In College Turmoil, Signs of a Changed Relationship With Students
Given all that has happened on so many campuses over the last few years, it’s hard to pick the one that has been roiled the most by struggles over political correctness. But Oberlin College would certainly be in the running.
A widely discussed series of events there included the demand for a so-called trigger warning to students who might be upset reading “Antigone”; complaints about the ethnic integrity of the sushi in a campus dining hall; and a petition, signed by 1,300 students, calling for a semester in which the lowest possible grade was a C, so that anyone skipping classes or skimping on studies to engage in social activism wouldn’t pay too steep an academic price.
In the view of more than a few observers, these students were taking liberalism to illiberal extremes. But their actions were arguably proof of something else as well.
Students at Oberlin and their counterparts elsewhere might not behave in such an emboldened fashion if they did not feel so largely in charge. Their readiness to press for rules and rituals to their liking suggests the extent to which they have come to act as customers — the ones who set the terms, the ones who are always right — and the degree to which they are treated that way.
Twinned with colleges’ innovations to attract and serve a new generation of students is a changed relationship between the schools and the schooled. It’s one of the most striking transformations in higher education over the last quarter-century.
It’s manifest in students’ interactions with colleges even before they enroll, as those institutions, intent on increasing the number of applications they receive and on snagging as many valedictorians, class presidents and soccer captains as they can, come at them as merchants, clamoring for their attention, competing for their affection and unfurling their wares with as much ceremony and gloss as possible.
And what wares those are. Colleges have spruced up dormitories and diversified dining options, so that students unwind in greater comfort and ingest with more choice than ever before. To lure students and keep them content, colleges have also fashioned state-of-the-art fitness centers, sophisticated entertainment complexes and other amenities with a relevance to learning that is oblique at best.
High Point University in North Carolina is in the midst of an upgrade of more than $2 billion that includes millions toward amusements like a putting green, a game arcade, an ice cream truck and a theater with free movies and free popcorn.
北卡罗莱纳州高点大学(High Point University)正进行耗资逾20亿美元的升级换代，其中数以百万美元计的资金被用来建造休闲设施，譬如一片果岭，一个游戏厅，一辆冰淇淋车，一家可以免费看电影吃爆米花的电影院。
Campus water parks — with pools, slides and man-made rivers — have become just common enough that when Louisiana State University recently plotted its own, it decided that the river should spell out the letters L.S.U., so that it was no mere mimic of all those other, lesser collegiate waterways.
有着游泳池、滑梯和人造河流的校园水上公园如今已经变得颇为常见。路易斯安那州立大学(Louisiana State University)不久前规划自己的水上公园时，决定用人造河流拼出“LSU”字样，这样一来就不仅仅是对其他学校的水上公园的简单模仿，而且会让它们相形见绌。
“We devote all these resources to creating, basically, country clubs with libraries,” Barry Schwartz, a longtime professor of psychology at Swarthmore, told me. Swarthmore, he said, has resisted the trend more than other colleges — no water park there — but has not been immune to it. No institution is, and Mr. Schwartz placed much of the blame on sharp increases in tuition and other expenses. When families are asked to pay $60,000 or more a year, the transaction takes on a more bluntly commercial aspect.
“Costs go up,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Parents expect to get value for money. They measure value in a different way. We provide that value, which raises costs, which creates more demand, and the cycle continues.”
But amenities aren’t all that is different. The interactions and balance of power between student and teacher are as well. I don’t recall ever filling out a professor evaluation when I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1980s. It’s possible that such forms existed, but they were not used consistently or presented to us with any sense of urgency.
但不同以往的不仅仅是校园里的便利设施。我记得自己在1980年代初就读于北卡罗来纳大学教堂山分校(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)时，从未填写过评估教授教学表现的表格。这类表格当时可能存在，但并未得到持续利用，也没有人带着哪怕一点点急迫之情将其拿给我们。
The opposite was true when I taught at Princeton in the spring of 2014. Students could not see their grades for a given class until they had filled out an extensive report card, including numerical ratings, on the class and on the instructor or had formally declined to do so, which few did. The instructor was privy to those ratings, with the students’ names erased.
I’m told by many of the professors I know that this practice is more or less the norm. Coupled with websites on which students rate their teachers, it has enormous bearing on how fully enrolled an instructor’s classes are, on his or her reputation and — thus — on his or her career. And what is perhaps the greatest driver of student satisfaction with a professor? The greatest guarantor of glowing reviews? The marks that the professor doles out. Small wonder that grade inflation is so pronounced and rampant, with A’s easy to come by and anything below a B-minus rare.
Students get the message that they call the shots. Catharine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar, told me that when she began teaching in the 1980s, students never came in to complain about grades. “And back then,” she added, “you could get a C.”
学生接收到的信息是，一切都由他们做主。瓦萨学院(Vassar College)的校长凯瑟琳·邦德·希尔(Catharine Bond Hill)告诉我，她在1980年代开始授课的时候，学生从来不会跑来抱怨分数太低。她还说，“那时候，你可能拿到‘C’。”
“Now students will come in and complain about a B-plus,” she said.
That’s not all bad. Students should absolutely have a voice in their education, and guaranteeing them one keeps professors and administrators accountable. “Faculty can be very resistant to change,” Mr. Schwartz said, “and ‘entitled’ students apply needed pressure.”
The old approach certainly wasn’t perfect. “Professors used to be a bit of a priesthood,” Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who has written extensively about campus unrest over recent years, told me. “That could dissuade challenge and argument.” Both are essential to learning.
The rightful passing of that paradigm created a need for new ones, and Mr. Haidt said that the two in vogue now were “the therapeutic model and the consumer model.” In accordance with the first of those, students regard colleges as homes and places of healing. In accordance with the second, they regard colleges as providers of goods that are measurable and of services that should meet their specifications.
And that has imperfections all its own, the best laundry list of which appeared in “Customer Mentality,” an essay by Nate Kreuter, an assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University, that was published by Inside Higher Ed in 2014.
这种模式本身有许多不足之处。西卡罗莱纳大学(Western Carolina University)英语系助理教授內特·克罗伊特尔(Nate Kreuter)在题为《消费者心态》(Customer Mentality)的文章里对此做了很好的总结。这篇文章于2014年发表在了《高等教育界》(Inside Higher Ed)上。
He noted a “hesitance to hold students accountable for their behavior,” be it criminal or a violation of what is too frequently a “laughable university honor code.” He noted an expectation among many students that their purchase of a college education should be automatically redeemable for a job, as if college were that precisely vocational and the process that predictable.
“That’s simply not how life works,” he said in a recent interview. “So we have a lot of students who are disenchanted.”
But what does the customer model do to their actual education?
“There’s a big difference between teaching students and serving customers,” said Mr. Schwartz at Swarthmore. “Teachers know things, and they should be telling students what’s worth knowing and what’s not, not catering to demands.”
Too often, he said, “we’ve given students a sense that they’re in just as good a position to know what’s worth knowing as we are, and we’ve contributed to the weakening of student resilience, because we’re so willing to meet their needs that they never have to suffer. That makes them incredibly vulnerable when things go wrong, as they invariably do.” He was speaking in the context of sharp upticks at many colleges in the number of students reporting anxiety and depression and turning to campus mental health clinics for help.
“I see this as a collective abdication of intellectual and even moral responsibility,” he said.