that are capped at 90 and 100.  And “Legal and Ethical Issues in Business” (BUS 205) is capped at 130!
  • When I’m getting all Black-Helicoptery, I sometimes think that the Business College model of education is really what both universities and the general public would prefer.  It’s a hell of a lot more “cost effective” to have one adjunct faculty instructor teach a class with 600 or even 100 students in it than it is to have me teach a total of 50-70 students per semester.  (No wonder so many non-Liberal Arts faculty members don’t understand why we’re skeptical of online teaching.  If your optimal model is a bricks-and-mortar classroom with a faculty:student ratio of 600:1, I suppose online courses look positively intimate and boutique.)
  • Times are tough at universities, but somehow there’s always money for the Athletic Department, because trimming those budgets is unthinkable.
  • WTF is it with the Christmas lights already?  I’ve been running after dark lately, since it’s dark at 5 p.m. out here now, but seriously, people:  turning on Christmas lights before Thanksgiving is ridiculous.  I understand if people want to take advantage of warm weekends earlier in November or even in October to install the lights, but don’t flip the switch until Black Friday at the earliest, m’kay?  That way, maybe you won’t be so sick of Christmas that you cut the lights and throw your tree in the street on December 26.  January’s a long, dark, cold month–can’t we have a little Christmas cheer for at least the “Twelve Days of Christmas?”

22 Comments »

22 Responses to “Thursday round-up: beating dead horses edition”

  1. Feminist Avatar on 18 Nov 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Today, I glanced out the window at 2.55pm and the street lights were already on, it was that dark. Sigh. I need to move south for winter.

  2. NTBW on 18 Nov 2010 at 11:47 am #

    My family has a friendly competition going about who can spot Christmas decorations up the earliest. My Dad held the previous record, from a couple of years ago, with a sighting of a wreath and inflatable yard snowman up by November 15.

    This year, my son and I busted that record all to heck. We saw lights and porch garlands on a house near his school THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN. I kid you not. And the house had been decorated for Halloween. I wondered, did they get out there at midnight on November 1 to change the decorations, or what? I think we’ll hold this record forever. At least, I hope so.

  3. Helm Hammerhand on 18 Nov 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    I’ve long harboured a suspicion that much of the derision thrown at the humanities is actually a conspiracy cooked up by the b-schools to distract everyone from the fact that business degrees are pretty much worthless and involve no content or learning of any kind. Has anyone else ever had similar thoughts, or have I just completely lost it?

  4. Susan on 18 Nov 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    @Helm: I completely agree. I’m told that the enrollment crisis this semester is that students want seats in psych, which is an easy gen ed class — not history or lit, where they would have to work.

    As for Christmas: there’s a video floating around of a performance in Philly on Oct. 30 when a flash crowd of choirs sang the Alleluia Chorus in a department store. There was a Christmas tree up in the store. And people were walking around with their devil’s horns….

  5. cgeye on 18 Nov 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    To quote the athletics survey:

    “Reduce travel expenses.” The center suggests teams play fewer non-conference games, which typically require more travel; cutting overall season length; and “eliminating the entrenched practice of booking hotel rooms for the football team the night before a home game.” Of this last item, the report argues: “If players are not smart enough to make responsible decisions the night before a home game, then perhaps they do not belong in college in the first place.”

    I thought it was the *job* of teams to set the standard concerning alcohol consumption and general deportment. That *is* why they receive scholarships?

  6. GayProf on 18 Nov 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    I also thought that Christmas lights were up really, really early this year (excluding department stores, which have been one-step away from a 12-month Christmas display for years now). Growing up, my parents had a rule that Christmas decorations could not go up until after December 14. They would seem like scrooges by today’s standards.

  7. Historiann on 18 Nov 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    I LOVE Scrooge. I think he gets a really bad rap. After all, he pulls out the Christmas spirit when it’s due–on CHRISTMAS MORNING! (He probably should give Bob Cratchit the day off on Christmas Eve, though.)

    GayProf: why December 14? Is that a special day somewhere? Just 7 days before the solstice? What? (I’m not arguing with the principle, just curious about why that date in particular.)

  8. koshem bos on 18 Nov 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    Don’t turn it around on the one looking down on humanties and and claim that B-degrees teach nothing. Some schools may teach very decent B-courses; there is plenty of knowledge there too. It’s also quite common for the liberal part of schools to treat science guys as a bunch of nerdy robots with total inability to recognize non technical books.

    We should have room for everyone without passing harsh judgement on the perceived “opposition.”

    I do think that universities today reflect a reality that doesn’t exist anymore (1930?). More technical and other specialized degree are needed. Action on that front, however, seems to be limited and sporadic.

  9. Historiann on 18 Nov 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    I’m not saying that business schools teach nothing and I’ve never said that. I’m saying that many of them appear to be doing something quite foreign to what I understand as education.

    I’m apparently quite clueless about the ways other disciplines teach their subject matter.

  10. Hattie on 18 Nov 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    A lot of business majors would kill for the job my daughter got with her PhD in German. And it’s not an academic job.

