Charles Hugh Smith: The education system is doomed

Why the Higher Education System Is Unsustainable (i.e. Doomed)

Here is an excerpt:

Before we start, it’s important to stipulate that the industry’s failings are systemic, and do not reflect the positive intentions and efforts of those working in higher education, any more than the systemic failures of U.S. healthcare reflect the good intentions and efforts of those employed in that industry. Despite the good intentions and hard work of individuals, these systems are broken.

Due to their size and structure, large systems such as national defense, healthcare and education limit the impact of individual initiative. This has several consequences. One is that individuals feel powerless to change the system and so they relinquish responsibility for changing it. As Voltaire observed, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” A second consequence is psychological. Even if the system is visibly flawed or failing, insiders feel obligated to defend the system and their role in it, for two compelling reasons: self-preservation and the psychological need to believe in the value of one’s place in the institution.

In other words, don’t expect that anyone who derives their livelihood from the education system to be able to fix the problem.  In my view, however, when the education bubble pops, then the broken system will experience creative destruction but only by necessity.

Open Letter to the Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature

A letter to the Executive Director of the Society of Biblical Literature, an association with over 8000 members, informing him why the author will not be renewing his membership:  The US Federal Government is persecuting American citizens abroad of whom the author is one.

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How not to fund raise for a Christian project

I’ve been on both the seeking and the giving side of fundraising. While I don’t know the how to fund raise, I know some things not to do. This is from my perspective as a giver?

What not to do (every one of these has happened to us):

(1) Don’t insult your donor. We invited a recipient of a large scholarship to our house and he began to insult our manner of speaking English. Our church had a vacation bible camp which featured a fictional quest for a “blue-cheeked-bee-eater”. The man didn’t know about this bird, and so he said that if the bird didn’t exist that we were liars. He told us that our sparkling water was a “waste of money” when we could get free water out of the tap. Needless to say, we took offence. Also, if you are a school, don’t unnecessarily berate an alumnus and refuse any action to rectify the situation, as Prof. John Stackhouse did to me, and then later the director of development of Regent College contacted me to ask if my wife and I were planning to give to the school. Hello!

(2) Don’t casually break an appointment with a donor or break off part of the appointment. Yesterday, the director of a Canadian branch of an international mission organization came to a church after accepting an invitation to speak with lunch following. Apparently he forgot the lunch and booked a trip to Ethiopia. He couldn’t stay for the lunch because he left his luggage in Waterloo and his flight left at 4:00 pm. Why not re-schedule so that those who prepared the lunch would be standing there looking like idiots for having spent money on the food? Or why not bring the luggage along, saving a minimum of two hours driving time? The mission group wanted to expose the rest of the church to this mission, so some of us spent our own money to prepare this lunch. It is bad form, and unfortunately, this mission will likely not be the recipient of too much more from our church.

(3) Don’t fail to live up to your end of the bargain. A few of the recipients of scholarships, for which we’ve helped pay, have failed explicit agreements to return to Africa after their studies. If you say you are going to go back to Africa, then go back to Africa. And just for the benefit of the sending churches in Africa and elsewhere: don’t send someone who isn’t going to return because the funding for such ventures will dry up fast. You are sending liars and scoundrels.

(4) Don’t start promoting communism, socialism, global warming, leftist politics, statism, or relativistic moral standards. If you do, then don’t be surprised if your donors, who are generally hard-working business people with conservative values, become upset and shut down the funds. Consider that we pay sufficient in taxes already, and we don’t need more government regulation and taxes. That will only make our generosity dry up. Instead, lobby against statism.  Then your generous donors will have more still to give to you. Don’t be idiots. We worship an all-powerful god not an all-benevolent government.  We are theists not statists.  If a socialist comes begging me for charitable money, I just say, “I gave at the office”–which is literally true because of withholding taxes.  Also, a school we’ve given to has a adjunct professor who says that Jack Layton knew Jesus because he helped a lesbien couple find an apartment.  Time to get rid of that professor or lose donors, don’t you think?

(5) Don’t negotiate in bad faith. This means don’t tell your donor that you are going to break your previous agreement if he doesn’t fork over even more money and better arrangements for you.

Well, these are some of the “don’t”s that I’ve personally encountered.  Perhaps you could add some more.  Or perhaps you disagree.  The comments are open.

Society of Biblical Literature pro-union

I’ve decided that the latest decision by the Society of Biblical Literature, save someone from SBL apologize, is the last straw for me.  SBL has become a pro-union association not a professional association.  Consider this e-mail that I received:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dear SBL Members and Annual Meeting Participants,

We write today for two reasons. First, we want to share our excitement about our upcoming Annual Meeting inSan Francisco. This meeting marks an important moment in our history, as we resume holding concurrent Annual Meetings with the American Academy of Religion and several other affiliated and related organizations. These concurrent gatherings will maintain the “traditional” meeting dates – the weekend before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, this year November 19-22. The Call for Papers has been issued, proposals are being submitted, special sessions planned, the layouts of the Exhibit Hall and Employment Center are being finalized, and registration is soon to open. At this point, it looks to be not only another excellent Annual Meeting but a momentous one.

