Sunday, May 02, 2010

Drinking And Not Studying At The American University
Or At Mine, Anyway

At my university:

(1) The administration publicly frets about the fact that students drink too much (and here they drink more than is average even for American university students).

(2) The more serious members of the faculty privately fret about the fact that students don't study enough.

(3) Both the more serious administrators and the more serious faculty-members fret about grade inflation, which is a real problem here (and elsewhere).

Students don't study enough, so far as I can tell, largely for the following reasons:

(i) Most of them are not very interested in learning.
(ii) The parties around here are good and frequent.
(iii) A large percentage of classes are so easy that students do not study, do not attend classes unless attendance is mandatory, and often do not even buy the books.
(iv) Even respectable classes are affected by (iii), because many students have developed an in-some-sense reasonable expectation that they will not have to work hard in their classes. They have also come to expect that if they do deign to crack a book, they will get an 'A' or a 'B'. Combine this with the fact that many instructors live or die on the basis of their student popularity scores (aka "student evaluation" scores), and there is even more incentive for professors to ease up on grades.

Now, the student drinking problem is treated in a medicalized way, and it is treated as a problem that is isolated from (and more important than) the problems of grade inflation and student sloth. And this baffles me.

Were we a more rigorous and intellectually respectable institution, an institution where the average class was challenging, and roughly average work got a roughly 'C' grade, the problems of student sloth and excessive drinking would solve themselves.

Of course not every institution is Princeton, and not every institution should be. But when students can not only get by without studying, but maintain a 'B' average to boot, well, a very large number of them are going to do so. Hell, I would probably do so. The faculty sets the tone for the university by determining the incentive structure. Make courses so easy that no effort is required, and no effort will be expended. In this respect, the average student is no different than the average any-other-type-of-person.

There's a kind of silver lining here, I think. Although the disintegration of intellectual standards is the bigger problem, it is viewed by the administration as being unworthy of concerted attention. The drinking problem, however, is something they seem to take seriously. If they can be convinced of the link between the two, perhaps we can not only solve the bigger problem, the disintegration of standards, but also mitigate the problem of excess drinking as well.


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