Saturday, December 8, 2012

Customer Service in the Classroom

I support liberal education. I believe in everything that it stands for. Sadly, just by the association of the term "liberal," many attack the concept without even knowing what the definition is. From the Harvard website:
... an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students' awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially. College is an opportunity to learn and reflect in an environment free from most of the constraints on time and energy that operate in the rest of life.

(I highly recommend anyone involved in higher education to read the entire Harvard site -  'The Value of a Liberal Arts Education')

Utah educators have been under attack by local politicians. They see trade schools based in vocational trade to be a better model for our society. The chairman of the Utah Senate Education Committee believes that a liberal education is a "degree to no where."

This is what educators and students face on a daily basis. Dealing with the question of "Does what I'm doing matter?"

I will always be a champion for a liberal, well-rounded education. It is, after all, this exact educational platform that enabled our free-thinking, founding fathers to establish this nation, on -what was at the time- extremely radical theories and rhetoric.

(here comes the but....)

Anyone who has attended a semester of college understands what it's like. Some professors "get it." They are teaching because they love what they do and want students to succeed.

For others, their interactions with students are more akin to that of a disgruntled DMV employee than that of a mind-opening mentor.

As the the world is now focused on application, on "get me in and get me out into the world" mentalities, coupled with the explosion of online post high school learning options, professors are going to be forced to take some hard looks at what they do and how they do it.

I am enrolled in three classes right now. Mid-semester, one of my professors could no longer teach the course, and the department was scrambling to find an adequate replacement.  Luckily, for the department and for us students, a Ph.D. working in the corporate sector was able to come in and fill the void for the valence of the semester.

He had no time to plan for a class during the summer months, nor the benefit of being able to pull from lesson plans and lectures which he'd used in previous semesters of teaching the same course. On top of his full time job, he picked up the ball for that class and was able to have well-planned, engaging lectures with our class. I was blown away at his commitment to the students.

In speaking with him privately, I asked if he would be returning to teach. He said no, that this was a one-time deal to help out the department, and that they couldn't pay him what his time was worth, compared to what others do. All of which made sense to me.

As the semester is ending, even though this "substitute" professor came in mid-way through the semester, he was able to correct all of my assignments, projects, and papers, and then return them to me with comments (so that I could apply his direction to the next assignment). Mean while, the professors of my other two courses, who are long-time, tenured veterans in their fields, have yet to grade anything for the semester (I guess I can't apply their direction to... well... any assignments).
My point of this post is a simple one. With the many higher education options available, and the ever increasing tuition rates of traditional college and universities, professors will soon have to adopt basic principles from the corporate world. Students are the universities' and professors' customers. If professors can't apply the most basic of customer service practices, their clients will spend their money else where, and not even tenure will save a professor with no one to teach.

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