Second, we want to share some information about one of the hotels selected six years ago for our meeting. The labor contract between the hotel workers at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square as well as a number of other San Francisco hotels lapsed in August of 2009, and they are in the process of negotiating a new agreement. While the negotiations are pending, the hotel staff, represented by Unite Here, continue to work under the terms of the expired agreement. Service at the Hilton Union Square has not been affected and the hotel advises us that they are confident a new agreement will be in place prior to our Annual Meeting. It is our hope that the hotels and the union come to terms soon and ratify a new contract that is fair to all parties.

In the meantime, Unite Here has urged a boycott of the Hilton Union Square until a new contract is ratified. Our Council, sensitive to the SBL’s respect for the rights, dignity, and worth of all people has considered how to respond to this boycott. After careful reflection, we have concluded that we will continue our arrangement with the Hilton Union Square but on a modified scale. In addition to the fact that cancelling the contract with the Hilton would be a significant financial liability to SBL and AAR, the Hilton will serve to provide much needed sleeping rooms for our growing meeting. It is important to note, however, that out of deference to the union’s position, SBL and AAR have agreed to move several functions to other nearby hotels.

Again, our hope is that the union and the hotels are able to ratify a new contract well in advance of our meeting. We are closely monitoring this situation and will keep the membership posted on any new developments.

The SBL Council

Well, in consideration of the struggle that wage earners in the private sector have to pay their taxes so that unionized public employees can have high paying salaries with excellent health care benefits and pensions, I am in solidarity with those folks, going to allow my membership to SBL to lapse.  I calculate being able to save roughly $2500 in conference fees, airfare, restaurants and book buying.

Craig Carter has some interesting comments.

Education bubble XII: Hiring policy, nothing to do with your merit

I was once interviewed for a job in Georgia.  It was a no brainer.  It was a small pentecostal college that had am academic dean with a master’s degree–it paid probably 30k, and so the money wasn’t anything special.  I waited weeks afterward and only to find out that they gave the job to a guy studying at an American seminary who ABD–nobody bothered to inform me.  The academic game had surprised me.  In today’s analogy, I was Lebron–I studied at prestigious university, my PhD was all but in hand, and to top it off, I could speak three modern languages, and had proficiency in Greek, Hebrew and Coptic.  It was a no brainer.  But in the end, the other guy received the call, and I was still out of job.  How could this happen?  I did everything right and I was ready to step into a job, and they give the job to some guy still working on his PhD!  Well, in the end, I determined that merit often has little to do with who gets a job in academics.  Here are the real criteria:

(1) Ethos:  Who fits into the reigning ethos of the school?  A recent graduate from an expensive school is not likely to fit in well at a small school in Georgia that puts no priority on research or writing.  Such a person has to be used to deprivation and self-sacrifice and must be satisfied with the small wage the school has to offer.

(2) Politics:  a recent informal survey of social psychologists at an academic conference showed that their profession is dominated by those on the Left side of the political spectrum. Only an extremely minute number were self-identified conservatives.  This sort of difference can only happen when the admission policies to graduate programs and the hiring policies intentionally weed out those of conservative persuasion, since the conservatives in the American general population greatly out number liberals.

(3) Diversity (=Affirmative Action):  Michael, who reneged on his obligation to return to Africa, was one of 160 candidates for a job at a Christian University.  When I pointed out that the reason he received the job offer was that the school was implementing a policy of diversity, he was offended, but I was able to point out the page on their website that showed that they were trying very hard and had even offered a job to Botswanan the year before.  Adjuncts who had been working their butts off at one seminary I taught at were passed over as white males to hire full-time females; the next three biblical studies appointments were women.  This wasn’t about their relative merit as professors but about increasing the number of women in the faculty.

(4) Old boys’ school:  J. F. K.’s essay explaining why he wanted to go to Harvard was lamentably lame, but he happened to mention that his father was a Harvard man, and he would like very much to study there too. [BTW, old boys could now be a bunch of liberal woman for all I know–I don’t belong to the club–in fact, I’ve never seen the inside of the club either].

Ok.  So lets consider this question from the standpoint of how good the education is, given that merit is not usually the reason why people get hired.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reviews a recent book by researchers of the products of university education in America:

Growing numbers of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a large proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent. At least 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment [CLA] performance during the first two years of college. [Further study has indicated that 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years.] While these students may have developed subject-specific skills that were not tested for by the CLA, in terms of general analytical competencies assessed, large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that it is widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern.

A cause for concern indeed!  You mean you can send  18-22 year-olds to school and they aren’t one wit smarter after four years of partying and learning about diversity and multiculturalism?  Wow! Who woodda thunk?

I have heard the dogma that if schools become indoctrinators instead of educators, strongholds of political correctness and diversity, that that makes them better places, richer and superior to the monolithic schools (read: professors are all white males) that prioritize academic achievement.  Yet after 30 or so years of this crap, we now have schools where large swaths of kids come out no smarter than they were before they entered.  So what does a BA mean today?  It means a huge debt without necessarily any usable or productive skills.  It means that a university education for something like a third of graduates is a waste of time and money.