Re: “State of the University should include undergrads,” Editorial, Feb. 1.
Research. Grants. Graduate studies. Rankings.
President Judy Genshaft’s address did not speak of – let alone to – USF’s undergraduates. The focus on rankings was not a rhetorical or a strategic failure by our president. It is symptomatic of a more chronic ailment. And that ailment is commodified education.
This state is obsessed with the “accountability” of its public services. To maximize their efficiency, we apply business models to such services. The FCAT infamously exemplifies the influence of this proclivity in the field of education. Following the lead of business, measurements chart (or claim to chart) the educational institutions’ effectiveness; in colleges, graduation rates serve as such a measure. While many of us balk at attempts to understand education as a commodity, most subtly accept the metrics we use to measure success and failure. In doing so, we perpetuate a false sense of accountability in our system.
Consider, for example, four-year graduation rates, which are conventionally associated with academic success. What difference do these make in actual learning? Why cite such numbers in a university with a large non-traditional, part-time population? The average age of USF students is 28, and our mission seeks to serve these kinds of students in our region. Such metrics do not reflect this mission or anything of the quality of our undergraduate education.
Such metrics are useful to an extent; they may point to poor habits in government spending. But if Florida values only what can be measured, we end up with the commodification of education echoed in yesterday’s address. According to such rhetoric and our funding priorities, economic development – not education – remains the top priority. The Oracle’s criticism is consistent with the Pappas Report in this regard, but that does not mean that Dr. Genshaft’s focus is off. She is doing her job very well; it’s the job description that’s the problem.
Job descriptions are spelled out by metrics. The current metrics exclude undergraduates, and the citizens of the state need should evaluate their efficacy – and USF’s undergraduates need to be among the first to do so.
Frank Harrison is a senior majoring in history and is student body president.