Report Card

Well, someone has finally done it.  And, of course, it was HarvardOn Tuesday, America’s flagship university announced a thorough overhaul of its grading system in an effort to reduce faculty guilt over grade inflation.  According to Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, “for far too long, higher education has been dominated by a paradigm that does not reflect how faculty truly feel about the grades they award.  It’s time for substantive change.  Toward that end, I am proud to share with you the new Harvard University Grading Scale (HUGS).  I hope it exerts a positive influence on the policies of our peer institutions around the country.  Thank you.”

The Scale, presented below, will be implemented in the Fall 2018 semester.

A+   Satisfactory, but less than outstanding

A     You know you’re capable of better

A-    The minus should tell you something: stop skating through life

B+    Unambiguously disappointing

B     Not only disappointing, your work is also boring

B-    Have you no pride?

C+   This is beyond embarrassing

C      Total disaster

C-     You should be beaten

D+    You should be put in prison, and then beaten

D      Don’t have children

D-     Don’t even adopt children

F       Your parents should not have had children

INC  You’ve never committed to anything in your life; why start now?

AUDIT   Whatever.  But seriously, why even bother?

President Faust dismissed rumors that the timing of the HUGS announcement was an attempt by Harvard to retake the high ground among Ivy League institutions after its second consecutive loss to Yale in THE GAME on November 18th.

Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that “professors at Eastern Michigan University are objecting to its partnership with a private company to market and support online programs, making it the latest institution to grapple with questions about the quality of online instruction.”

While faculty are fighting these battles around the country, as universities increasingly contract with for-profit institutions to develop academically “iffy” enterprises, a small school in Lubbock, Texas has raised the stakes to the next level.  Meerkat University announced last week that it had signed an agreement with Satan in an effort to more aggressively market its online offerings.

Meerkat’s President, Dr. Fenton Swig, noted the risk inherent in such a venture: “Cutting a deal with Satan is not something we do lightly.  We’ve worked with evil online companies before, and yes, their vision statements often amount to, ‘We’d have rhesus monkeys teaching online if we could get them to stop pooping on the keyboard.’  But Satan represents a whole new ballgame of indifference to quality.  Partnering with an entity whose slogan is “By Any Means Necessary” gives us pause.  

“That being said, our tuition-driven business model requires that we cultivate new markets for online education — toddlers, the recently deceased, and ISIS, for example.  Satan has a negative reputation, to be sure, but how much of that reputation is truly deserved?  His biggest sin was to challenge the patriarchal hegemony of God the Father.  In today’s political climate that happens every week in the New York Times Book Review.  Who gets to decide what is evil, anyway?  In a world where the Kardashian family and the creators of Jersey Shore and The Bachelorette have not been sentenced to life imprisonment for committing genocide against popular culture, what’s so bad about enrolling a dozen dementia patients from an assisted living facility in a 3-credit graduate course on The History of Etch-A-Sketch Art Since 1960taught by a bottlenose dolphin with an associate’s degree from Sea World?  I guarantee you, if we don’t do this, someone else will.”

PS:  For those not familiar with the title of this post, please borrow your parents’ vinyl copy of Beggars Banquet by the Rolling Stones.

 

Shoe Number Two

On November 17th The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that over two dozen academic programs at the University of Wisconsin at Superior were being cut because students “tend to get overwhelmed by too many course offerings,” which “cause them to take too many credits, incur too much debt and take too long to graduate.”  (Unfortunately, the preceding sentence is not a joke.)

Well, the agonizing wait for the other shoe to drop ended yesterday, when the University announced a drastic reduction in the number of choices that students will be offered in the school’s cafeteria.  According to a University spokesperson, “the wide range of cuisine options we’ve been providing has produced two major problems.  First, some students are simply immobilized by having so many choices.  As a result, they often take an extraordinarily long time to make their meal selection, and end up being late for class.  Indeed, a subgroup of these students finds it impossible to decide, so they eat nothing, and within a few weeks they show up at our health clinic suffering from severe malnutrition. 

“At the other extreme we have students who sample virtually every item available at any given meal, and by the end of the semester they are morbidly obese.  For example, a typical lunch in our cafeteria features pizza, a burger/frankfurter/fry station, a fish entrée, a chicken entrée, a beef entrée, a cold-cuts sandwich counter, a salad bar, a hummus hut, and of course there’s Cheese World.  Is it any wonder that our campus has the largest percentage of students weighing over 400 pounds in the country?  The single most frequent reason for students dropping out of our school is not poor grades or insufficient finances; it’s sudden death via cholesterol-induced cardiac arrest.  We’re the only campus in the nation with a student-run post-heart-attack support group (“Keep Ticking”) for 20-year-olds.  We must stop the madness!”

