To the Editor:
Several times over the past few years I have found myself frustrated and saddened by the vehement intolerance in The Chronicle's online comments sections for for-profit educational institutions. What upsets me most is that I'm part of that for-profit machine. Although I cannot deny there are some problems with the model, I have found that teaching—real classroom teaching—isn't part of the problem. I work tirelessly to make sure my students are receiving the best education I can offer 20 hours a week in the classroom for eight weeks at a time, 11 months out of the year, and I take it as a personal attack of my character when anyone even suggests I offer a subpar education to my students. And why shouldn't I be offended? That sort of generalization of all for-profit institutions, and by extension for-profit faculty members, is offensive.
I'm frustrated because at a time when faculty members across the board should be standing together to better the educational process, we've somehow been divided and encouraged to rail against one another. We accuse one another of being "bad" professors if we teach for any type of for-profit, whether private or publicly traded, or whether accredited, reprimanded, or touted as epitomes of the for-profit and career-focused model. We cite evidence that shows us falling victim to fallacious propaganda and incomplete or inaccurate data that "proves" all for-profit institutions are big bad wolves preying on innocent and dumb-as-doorposts students who waste federal tax dollars when they should just apply to state colleges so they can be told they aren't smart enough (or good enough ball players) to go to college.
The logical fallacy of generalization seems to be overruling good sense and reason. As educators, we should know we should only warily believe statements that include a direct or indirect reference to absolutes like "never," "always," and "all." Yes, some for profits are big bad wolves, but not all. Yes, some educators are lazy and ineffectual, but that has nothing to do with whether or not they teach at a nonprofit or for-profit school. Teaching at a for-profit institution does not make an educator lazy and ineffectual. Teaching at a nonprofit does not make an educator a stellar example of pedagogical prowess. Yet the generalization persists; we imply students aren't learning anything in these so-called "diploma mills," a term that has in some instances become synonymous with "for-profit," and that makes me sad. Real learning takes place in the classroom, after all—my classroom, where I have data to prove learning is taking place.
Who or what is pushing these generalized attacks? As Joe Nocera points out in his 2011 article "Why We Need For-Profit Colleges" in The New York Times, "There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of for-profit education. The for-profits have flaws, but so do nonprofits, with their bloated infrastructure, sky-high tuition, out-of-control athletic programs, and resistance to change. In a country where education matters so much, we need them both." Why are we pretending the nonprofits don't have the same problems we have? I know faculty members at state colleges. They have illiterate students. They are told not to fail anyone. They are told to push them though and retain, retain, retain. On the other hand, my students all read, and no one has ever asked me to push through a failing student. Never in five years. Never.
So I ask, isn't there room for all of us in the forums? Can we talk about our common issues without resorting to attacks on one another's employers? Do I have to remain silent in the face of libelous accusations that I'm sitting in my classroom cackling maniacally while I rake in federal tax dollars and watch my illiterate students fail? Granted, there might be such an English professor out there doing such a crazy thing, but it isn't me, and it isn't the lady across from me, and it isn't the lady down the hall or the man sitting behind me. We're doing what we all do: We're planning lessons, grading papers, reporting objective-based assessment results, conducting research, and planning conference travel or professional development. We're teachers. We do this because we like teaching. Stop with the finger-pointing nonsense.
Amy Lynn Hess, Associate Professor, Herzing University, Atlanta, Ga.