Iatrogenic Teaching – Skin in the Game

At many of today’s universities, neither the professors nor the administrators have “Skin in the Game” when it comes to the success of their students after they graduate.

The goal of many university professors is tenure and promotion.  A significant part of this is good evaluations from the students, attending committee meetings and conferences, and publishing papers.  None of these develop the students’ ability to wonder about challenging problems and develop mental strength and mental stamina.

The best way to get good evaluations from students is to not stress out the students with hard problems, inflate their grades, and bring doughnuts on the day the evaluations are filled out.

At many of today’s universities, professors can give easy problems and award artificially high grades with zero consequences.  I can’t imagine a university administrator admonishing a professor of physics because he or she was giving exams that were too easy.  On the other hand, I know of many professors that have gotten calls from the administration because of students complaints that the classes are “too hard.”

In the education “business,” the primary goal is to sell as many degrees as possible.  Indeed, the main reason why university presidents get dismissed is decreasing enrollment.  Jessica Kozloff, president and senior consultant at the firm Academic Search, recently said, “Clients for presidential searches feel a tremendous amount of pressure right now in terms of enrollment,” at InsiderHigherEd.com.

Indeed, many university administrators have instituted “special” freshman classes to increase student success in their freshman year.  Success here is defined as getting the students’ tuition dollars for another year.

If university presidents are focused primarily on increasing enrollment, how forthcoming will the university’s marketing strategies be?  Will they be honest about the number of recent graduates who are living at home unable to pay off their student loan, or will they be featuring the few hard working,  successful students that would have been successful at virtually any university – and may have been even more successful if they did not attend a university at all?

If university professors are focused on the retention of the students and avoiding student stress, how can the student undergo the necessary transformation required over four years?

Demanding excellence from students makes life hard for the professor.  He or she needs to help the students more outside of class with extra problem-solving sessions and fielding questions over the internet.  This takes time away from research, research-proposal writing, committee work and other faculty duties.

Until university professors and administrators have “Skin in the Game” with regard to the quality of their graduates, we can’t expect students to graduate with many of the key skills they need to contribute to society.