David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   

July 31, 2022

A provost oversees many projects, none less important than program decisions: What gets developed? How well are they performing once developed? How do you determine an eventual discontinuance?  With 15 years in this role, I come to these decisions more and more a conservative, sure of few certainties, especially with new program proposals. I must still be compassionate to the various constituencies whose lifeblood is enrollment, admissions directors, deans, even college presidents, but compassion clashes with common sense.

In the end, since academic programs sit firmly between Department of Education/Accreditation expectations and institutional growth, a provost's main challenge is trying to get his colleagues to see that people are always at the risk of undue influences when making program recommendations. Is the program the core passion of the proposer? Is the program lauded by industry but ignored by potential students? Does the program's promise for enrollment obfuscate the start-up costs?

I sat through two webinars this week that attempted to mine "real data" to help show colleges and universities where some new program growth might come from. They cited Google searches, job posting trends, and other market information. In the end, several of the programs were ones I had seen proposed over the last few years. I learned nothing particularly new.

Perhaps that is because nowhere in any of those webinars' information was there something about social media influencer. Owens Community College in Ohio announced recently that it was starting a certificate program in media influence. Inside Higher Ed (IHE) posted an objective story about it, highlighting the reasons why to start it and the reasons why perhaps not. Given the return on investment of such a degree, I would be hesitant to start one unless I was sitting in one of the country's 4 or 5 largest cities where resources could support the hungriest of graduates.

What most bothers me is that the certificate continues to promote the superficiality of our culture, the acceptance of "the psychology of persuasion" (as mentioned in the IHE article) at a time when propaganda, post-truth, and conspiracy theories are all rooted in that psychology. It's a shame that within the same week, one news source was highlighting this new certificate program while a second, The Atlantic, was publishing the in-depth "Yes, Social Media Is Really Undermining Democracy," by New York University's Jonathan Haidt. I suspect combined readership of both came up short to Ted Cruz's latest tweet.

At a time when colleges and universities are getting beat up by all sides, promoting critical race theory and liberal values overall, while being too costly and not leading to jobs, I just want to fall back on what colleges are supposed to do. Train our citizenry to think deeply about subjects and to question everything.

Since I can't do that, I, as I frequently do, versify:


You, who stand at the confluence,

Of who you are

And who you want to be,

Want to get it all so easily.

We, who fall short of affluence,

In the name of curriculum

Design plans to spin your narratives

In the guise of declaratives.


Meta means something more

In the worlds we inhabit,

Our platforms are our soapboxes

With no time for Snapchat.

Subject matter expertise,

A Masters in the subject

(Or so the HLC decrees),

Creates our ultimate authority.


Recognize you'd do better with plastics,

Ms. Braddock,

Here a lift, there a tuck,

And frankly a good dose of luck.

If you want to be content,

Depth won't ever get in the way,

But here's your first lesson,

It's never really about what you say.

No Bieber in the academy

Beyonce not even in our galaxy,

Kylie, Khloe, Kim where names matter

As the product society's after.


But don't let these warnings influence

Your decisions or your dreams.

I'm just the living continuance

Of your baby boomer memes.

Come on in, sign up if you must,

You might qualify for our aid,

In ten years when the industry is a bust,

We'll toast this grand charade.