University Professors Teach Too Much: Part IV

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

I know there wasn’t supposed to be a Part IV, but at the risk of boring you, and since this is my fantasy list of improvements, here are miscellaneous items that contribute to the degradation of education.

Bloated Administrations

There are Presidents—many of which now have degrees, certifications swearing ability, if you like, in “college administration”; which means that the market has recognized a need to train the bloat—Deans, Associate Deans, Assistance (or, if you prefer, Assistant) Deans, Provosts and underlying hierarchies, Vice President galore, a plethora of capital-O Offices with their associated staffs. The legion of non-teaching “professional” coffer drainers marches on, marches on, assimilating all in their path.

About 80% (a guess, but in the ballpark) of these nice bureaucrats can be fired tomorrow and would not be missed. They wouldn’t be needed if my divisions of trade school, college, research institute existed. But the temptation would be to reproduce the current hierarchy at each division. Given Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, this could be a problem, so the number of non-teaching “professionals” should be capped by treaty in advance.

Russell Kirk suggested that administrators be housed in the smallest and least appealing building on campus. But when these folk perused his book, they read “largest and most opulent”, a natural mistake. Correct this.

Incidentally, most capital-O Offices are designed to placate student whininess. Mike Adams writes that “at least on our campus, the African Americans get a ‘Cultural Center,’ the Woman Americans get a ‘Resource Center’ and the Hispanic Americans…get a ‘Centro.’ But the LGBTQIA Americans only get a ‘Resource Office.'” (I’m not sure what all the letters in that last one stand for.) Students often forget that they are in school to learn, and fearful administrators often forget to remind them.

What Should Be Taught

I suggested (in Part III) that “computer science” students should be housed in trade schools and not college. This is because the vast majority of enrollees in this subject only want to secure a job in programming, web or game design, or the like. These earnest, honest folk really don’t need to know more than the basics. (In a strange twist, professors, insisting on purity (and theory), won’t teach what most of these kids want to learn. Teaching actual languages is seen as an activity…best left to trade schools?)

Hey! Wouldn’t it be nice if computer students knew all about unsolvability, Turing tests, the theory of languages. It would indeed. It would also be nice if they knew all about differential equations, analysis, group theory, quantum chemistry, string theory, all the various niceties of electronic engineering, and so on, plus (for their customers) Spanish, Chinese, and French. And since no education would be complete without a thorough understanding of history, give ’em that. Shouldn’t they know something about literature? And writing? And a slew of other subjects? Yes, absolutely. Let’s well-round them!

My program doesn’t eliminate all these beautiful frills (as seen in the eyes of students), it merely places them in college. There would be no bar to entering a college save ability (and money). But again, the vast majority just want to learn enough to get a job. Let them! If they need to learn more, then can pick up what they need on the job or—get this!—on their own. Those few—Nock’s remnant—who feel the pang and pain of empty skulls can enroll in college. And some of them, upon graduating, can progress to apprenticeships in research institutes.

This all goes for the other trade school majors, of course.

How Long?

Trade schools should last from between one and two years, no longer unless the need for more is absolute. Every subject does not need the same time to train. “Communications”, “Journalism”, “Business” of any kind can all be packed into twelve months easily. And that’s “twelve months”, not “two sessions of sixteen weeks” plus a lengthy summer and plenty of holidays. “Nursing”, “Engineering” would take two, possibly three years. Etc.

However, no kid will stomach a mere “Associate’s” degree when “Bachelor’s” are to be had. So call all graduates “Bachelors” and save their precious egos.

College should take three years, not four. An immense savings in time is had by removing political requirements (training in “sensitivity” etc., “Introduction to” courses, and so forth), and more time is cut by eliminating electives. Three years of intense, focused reading and writing. This is boot camp.

Wither Diversity?

The carrot I can offer administrators (whose focus is solely politics) is that my plan would increase this precious commodity, for obvious reasons.

College As High School

An increasing proportion of kids come to college/trade school unprepared in the basics (even though, in honor of their self-esteem, they may be co-co-co-…-co-valedictorians). It doesn’t matter whose fault this is, it is still futile to place a kid who can’t read or multiply fractions in college/trade school. Thus one more division must be created to re-do the job the teachers in Wisconsin (etc.) did not do. Call this one “Preparatory School”, where in one (full-length) year, students are re-taught what they should already know.

If we do not do this, and in the name of political correctness continue enrolling the unable, courses must be, as they already have been, “dumbed down.” Or, if not, the flunk out/drop out rate would be too high (see Wither Diversity).

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.


  1. Briggs


    Also see this.

    After you have finished reading it, read it again (incidentally, all but a few of my Algebra Sans Algebra students majored in “Communications”; if these kids were in trade school, they would not have been required to take my course, which would be better for all).