After the Thanksgiving break, every meal at the University of Wisconsin at Superior will offer just one selection.  On November 27th, breakfast will consist of creamed chipped beef on toast, followed by a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch (choice of Swiss with or without holes), and dinner will be pork chops served with applesauce.  Dessert?  One scoop of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream.  Students with nut allergies will be given a dessert voucher that must be used at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus within 24 hours.

Student response to the University’s latest action has been swift, with an evening protest march planned for November 28th to demand that the dessert vouchers be honored at the nearby Sweeden Sweets on Culver Avenue.  Every participant will carry a flaming waffle cone torch, held high. 

Just Add Water

A growing number of colleges and universities have entered into the admissions wonderland known as Instant Decision Day, where high school seniors can apply, interview, and receive an admissions decision all in a single day.

Wow.

As you might suspect, IDD (not to be confused with an IUD, which is a whole other thing) is in large part a response to the intense competition for undergraduates that currently characterizes higher education.  Of course, as more and more institutions adopt the IDD approach, the competitive advantage that this strategy gives to any particular school diminishes over time. 

Damn.

Recognizing this problem, Smecklin College in Chicago has broken away from the pack.  In its highly successful See You in September initiative,  selected groups of high school seniors who have NOT applied to Smecklin are notified that they have been accepted by the college, and that their Fall semester tuition is due within 30 days.  According to Gary Peff, Dean of Admissions at Smecklin, “We’re operating with a new paradigm here.  Instead of trying to convince students to come to us, we simply inform them that they’re already part of the Smecklin community.  The burden is on them to justify any decision they might make not to attend Smecklin.”

Peff acknowledges that intimidation plays a significant role in the See You in September program.  “We send a certified letter of acceptance to the non-applicant that includes an explicit warning concerning the legal consequences of failing to pay one’s bills.  We don’t shy away from mentioning prison or, in the case of immigrants, deportation.”

Do young people and their parents actually take these threats seriously?  “Absolutely,” says Peff.  “We target students with GPA’s in the bottom 10% of their graduating class.  Let’s be honest, these are not bulbs that are burning very brightly.  And yes, they do require extensive remedial services once they arrive on campus in the fall, but we employ the University of North Carolina Unsupervised Independent Study Program (UNC-UISP) that has been recognized by the NCAA for its ability to keep kids in school.  It works really well for us, especially in conjunction with the recent decision of our Faculty Senate to eliminate the grade of F as an option for instructors to use at the end of the semester.  It also helps that we tell students that they can be arrested for leaving Smecklin without completing their degree.  Our graduation statistics are now based on a 15-year time frame from entry to exit, rather than 4, 5, or 6 years.”

What will Smecklin do if other schools copy the See You in September approach?  Peff just smiles. “Don’t worry, we’ll be ready.”

 

 

Better Late Than Never?

The legacy of slavery continues to haunt prestigious universities in the United States.  On November 6th The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the first nine Presidents of Princeton University owned slaves.  As embarrassing as this revelation is, the front-runner for the 2017 Gold Medal for Slavery-Related Shame would have to be Sons of the Confederacy Bible College in Brackish Springs, Mississippi, which only learned last week that chattel slavery had been abolished in the U.S.

“We are profoundly sorry for our ignorance of such a historic event,” announced Reverend Samuel Poutine, President of the College.  “This is our bad.  Since the College’s founding in 1862, we’ve devoted ourselves exclusively to the study of the Old Testament and the lessons this sacred document holds for all of God’s children.  I guess we should have paid more attention to what was going on in the world around us.  We had no idea that the Negroes had been freed.  It looks like we’ll be having some awkward conversations with the folks on our campus who’ve worked for decades in maintenance, the student cafeteria, and our award-winning vegetable garden.  They’re going to be extremely upset, and who can blame them?  It’s kind of funny, but I had always wondered how we kept our tuition so low, compared to what they charge at the Wesley Biblical Seminary up in Jackson.  Well, now I know.  Labor Costs Matter!”

Details of the College’s plans to sell most of its bloodhounds will be released soon.

