Kevin Carey's commentary in the Chronicle pulls no punches:
"Trust us."The CHE also has a brief excerpt from the book, starting with this striking analogy:
That's the only answer colleges ever provide when asked how much their students learn.
Sure, they acknowledge, it's hard for students to find out what material individual courses will cover. So most students choose their courses based on a paragraph in the catalog and whatever secondhand information they can gather.
No, there's isn't an independent evaluation process. No standardized tests, no external audits, no publicly available learning evidence of any kind.
Yes, there's been grade inflation. A-minus is the new C. Granted, faculty have every incentive to neglect their teaching duties while chasing tenure—if they're lucky enough to be in the chase at all. Meanwhile the steady adjunctification of the professoriate proceeds.
Still, "trust us," they say: Everyone who walks across our graduation stage has completed a rigorous course of study. We don't need to systematically evaluate student learning. Indeed, that would violate the academic freedom of our highly trained faculty, each of whom embodies the proud scholarly traditions of this venerable institution.
Now we know that those are lies.
"With regard to the quality of research, we tend to evaluate faculty the way the Michelin guide evaluates restaurants," Lee Shulman, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recently noted. "We ask, 'How high is the quality of this cuisine relative to the genre of food? How excellent is it?' With regard to teaching, the evaluation is done more in the style of the Board of Health. The question is, 'Is it safe to eat here?'"
I have to say that whatever the responses to this book, the conversation it has sparked is long overdue.