  2. JH

    If we do not do this, and in the name of political correctness continue enrolling the unable, courses must be, as they already have been, “dumbed down.” Or, if not, the flunk out/drop out rate would be too high (see Wither Diversity).

    Hmmm… you think the very very very few students who have benefited from a certain ideology are the problem? Mr. Briggs, may I suggest that you pick a different target.

    I am all for more students attending trade school… many benefits, including that it might cost me less the next time when i need to hire an electrician.

    Nope, we don’t need more administrators who spend most of their time in meetings.

  3. Briggs


    You misunderstand. The political correctness I have in mind is that which says “All students can learn, thus all can enroll.” However, since it is unfortunately true that minorities have poorer high school backgrounds than do whites on average, and if all (of any race) are enrolled, then minorities will drop out of college at higher rates than whites (on average). And this is indeed what we see. That is, it is an empirical fact.

    You agree with me that courses have been dumbed down? (Mostly at the introductory level.)

  4. DAV

    Ironically, Adams (of Also see this) is professor of criminology — one of those trade school subjects. Even more ironically, he wants to eliminate classes that end in “study/studies”. Loosely speaking, an “-ology” is a “study”. The words used make all the difference I guess. Just the same, it does appear that schools recognize they are mere parking spaces and are not really expected to prepare anyone for anything but then who’s to say that “Alcoholic Beverage Consumption Studies” aren’t preparation?

  5. JH

    Yes, some community colleges have the policy of “All students can learn, thus all can enroll.” But what other schools have this policy? At least not the one I am working for!

    I don’t know about the dropout rate for minorities. However, again, they are not the problem. What’s wrong with dropping out of college? Perhaps, it’s a valuable lesson in life.

    I haven’t dumbed down my introductory statistics courses, I think, but my teaching pedagogy has changed throughout the years due to technology advancement and the fact that I love to try different strategies in my classes. I do notice that students expect higher grades and are less motivated.

    Great education system or not, it would never work without motivated and well-prepared students. Who is responsible to prepare our young adults for success? The key is to find out how to and what motivate young adults, imo. Genetically decided? Economic downturn? Hardship in life? I’d love to know the answer.

    As it is now, students can choose what they want to do and reap what they sow. What better world than this?

    I went through an education system that required me to take a college entrance exam to be admitted to college. Is it better than the current American Higher Education System? I can’t say, each has its own merits and flaws. However, I like the American system better.

  6. Briggs


    Standards may be strict where you are, but they were not so strict where I was (judging by the abilities of the students). Of course, if part of the standards are high school grades, then standards slip via grade inflation.

  7. Briggs


    Right on. If Adams were in a trade school, he’d never see this students. And if those students were in a trade school, they’d never see Adams.

  8. Speed

    People who want to work for Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, Intel and Adobe doing really interesting and really hard stuff start with a degree in Computer Science. Completing such a degree from a top level school (Stanford, MIT, CMU etc.) will get them an interview at one or all of the above companies. During the interview process they will be tested several times by several people to see if they learned and can use all the hard stuff. These places are generally language agnostic.

    Top level engineering schools demand that their students learn a lot which is why they get interviews at demanding companies. The degree has value.

    People without Computer Science degrees from top schools will get interviews at less demanding places and will get less challenging and less interesting jobs.

  9. What a novel approach….a “preparatory” type of school.

    Included in the curricula might I suggest at least three solid months of 8+ hours per day hard manual labor? A course including seeing to the routine maintenance, cleanliness and restocking of public restrooms, the servicing of restaurant grease traps, the manually tipping of residential garbage cans into collection vehicles and other worthwhile tasks dedicated to meeting societal needs while learning life is hard and mommy and daddy won’t always be there to ensure it is “fair”?

    Admittedly nothing in that work experience course is overtly academic, but life’s lessons learned in such a manner might serve to eradicate a certain amount of the stupidity gene Briggs and Adams – and even JH – seem to report.

  10. Speed

    From today’s Wall Street Journal.

    Soon the notes will arrive, if they haven’t already, from deans entreating your son or daughter to come spend the night on campus, loaf in the student union, and dine for free in the food court that has replaced what primitive peoples once called the “cafeteria.”

    The highlight of this wooing, or so the schools hope, is “Accepted Students’ Day.”

    A bright and energetic upperclassmen led us on a campus tour, walking backward while enthusiastically describing the school’s unrivaled attributes. He spoke of the majesty of the new gym, the Olympic size pool, the hot tub—one of the largest on the East Coast—the saunas and steam rooms. The food court, we learned, offered a number of vegetarian and macrobiotic options. We might be surprised, he said, how many bars were within easy walking distance of campus. (We weren’t.) When someone inquired about course work, he offered his cheerful assurance that BSU professors were “really great.”
    [my bold]

    An admissions official at a small midwestern university once told me that weather was the greatest predictor of student acceptance — if the campus tour was taken on a bright day with blue skies, touring high school (soon to be) graduates were more likely to select the school.