Bystander Effect

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times revealed the identity of the only individual in Hollywood who did NOT know that Harvey Weinstein had been sexually harassing and assaulting women on a regular basis over the past several decades.  His name is Ernest Carroll Moore, who served as UCLA’s first Provost from 1919 to 1936.  Dr. Moore died in 1955, when Mr. Weinstein was 3 years old.  However, in June 1954 Dr. Moore was overheard saying to a friend at the Brown Derby restaurant on Hollywood’s North Vine Street, “Something about that kid really bothers me.” 

According to Professor Melanie Flynch-Tutweiler, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, the last time that so many people in Tinseltown failed to speak up when they should have was during the infamous “Can You Hear Me Now?” Scandal, from 1931 to 1961, when no one would tell movie legend Clark Gable that his ears were freakishly large.

Stop, Stop, I Can’t Take It Anymore!

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education headline asked, “Should Colleges Intervene to Stop Heckling of Campus Speakers?”

An important question, to be sure. 

But it’s yesterday’s news. 

Reports from around the country indicate that student activists have moved beyond heckling.  Now they are tickling…..with a vengeance.  At the University of Louisville last week, white-supremacist wingnut Richard B. Spencer was giving the keynote address at a “50 Shades of Pale” conference when three male students in ski masks rushed the stage and wrestled him to the floor behind the lectern.  As two of the students held him down and pulled up his shirt, the third tickled him with a guineafowl feather until he wet his pants.  A humiliated Spencer scooted from the stage on his rear end while holding his lecture notes over his lap. 

Similar events have occurred over the past two months at the University of New Hampshire, Lafayette College, and Idaho State University.  University officials aren’t sure how to respond.  “Cubby” Dixon, Dean of Student Life at Idaho State, laments that his school doesn’t have a specific policy that regulates tickling on campus.  Interestingly, tickling is actually encouraged, and taught, as a foreplay technique in the two-day Safe Sex Workshop (“Passionate Potatoes”) that all first-year ISU students are required to take during Orientation Week.  “It looks like the Workshop may have come back to haunt us,” Dixon observes.  “Our students have become really skilled at tickling.  On the other hand, it’s nice to hear all the squealing and giggling coming out of the dorm windows at night.”

It’s unlikely that student protestors will stop at tickling.  Just two days ago at Grinnell College, Ann Coulter was slathered in creamed corn while participating in a Young Republicans symposium on “Tall Conservative Women Who Aren’t Laura Ingraham,” while Milo Yiannopoulous was forcibly massaged with Texas-style dry-rub seasoning at an alt-right rally at Baylor University on Halloween.  Responsibility for both incidents was claimed by the Revolutionary Intersectionality Brigade (Manifesto: “You can’t just be one thing!”), a rogue student collective with ties to a Whole Foods Market in Madison, Wisconsin that is violently resisting Amazon’s takeover of the Whole Foods chain.  A siege of the market by FDA agents is now in its third week, with latest reports indicating that agents have taken control of the Produce section after heavy fighting.  Casualties include scores of severely bruised fruit, with many melons of all types not expected to survive.  “There’s pulp everywhere,” says one FDA agent who has been inside the store. “We’re having to use DNA swabs to identify some of the cantaloupes.”

College administrators may soon be looking back fondly at the days when all they had to worry about was heckling.

President Cursor

In what appears to be a first in modern U.S. higher education, a university has appointed a President who does not possess a college degree.  At a press conference yesterday the University of Oklahoma announced that its next leader will be Mr. Timothy “Sparky” Cretch, a 22-year-old high school dropout with extensive experience in website design. 

According to Clayton Bennett, Chair of the University’s Board of Regents, “In the fierce, steel-cage death match that characterizes competition for college students today, a school without a killer website is toast.  Mr. Cretch is widely regarded as the premier website designer of his generation.  His Oregon company — Scroll, Baby, Scroll! has grown from a $15,000 start-up in 2011, specializing in the development of sites for marijuana dispensaries and 10-lane bowling alleys, into a $325 million industry giant that works with numerous Fortune 500 companies and governments of foreign countries.  Sparky is the real deal!  Higher education is about more than just having a good Division I football team.  Prospective students want to interact with a website that provides them with a totally immersive scroll-and-click experience.  We don’t want you to simply ‘visit’ the Oklahoma website, we want you to climb inside its welcoming womb and be bathed in the nurturing amniotic fluid of our institution’s culture.  By the time you emerge, you’ll literally be drenched in your desire to become a Sooner.”

