David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
He Has To Get The Degree, Because This Philosophy Stinks to High Heaven

July 17, 2014

What do you think when you see the headline "College Presidents Returning to Classroom"?  I hope you would think that college presidents are returning as teachers to stay in touch with the business they oversee.

But you would be wrong.  Why are you wrong?  Because you can't return as a teacher if you have never been a teacher.

In this case, it's non-academic presidents returning as students.  This story talks about presidents enrolling in a University of Pennsylvania Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management program.  They are being encouraged to get the credential that will give them "a certain validation." 

I hate to succumb to my natural cynicism or skepticism in these blogs, but this story lends itself to that end.  So much that is wrong with education is encapsulated in this article. Allow me to review the evidence:

  • "Michael J. Sorrell has the distinction of being both a college president and a college student."  If I became the CEO for Ford, I would be both Ford President and a driver of a Ford.  The latter won't help with the former.
  • "Each month, the 47-year-old president of Paul Quinn College boards a plane in Dallas to make the three-and-a-half-hour commute to Philadelphia. . .  ."  O.k., who's footing the bill for this extravagant cost?  Even if it is not the college itself, it may still speak to the salary of the president.  If the average faculty member isn't having travel reimbursement for professional development, the odds are his or her salary can not afford at least half a dozen trips halfway across the continent every year.  Whose professional development is likely to be more meaningful to students?
  • “'My students need me to be a great college president,' he says. 'This degree will add value to my skills.'”  Notice that the statement is not that his faculty or staff need him to be a great college president.  Odds are that the best college presidents instill an infrastructure and a philosophy that allow the faculty and front-line staff to be what the students need.
  • "He said, ‘You’re still in an industry that requires a certain validation. There will be people who look at that,’ Sorrell recalls."  Notice the emphasis on the ends justifying the means, an end that is all about appearance and not about content knowledge.
  • "With an impressive graduation rate of about 90 percent and such super-star professors as Drs. Marybeth Gasman and Shaun Harper, the program’s cohort-model is made up of 24 students, enabling mid to senior level leaders to earn the Ed.D. in two years without an interruption to their careers." Why is it only the Ed.D. that seems to be achievable in two years?  Every other terminal degree, as far as I know, requires significant more time?  Why is this product so at odds with the basic product of the graduate university?  And why are Dr. Gasman and Dr. Harper superstars?  What are their credentials?  (Ugh!  A Google search reveals both have Ph.D.'s from Indiana University, the same place I got my Ph.D.  Et tu, Brute?)
  • "Sorrell has made his return to graduate school an institutional journey and has called upon his seasoned faculty to help coach him through the process. 'It’s an incredibly demanding workload. I need the support, advice and wisdom from my faculty,' he says. 'I’ve been willing to be vulnerable and ask for help. This is outside of my comfort zone.'” What does this mean?  An "institutional journey?"  Kind of reminds me why when I first read "Lord of the Rings," I wondered why all of this "pressure" was being put on the hobbit.   Why hire the least qualified person to do the most important task?  "One degree to bring them all in and in the darkness bind them."  Note that we still haven't heard a single faculty voice supporting his president's odyssey.
  • "Like Sorrell, Michael P. Schneider, president of McPherson College in Kansas, is also enrolled in the doctoral program at Penn. Schneider, who became president of McPherson at the age of 34, came to higher education vis-à-vis the business world."  34?!  Give me a break!  Enough said.

  • "The program at Penn 'is professional development on steroids,' he says." Uh, last I heard, steroids were not particularly a positive association for a metaphor.  I think that might be taught in one of his Freshman classes.

Perhaps most disappointing is that this article is in "Diverse," a journal that is apparently dedicated to diversity in education. I am all for that, but the article misses the most basic element of diversity in education:  there are two partners, teaching and learning.  These goals to send presidents back to college to get a degree pretends to value only the latter.  I wait for the day that we read of presidents going back to teach even a 6-credit load, that of the average adjunct that their empire is often built upon.