Jeffrey D. Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. If you're an elected official, political operative or anyone else upset at his views, don't go bothering LSUS or LSU System officials about that because these are his own views solely.
This publishes Sunday through Thursday with the exception of 7 holidays. Also check out his Louisiana Legislature Log especially during legislative sessions (in "Louisiana Politics Blog Roll" below).
A warning sign of what may come from remaking Louisiana higher education sends a chilling message to those who advocate for improvement of standards.
Recently, Louisiana State University Baton Rouge yanked one of its professors from the classroom for reasons not disclosed, but almost certainly having to do with her insistence on high standards. This occurred as debate over the future of higher education in the state continues to intensify.
Reforms proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Legislature leadership, the Postsecondary Education Review Commission, and a number of interest groups push for higher graduation rates. Part of the package strongly encourages schools to raise their admission standards and undertake other efforts that allows for more rigorous instruction and expectations of students pursuing baccalaureate degrees.
The problem is that (an observation gleaned by me from a quarter-century in academia) most people in academia, from top to bottom, follow the path of least resistance. They more likely do what is convenient than what is best if the latter means demonstrating courage and fortitude. This shows why the action taken against the LSU professor is not at all unusual, compounded by the fact that at its upper levels higher education in Louisiana is overbuilt (we need not review the dismal statistics that show on a per capita basis Louisiana has more institutions and spends more than almost all states – yet has some of the worst outcomes).
To be blunt, institutions run scared of students too often. Because there is not enough demand for quality higher education in a state whose demographic statistics show that demand is only going to decrease in the next decade, institutions are too willing to bend over backwards to cater to students wants, at the risk of disserving them with a quality of education that does not demand enough from them, scared they will take their tuition dollars elsewhere.
This creates an unhealthy race to the bottom mentality that threatens these reforms. After all, what is the easiest way to boost graduation rates? By lowering standards which would moot totally reforms.
Unfortunately, this is a difficult thing against which to guard. Unlike elementary and secondary education, at the tertiary level because of the wide diversity of fields of study it is difficult to come up with standardized and comparable instruments to assess the objective abilities of students that could help rate the jobs being performed by faculty members. Further, the incentive systems for faculty performance are skewed precisely to reward less-stringent demands. For example, evaluations of faculty members (as research has shown) are strongly correlated with the demanding nature of courses: easier teachers get higher marks from students, and often these results are a substantial component to computing compensation and are used as input to other personnel issues.
Whatever policies get enacted dealing with boosting graduation rates, which one would hope is predicated on increasing the quality of and demands made by instruction, policy-makers must ensure that instructors who ask a lot – because it will create more learning and better critical thinking abilities in students – are not unduly harassed for their efforts. What is happening at LSU certainly is not a good sign. Policymakers must find a way to make sure that these individuals (who must work harder themselves the more they ask of their students), if not the ones rewarded the most for the efforts, are not disproportionately punished in the chase to maintain enrollments.