  11. Bruce Foutch

    Mr. Briggs,

    Seems this education topic is making the rounds: (Sorry, posted in Part 1 in error.)

    “From Students, a Misplaced Sense of Entitlement”

    By Elayne Clift, in The Chronicle of Higher Education

    “It was the semester from hell. In my 20 years as an adjunct faculty member, I had taught in the Ivy League and at community colleges, in Brattleboro and Bangkok, in under­graduate and graduate schools. Never had I seen such extraordinarily bad behavior in my students.”
    “When teachers refuse to lower standards, those students seem to resort to a new code of conduct that includes acted-out rage, lack of respect, and blame. That behavior is fueled by the absence of clear standards from the administration, and of administrators who care about learning, not just financial ledgers.”

  12. William Sears

    I completely agree with your complaint about administrative bloat. But I wondered about the need to certify swearing ability (Gordon Ramsey comes to mind) until I re-read your sentence more carefully. This process, the bloat not the swearing, represents what I call administrative capture. Many organisations suffer from this tendency, not only at present but throughout history. With administrative capture, not only is there an increase in non-productive personal but the busy-work is down-loaded and eats up the time of front line faculty who would much rather spend time on teaching or research. One reason for this is that new administrators cannot actually do the jobs for which they were hired and must recruit from among the faculty. Once they have filled up one set of binders with information that no one reads, a new set is started. One bizarre observation is that the department of institutional analysis is constantly asking the academic departments for the same data over and over again. Data that is routinely stored in their own computer system but which they do not seem able to access, so that we have to recreate it from hard copy, if this can be done at all. When they do present data it is full of errors, the same errors over and over again.

    Despite my earlier statements, there are some aspects of your plan that I like, especially the shorter degrees (diplomas). However, we will never get there through government planning, and administrative bloat can only be attacked through a drastic reduction in government funding. Education is not underfunded. It is overfunded.

  13. George Steiner

    Public opinion dictates the course of public education in the US. For things to improve public opinion must change. There is a job for you Mr. Briggs.

    But here is my $1.99’s worth.

    Have only the following schools: elementary, secondary, technical college, university.
    All through the schools there are no chosen subjects.
    Elementary starts at 7 ends at 11.
    Secondary ends at 14.
    Sciences and at least one language starts at 11.
    At 14 you choose either a gymnasium or a technical college.
    No year is less then 11 subjects. All exams are oral and written.
    Even in technical college you must take literature, history, language.
    At 18 you get a job or go to university. Easier from Gymnasium less easy from technical college.
    University is minimum 3 years, standard 4 years. Even in science and engineering some humanity and a language is mandatory.

  14. Ken

    Reading this series of blogs about University Bloat & Scerlosis reflects a very typical organizational pattern: Those in charge get comfortable, then complacent, then opportunistic–exploiting whatever opportunities make for easy-pickings (hence ____ Studies courses, etc.). In parallel, since they’re in charge, they devolve into a sort of self-serving club designed to cater to their power/ego needs (e.g. via titles) despite whatever noble assertions are made.

    A good example is the government of France, and the French military, right before & as the Nazis invaded. Between the commencement of the invasion & capitulation, France’s arsenal of military aircraft (and also, I think, its tanks/armoured vehicles) INCREASED. But the authorities were too corrupt & incompetent by then (except at bureaucratic manipulations & power plays–which is, like it or not, a valuable skill).

    So, it seems, what modern academia needs (with a handful of “good” schools excepted) is some sort of invader to upset the status quo.

    Put another way, such institutions rarely succumb to change until & unless some outside force forces the issue, or, they self-destruct under their own incompetence (often via a failure to adapt to changing external circumstances & thus becoming obsolete/irrelevant).

    They are, in other words, very robust once established & fed.

  15. Briggs


    See this story from the American Spectator. They call my trade schools “career colleges.” Why does the Obama administration not like these institutions?

    Emails and related correspondence obtained from a series of Freedom of Information Act requests suggest stock market short-sellers including at least one who was a major donor to the 2008 Obama campaign had unusually strong involvement in the Ed Dept’s process of crafting new regulations impacting career colleges.

  16. Ken

    Hey, guess what…a US Senator, [‘I really worked hard for the title’] Boxer, is encoraging law schools to be honest to their students about career prospects…and since law schools clearly lie to their students its hard to argue that the students are the school’s customers–more like they’re the school’s “hosts” (with the schools being a sort of parasite).

