This is an interesting question…one that I’ve thought a lot about but somehow I keep getting stuck on it.
I think the thing that sticks out to me is the expectations that are placed on faculty. On the first day of class, we came up with a list of 22 distinct jobs that faculty are called to do. If they did a 40 hour week, that means they have less than 2 hours to do each task per week. Most classes meet for at least 3 hours a week, so they’re already behind without even beginning to grade. “Research” was listed as one of the 22 tasks, without breaking it down into components. Can you imagine a world where faculty only spend 2 hours a week doing research? I don’t think Virginia Tech would continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants every year with that philosophy. So what ends up happening? Well, professors work. A lot.
So what would I change about higher education today? I would put less focus on doing everything and more focus on doing some things well. While this may not seem like it would have a big impact on the way education is done in the US, I think our culture has become so focused on doing everything and doing everything better than the next person that we don’t just enjoy life anymore. I’ve seen it in the workplace, but the place I see it the most is in my faculty. They are all swamped with work, running around and trying to do a million different things at one time. While many of them do manage to do a good job of teaching, researching, and giving me feedback, I know that there are other areas of their life that probably suffer.
Did my adviser just miss dinner with his family because he stayed late to meet with me?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is a problem that is limited to education, but it’s the thing that I most want to change about American culture, and academia is just one place to start. What if our college students saw in their professors people who know how to say no in order to have the time to say yes to the things that really matter in life? Would they enter the workforce with a different perspective? Would that result in those students, now professionals, making choices that will enrich their lives rather than just their bank accounts? Could we learn how to just chill out in America?