Monday, April 09, 2007

Oversight of higher ed.

On the face of it, this attempt to further high-schoolize higher education. The idea is that the US federal government wants some kind of legal oversight of colleges and universities. Often, "oversight" is a cover (that seems to be a theme for today's blogging) for control: in the case of higher ed, it's control of content, both in classrooms and research, which is a curtailment of due academic freedom. It's not that there's something wrong with knowing where the money is going. What's wrong is with trying to apply cookie-cutter "outcomes" to higher education as a way of throttling money from institutions in the name of political expediency. Evaluating the efficacy of any given department (let alone institution) is an extremely difficult task; and what training or experience do government bureaucrats have which legitimates their taking on this role?

There are two proposals. The first is to make information that is currently subject to peer-review by accreditation boards available to students. The second is to, somehow, measure student achievement more "rigorously". As for the first, it's really an odd idea. Students already have access to quite a lot of information when it comes to choosing colleges or universities. I'm not sure what more this data could add to their decision-making process. As for the second, it's subject to the danger I outlined above, as well as the danger that the pressure on instructors to inflate grades and relax standards will increase beyond even its current level.

And these points strike me as obvious, which makes me wonder if the suspicion I outlined above is correct: namely, that this is a cover for trying to exercise control over higher education in the US. It's no secret that the current President refuses to condemn such blatant pseudoscience as "Intelligent Design", nor that the current administration has put pressure on its scientific agencies to suppress results that the administration does not care for. Is this another attempt to make higher education curricula sway with the political winds? I wonder, and worry, that it may be.

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