Mr. Timlin, who appeared at the press conference attired in cargo shorts, deck shoes, an inside-out Portland Trail Blazers tee shirt, and an Oregon Ducks baseball cap, joked that “I’ll probably have to buy myself some Oklahoma gear in the next few days, but I know that being President here is going to be AWESOME!  We’re going to have the first website in the country that provides a Five Senses Tour of the campus.  You’ll actually be able to smell the lawn on our quad, taste the ice cream in our cafeteria by licking the screen, and feel your body splash in the water of one of our Olympic-size residence hall swimming pools.  We’re going to blow away every other college website in the country.  But what’s up with this ‘Sooner’ nickname?    ‘Sooner’ than what, exactly?  I don’t get it.  It’s gotta go.”

Tar Heel Nation

The NCAA praised the University of North Carolina last week for including non-athletes in its long-standing practice of offering sham courses to students who needed an easy A with no work.  According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, “So often, colleges and universities bend the rules for athletes but don’t provide similar opportunities to rank-and-file students who are just as academically clueless as many Division I basketball and football players.  At North Carolina, every student could benefit from doing virtually nothing in a course while getting a passing grade.  This is a tradition that unites rather than divides athletes and non-athletes on campus.  We applaud UNC for its commitment to community.”

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt gracefully accepted the NCAA’s recognition: “Though UNC has been a pillar of the North Carolina Research Triangle for decades, we have always felt uncomfortable participating in a culture that celebrated academic excellence, a culture that called into question stereotypes of the American South as a cesspool of flaming ignorance.  Well, as a loyal Tar Heel I’m proud to report, “We’re bringing the STINK back, and that pungent smell is not just for athletes!”

It’s the Crab Cakes

In an October 13th article entitled “How the Academic Elite Reproduces Itself” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the authors cite research indicating that “graduates from a few elite institutions account for an outsized proportion of high-profile published work.” 

Hmmm…..sounds like there could be a scandal brewing here.  So, as a service to University Life readers, I put on my investigative reporter hat and conducted phone interviews with the Presidents of several of the institutions mentioned in the article, asking for their explanations of this finding.  Here’s what they said:

Drew Gilpin Faust (Harvard): “Virtually all of our doctoral students come from a eugenics breeding farm that the University maintains in Chesuncook, Maine.  It works out well for us, though occasionally a gene-splicing error produces a physics Ph.D. with an extra ear or a mathematician with zero interpersonal skills and poor personal hygiene habits.  Okay, okay….maybe the second problem occurs more than just occasionally.”

Ronald Daniels (Johns Hopkins): “It’s the crab cakes.  Here in Baltimore we have the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and those babies rock!  Incredibly tasty, and the ultimate brain food.  Make sure to use Old Bay High-Citation Seasoning and buy the lump meat, not the claw.  Psych students who get the less expensive claw meat end up publishing in places like Highlights Magazine rather than Developmental Psychology.  A damn shame.”

Martha Pollack (Cornell): “It must be all the hills on our Ithaca campus.  Climb, descend, climb, descend, climb, descend.  Up, down, up, down, up, down.  It NEVER ends.  Exercises the mind as well as the body, I guess.  But I’m so sick of it.  My lower legs look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s during his prime, and they ache constantly.  If the Board of Trustees let me, I’d bring in a bunch of road graders and level the whole freakin’ landscape!  You’re not recording this, are you?”

Christopher Eisgruber (Princeton): “You’re kidding, right?  We’re PRINCETON!  God ADORES us.  Haven’t you heard of the Divine Right of Kings?  Everything we touch becomes golden, sparkly, and brilliant…..a snow globe filled with all the world’s knowledge, shimmering like the Aurora Borealis.  Why the hell we’re in New Jersey, I’ll never know.”

Carol Crist (Berkeley) and Marc Tessier-Lavigne (Stanford) [conference call]: “You have NO idea how much high-octane pot we smoke out here!  We buy it in 500-lb. bales, divide it up into compressed bricks, and then distribute the bricks to graduate students at orientation.  The impact on the quality of their scholarly work is MASSIVE!  Or maybe it’s just the Doritos.  Who the hell knows?  HA-HA-HA-HA-HA………. [raucous laughter continues for 10 minutes, with background noises suggesting that Tessier-Lavigne has tumbled out of his chair onto the floor].”

There you have it.  Question asked, and answered.  No scandal here, folks.