By Dr. Harold A. Black
Excellence in higher education is hard to define. How can you tell if a professor is doing a good job? I’ve always said that so long as my students didn’t run from the room with their hands over their mouths, I guess that I was doing ok. Or better still, I guess that I did ok when I get feedback in later years. I heard from a student who had my class 10 years ago and said how much he hated me and hated the class. But now he wanted to thank me for making him work hard for that C. I just heard from a student who had my first class taught at the University of Florida in 1972 who had retired and said that my class was what motivated him to be successful.
I retired ten years ago and, even then, standards were being lessened by the universities. There were no longer term papers. Exams had become true/false or multiple choice. There were no more reading lists and books on reserve at the library. Those professors who refused to dumb down their courses found themselves with bad teaching evaluations, complaints from students and pressure from administrators. The hassle wasn’t worth it for most and they caved. At the undergraduate level, I taught seniors. Many were functionally illiterate. They could not spell, write or do basic math. They did not know literature, history, geographic or politics. Many students had no idea how many senators were in Washington or even how many senators the states have. I said, “What have you been taught all these years? If I had the power, I would flunk all of you – not because of what you know in finance but what you don’t know about anything else.” I would not want you to be a graduate of my university. I actually had a student who asked me, “Why should I know anything?” Why should I know math when I have a calculator on my iPhone? Why should I know geography when I have MapQuest? Why should I know English when I have a word processor with grammar and spell check? Students were not intellectually curious. And these are our best and brightest?
I used to say that the world is made up of three types: the 3 percent that make things happen, the 7 percent that know what’s happening and the 90 percent who haven’t a clue as to what’s happening. I was naïve in thinking that the easy access to information would change the percentages and more people would know what was happening as people availed themselves of information that was virtually costless. I was wrong. The youth today is no better informed than the youth of my day. I find their ignorance appalling. If these are our college students then what about the masses?
The universities are not helping the situation. In fact, they are making things worse with lessened requirements, lower standards and providing less rigorous education. Students today may not know history, English, civics or math but they do know climate change, diversity, equity and inclusion and Critical Race theory. They can’t even define what is a woman! The universities now turn out graduates who do not read, lack writing and communication skills, are short-sighted, do not believe in the American dream, have been taught to hate capitalism and are not patriotic. We should not be shocked when our leaders turn out to be ignorant ideologues.
When I retired, I felt I was at the height of my powers. Changes in technology made it easier to research and produce academic articles. Technology also made my teaching more interactive and more fun. My consulting business was thriving. I had been an editor of a first-rate academic journal and the president of a major finance association. I had won awards for teaching, research and civic involvement. As much as I love what I did, my undergraduate students were driving me to distraction. Teaching PhD students was not enough to keep me at the university so I let the younger professors deal with the mess. The world is run by those between 50 and 65. Fortunately, by the time this bunch gets into power, I should be dead.