  11. rustonite on 18 Nov 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    re: koshem bos

    I’d actually like to see technical degrees pretty much chucked. let’s go down the list:
    -education: acknowledged by everyone with 3/4 of a functioning brain as useless.
    -business: totally derivative. management is just specialized psych (the one management course I took was actually taught by a psychologist). finance is applied economics. marketing is a dumbed down version of communications, if that’s even possible. accounting, however, is really a discipline, and should probably be promoted to its own school.
    -engineering: the move among engineering accrediting groups is to shift a lot of technical education to graduate school, because if you try to squeeze it all into undergrad you end up with 150 credits of engineering and like one liberal arts course. personally, I’d make them major in something like physics and then go through four years of graduate school to get an MEng. I mean, we make doctors go through four years of medical school, and they only have the potential to kill people one at a time- a bad engineer can kill hundreds at once.
    -aviation: why this is even taught at colleges I’ll never know.
    -nursing/public health: the move is already on to shift a lot of this to graduate school as the medical field becomes increasingly complicated.

    Honestly, the way we should go is to move professional education to graduate school, when students have learned some stuff and done some stuff and are mature and know what they want- the way law and medicine have done it forever.

  12. Aishlin on 18 Nov 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    Christmas isn’t as big a deal in Tokyo, but a bunch of the stores have had Christmas stuff out since before Halloween.

  13. Aishlin on 18 Nov 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    (Halloween being even less of big deal and therefore kind of overshadowed by Christmas.)

  14. Anonymous on 18 Nov 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    I think there can be great value in large lecture classes. As an undergraduate I took a history class with 500 students in it, and loved it. The lectures were interesting and it brought a lot of attention to the major. However, in that case the class also had smaller TA sections that dealt with most of the discussion and grading.

    Having said that I believe that one can do large courses without TAs, even history classes. My current institution has decided that to preserve our sanity the survey courses will have multiple sections, one of which will be capped at 280, the others at 40. The professors rotate teaching the one supersection (which means we each teach it once every 6 semesters). This also means that instead of a 4-4 we have a 3-3. The students who like the big lecture courses can take the supersection, and those that like the smaller courses can still do so. Teaching it is a bit of a challenge, but a fun challenge.

  15. wini on 19 Nov 2010 at 8:40 am #

    My next door neighbor blazes his Christmas lights all year round. To what extent, then, can we call them Christmas lights? Certainly when we give directs we say “the house next to the Christmas lights.”

  16. DarthVelma on 19 Nov 2010 at 9:27 am #

    I’m with ya on the xmas lights. The Target by my apartment had already relegated the Halloween stuff to a tiny corner and put out the xmas decorations TWO DAYS BEFORE HALLOWEEN. Sheesh.

    At my parents’ house, the outside decorations may go up the day after Thanksgiving, if the weather is nice and the timing works out around the college football games. :)

    Otherwise, everything goes up, inside and outside, on December 7 – which is their wedding anniversary. Yeah, they got married on Pearl Harbor Day…which even they find hilarious. :)

  17. Dennis on 19 Nov 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    I can tell you what I did with my history degree. I have had a very successful career in the computer buisiness. I learned how to read and learn from a book, so I taught myself how to program computers over 30 years ago. My training in history has helped me all through my life.

    What an undergraduate degree should be about is learning to think and how to learn the next thing that you need to know to be successful. The history professor and his wife that taught me history also taught me to learn on my own, how to evaluate information (historical or business), and to think for myself. I have thanked them many times for this.

    So when someone says how can history help you in real life, it is not just the concrete things that one learns. Life is not a single event event, but a long journey.

  18. Historiann on 19 Nov 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Dennis–thanks so much for your comment. This is what most historians teaching in universities hope we’re doing for our students! (At the very least, anyway.)

    I think you’re right about history teaching people how to read and to evaluate/analyze information. (If the students take advantage of the opportunity, that is.)

  19. LadyTraveller on 20 Nov 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    on Christmas: Our University lit the “campus Christmas tree” on Thursday, Nov. EIGHTEENTH!! It is ridiculous for sure.

    On a totally unrelated note, I recently discovered your blog and love it. I have also passed it around to some of my grad school colleagues.

  20. Historiann on 20 Nov 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks, LadyTraveller. But, take note and warn all your friends: at this blog, you get what you pay for!

  21. LadyTraveller on 21 Nov 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    noted! :)

  22. FrauTech on 23 Nov 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    Hey rustonite, please don’t make me go back to school even more. And physics /= engineering! And you’ll be happy to know, most companies want engineers with masters degrees. But more school does not necessarily a better engineer make.

    Yes it’s a shame engineering majors don’t get the opportunity to spread their wings to liberal arts. It takes gobjillion units to get an engineering degree (that’s a precise number, I’m an engineer) and a minimum of five years. You are just too tired to take a class that takes up mind space in another field.

    Back in my humanities days my major was so low-unit I had to take a ton of other classes just to meet the minimum units for graduation. So I ended up taking classes on lit, history, and music. And they were fantastic and I learned a lot and expanded my world. But not everyone has that kind of time/money to be taking a whole lot of extra classes. It’s a shame we can’t expand those kinds of undergrad classes to a lifetime learning thing because sometimes I miss taking those classes and wish I could drop in at the university and audit a few just for personal learning. So my colleagues may not know who Chaucer is but they’ll still be good engineers.

    Some of my favorite professors were in my humanities discipline of study (so useless it hasn’t even been mentioned here) who instructed us on how to buy a diversified stock portfolio while we were still young and could benefit from compound interest or others who warned us against credit card debt and other kinds of debt. Not related to my study, but I liked the “real world” advice.