Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Getting Real About the Real World. Chuff Charlie Wakes Us Up.

"You see, university is a taste--and just a taste--of your responsibilities as an independent adult.”

It. Is. Not.

This comes up all the time on Rate Your Students, and I think your professorial readership is sadly, sadly mistaken on what the "real world" is like -- probably because they're in academia.

In the real world, bosses don't demand you have a doctor’s note if you call in sick. In the real world, companies don't have policies demanding you bring physical PROOF that you attended a funeral to prove you weren't lying about grandma's death.

In the real world, important meetings can be and are routinely changed because of scheduling problems or family disasters. In the real world, if my kid needs me at 2 p.m., I can go get him at 2 p.m. and make up those hours later. Not so in the university, where I’m marked "absent" and perhaps even marked down a grade for having the TEMERITY to go get a vomiting child who needs to see the doctor, NOW.

In the real world, I do not work for five or six different bosses who all insist their work is the most important I should be doing. The level of inefficiency this would create in the workplace would be staggering. My work is COORDINATED by my boss (not bosses) to ensure that 6 top priority items don't land on my desk all at once. And when 6 do? I share that work out with my colleagues and my boss and we all pull together to get it done. In academia, that’s called "cheating.”

At work, if I get a bad performance review, I work with my supervisor to fix those problems and improve my performance before my next review (rather like high school). At university, it's one and done. I get a C in the class, and I have no opportunity to improve it, ever. "In the real world, you won't get graded -you'll get fired." Hogwash. In the real world, when I screw up, I get TRAINED, because I cost tens of thousands of dollars in transition and training costs if the company fires and replaces me. It costs $30,000 in transition and training costs just to bring someone into a new secretarial position, let alone a professional position.

At the university, *I'm* the one paying the costs, so you have no incentive to train me to do better. I don't have a different supervisor every six months who slaps a label on my work and doesn't give a rat's ass what happens next because they never see me again. Many university students are badly behaved and treat college as a four-year bar tab. I get that. I saw that. And it's not even really their fault, because corporate America is suffering from diploma creep that requires people to have BAs to do jobs trained monkeys can do. They really are there just to get their credentials so they can get a job in which they will never use them. They're putting in time. But for professors to pretend that college even VAGUELY RESEMBLES the real world for students is staggeringly ignorant of the realities of the world outside the academy. The university treats students like they are in high school (mandatory attendance, doctor's notes, etc.) and whines that they don't act like adults, and then on top of that adds all these rules and arcane that ONLY apply to the university, and then has the breathtaking arrogance to claim this is "the real world" and students better get used to it.

There’s a reason C students do better in "the real world." Those kids who are driving you bat-shit and socializing and schmoozing and trying to wheel and deal you are going to grow up to be CEOs and top executives and bishops and PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

Your A students are going to be miserably overworked lawyers suffering from depression or alcoholism, or doctors trying frantically to jump ship before the insurance companies destroy the entire profession, or adjunct professors trying desperately to claw their way back into academia where they're GOOD at things, because the real world? Not so much their thing.

What you do matters. Knowledge for its own sake is a glorious thing, and of course a liberal arts education is the education needed to be a functioning member of a free society. I have nothing against the university. I loved it. But FOR GOD'S SAKE, stop insisting the academy is the real world.