    Here’s the story:

  17. Jesse

    What would profesional schools be under this model? I assume they woudl follow under the trade school section, but require a foundation program before getting in. (pre-law, pre med, pre-end, etc) as some will require significantly more than 3 years of post high school education.

    Engineering would follow under this as well. There are already 2-3 year “trade school” engineering programs as technicians / technologists. Any engineer wanting to real design work or professional licinsing would need the post-grad professional program on top of a foudnation program.

  18. JH

    Mr. William Sears,
    I know exactly what you are talking about in your first paragraph!

    Mr. Briggs,

    A college campus can only legally accommodate a certain number of students, so only the top certain percentage of applicants will be accepted. Grade inflation becomes irrelevant.

    Do you have any evidence that students’ abilities have decreased at a certain university? I don’t.

    Does your high school GPA accurately reflect your ability? How do you measure abilities?
    I’ve heard that in general our IQs have been increasing during the past 50 years.

    What should the minimum requirements be for getting into a university? How would you assure that they will be motivated and have good work ethics once they get into college?

    How to motivate our students? Answers wanted! An easier question is how I can be a great teacher!?

    Well, faculty has been voicing the same complaints since I arrived here more than 25 year ago. The remedial classes also existed 25 years ago.

    Back when I was in college, only the top 15% of HS graduates, based on the entrance exam scores, were admitted into college. The university I attended enrolled the top 10% of the 15%. You know what, I am pretty sure that my economic professor who graduated from Harvard complained about how stupid my class of 50 students were!

    I don’t like to make unhelpful blanket statements about my students because I cherish the good ones. Yes, I also don’t like to complain about the younger generation, especially that we are the ones who raise them and that I know how I was in college.

    There are plenty of choices, trade schools or colleges, which is a wonderful thing. I am not saying that the current system is perfect. However, ultimately, whose job is it to advise our young adults and to inject them with good work ethics? I say education reform should start within our own home.

  19. GregO

    Here’s my story. You may find it interesting considering the line of thinking here.

    I dropped out of high school. Joined the Army (during Viet Nam). Came home and went back to school. It didn’t work out. Went to jail. Got out. Went to work. Went to trade school in drafting and mechanical design. Got a job. Got married had kids. Went back to night school. Got an engineering degree. Got a management degree. Had a successful career as an engineer and manager. Quit the business and started my own engineering and manufacturing company. Have four patents and seventeen pending. Am currently training two engineers – and have a PhD.d on staff.

    I absolutely agree with Briggs. Our education system is dysfunctional and utterly broken and there needs to be a system that trains vs. educates people. How could I have so fallen through the cracks and ended up in the Army and jail? Both guys I am training (a brilliant machinist and another talented drop-out like me) fell through the cracks.

    Here’s a big part of the problem as I see it. Education from secondary school on, has largely concerned itself with the socialization of students rather than educating them. That socialization process has over the years tilted further and further to the left and away from traditional values. Young engineers lack critical thinking skills and are very prone to seek approval from authority rather than seek truth from an analysis of nature from the laws of physics and mathematics. It is disheartening; but easily corrected if a forceful positive position is taken – untruth fades in the presence of the bright light of competence and confidence in experience.

    Briggs – I’m glad you are bringing up our education system. For the “longest time” I thought it was me; and only eventually over time did I slowly realize the real problem is our system of education and what has become of our society’s values.

  20. Walter Sobchak

    Mr. Briggs: Thank you for an excellent series of essays on this important topic. I agree with almost everything you wrote.

    One point that deserves attention in turning your ideas into action is the education of doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

    My grandfather was a lawyer, as were my father, and as am I. My grandfather went to law school in the early twentieth century. At that time it was an undergraduate program. It is still an undergraduate program in Canada and the UK.

    My father had a couple of years of liberal arts education before he switched to the law program. Many years after the fact, the school upgraded his diploma from an llb (bachelor of laws) to a BA and a JD (juris doctor).

    By the time I started law school, and yet today, I was required to complete my BA before going to law school. The law school awarded my a JD.

    There is no reason why law needs to be taught only to people who have BAs. Quite frankly, the school could be undergraduate. Further the three year program of all law schools today is too long by at least a year.

    There is no reason why law should not be an undergraduate major, or even a trade school subject.

    My wife has a PhD in Clinical Psychology. The amount of school required to become a licensed psychologist is ridiculous. Being a psychotherapist requires maturity, patience, listening skills, and empathy, but it does not require a dissertation with charts, graphs, and footnotes.

    I am much less familiar with medical education, but I note that the science requirements of a pre-med are not that all consuming, and with the AP program, may be completed without a college course other than organic chemistry.

    Of course, with all of these professions, and many more, laws will have to be changed.

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