Thursday, March 1, 2007

What's Being Bought?

The AP article on student narcissism is a great example of what's wrong with our debate on students-as-customers. Debating whether or not students are customers is like asking whether or not there is climate change: it's a waste of time both because the answer is obviously yes and both cases, and, in both cases, the debate is a smokescreen for avoiding the more important and uncomfortable debate. For climate change the real questions are 1) what causes it and 2) how can we control it. For the academy, the real questions are 1) what precisely did students pay for and 2) what is to be the business model of a university?

Students narcissistically (I can now use that word with some scientific backing) think that what they are paying for is their *own* grade and their *own* service. What they (usually their parents) *actually* paid for, though, was collective (as opposed to one-on-one) teaching followed by a *meaningful* grade from a reputable university. Faculty then are giving their students the best possible service by giving them meaningful grades, by working to maintain the reputation of their university, and by ensuring that no one student's service causes that of the others to suffer.

Again, accept that the students are customers, accept that the university is a business, so we can move on to framing and addressing the more meaningful debate.