We college professors have a unique dress code these days. It's one of the more enduring legacies of the '60s. To give you an idea of the way it looks, I was dining with a handful of faculty members in the cafeteria not long ago and we were mistaken (so help me) for a roofing crew scheduled on campus.
And then, of course, the '60s left us with no last names. These days we're all, students and faculty alike, shipmates on the sea of familiarity. If he were alive and teaching today Prof. Wilson would be "Woodraw" to his students. Maybe even "Woody."
After all, students and faculty stood shoulder to shoulder just a decade ago to stop the war. And now that everybody has climbed down from the barricades, it would seem silly to turn back to that old formality. After pouring Molotov cocktails with our own students, we all sort of mellowed out. Threw out our ties, put on old blue jeana. You get the idea. Just call me Ivan.
There are, incidentally, other mellowing factors on ampus which are a legacy of the '60s. As we look forward to 1980, it's a good time to examine some of them. No more draft, for instance. This means enrollment isn't artificially swelled by students majoring in deferment. Of course, there are fewer students anyway, because there are fewer people of traditional student ago. The children of the post-war boom have passed through the system. Winners and losers
Since virtually all institutions of higher learning adhere to some kind of faculty-student ratio, loss of students means loss of jobs for the professors. So a kind of civil war breaks out among faculty members. Winners attract students, Losers re exiled. On my campus, for example, a thanatopical troika of shrinking enrollment, overwrought, taxpayers and desperate legislators caused the loss of 56 faculty positions last year -- almost 15 percent of the total.
Under that kind of pressure, academic departments change themselves into collegiate circuses trying to attract students into their respective tents. When I taught at a university in Washington state, competition became so intense that professors were running around tacking posters to trees to advertise their courses. In most instances the offerings were designed not so much to educate students as to entertain them: philosophy courses on Dylan (and I don't mean Thomas), psychology courses on J.R.R. Tolkien, English courses that study soap operas. No term papers, no final. Translated, of course, the posters mean: Come on in. This course is fun. It's easy, it's righteous. Hell, it's downright mellow. What's more, the prof dresses like a roofer and you can call him Ray.
Of course, aged faculty snoremongers aren't really affected by all this. They can continue their somnolent lectures undisturbed. Protected by tenure, they know any job losses within their respective departments will be borne by their younger colleagues.
Ten or 15 years ago, if nothing else materialized, academic job seekers could always find a junior college somewhere. But Prof. Stephen Stitch, placement director at the University of Michigan philosophy department, tells of two qualified philosophers who wrote letters of application to every junior college they could find listed in the United States -- 2,000 of them -- and received 2,000 rejections. The situation is not quite as poor in fields such as chemistry or economics, but Labor Department statistics are grim now and grimmer in their forecasts.
In the last five years alone, more than 125,000 new PhDs have graduated for whom no jobs exist. By 1985 that number is expected to reach almost 400,000.
Consequently, the post-'60s campus has a kind of advertising agency tension seething beneath the mellow veneer of first names and blue jeans. New professors, who must secure tenure within seven years or face automatic dismissal, feel the hot breath of that mob of academic supplicants out driving cabs and selling insurance.
Does that mean they double their efforts to educate students? Not exactly. Which brings us back to those circus tent posters. Because the way to keep students on your side is to please them, and to do that you not only must draw them into your tent, you must get them to like you once they're in there. Because otherwise they won't give you the kind of evaluations you need to keep your job, which brings us to yet another legacy of the '60s -- student evaluations of their professors.
For while college students were busy grinding the Vietnam War to a halt, they took a little time out to secure certain powers within the university structure. One of those powers was the right to evaluate their own professors. Specifics vary, but most campuses now have some program whereby students, after taking a course, can evaluate both the material and the teacher, then turn their findings over to the university. To anyone who's ever had to sit through some awful professor's semester-long monologue of monotony, this would appear to be an idea whose time is long overdue. It is.
Trouble is, no such measurements are taken by administrators or other professors. By default, student evaluations become the only program to gauge teaching effectiveness. We used to hear a lot about the "publish or perish" syndrome. Now it's please or perish, and it's the students who must be pleased. Their evaluations figure significantly in a young prof's struggle for tenure and promotion, and the students know it. Meanwhile, higher education struggles with still another legacy of the '60s -- the abandonment of required basics. For while the students of a decade ago were stopping the war and winning some control over their professors, they also won the right to "relevance" in the curriculum. Translated; this means they no longer have to take courses they don't want to take.
A 1976 study at the University of Montana, for example, revealed that less than 26 percent of its graduating seniors that year took courses not relating to their majors.
But even within the confines of their own majors, students aren't attaining the same achievement levels as previous generations. Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have dropped every year since 1963, and no one seems to know what to do about it except soften standards to accommodate the poorer students. Even mighty Harvard and Yale have been forced to lower their entrance requirements.
One might well ask, of course, why colleges should be at all to blame for lower test scores of high school seniors. Well, let's just look at English courses. Hundreds of thousands of those nonspelling, nonpunctuating free spirits who spent their college English classes discussing "As the World Turns" have graduated since the '60; many of them have gone out to teach elementary and high school, thus infecting a new generation of students with their cavalier levels of literacy. Some, it must be said, have even gone on to graduate and into collegiate faculties.
I once confronted a journalism senior in Washington about his inability to punctuate or write a grammatical sentence. He was a nice fellow, cheerful and straightforward. He planned, he told me, to be a public relations man. It's true he didn't know much about "that grammer stuff," he said, "but I figure what's the difference? My secretary can handle it."
As more students like him graduate and seek to enter the job market, many of them wind up clerking in department stores. Entering students, seeing this, become more vocationally oriented and choose job-related majors. That means the liberal arts professors lose students and, as they do, they come under even more pressure to pander to student demands.
Reduced to barking outside their circus tents, some professors become less than candid in their spiels. Not long ago I heard a history professor tell his interviewer over a university radio station that job prospects for history majors were bright, that corporations were even seeking them out. Tell that to corporate personnel directors -- they certainly haven't heard about it.
In fact, that particular professor's own university placement service could have informed him how his department's 1978 graduates had fared in the job market. Some six months after graduation, fully 21 percent were unemployed. This doesn't look particularly awful in these hard times -- until you discover that an unspecified but large slice of the remaining "employed" graduates were waiting on tables, pumping gas and worrying about their future, Still other "employed" graduates were studying history in graduate schools -- therefore only postponing that awful day of job reckoning. Don't anger the students
On today's campus, those old academic searches for truth and excellence give way to other priorities. Untenured professors have admitted to me (always with a mixture of anger and shame) that they even find themselves steering their lectures away from controversial topics; they don't want to get any students angry with them.
During the '60s, of course, universities enjoyed more controversy than they cared to handle. Students made demands which startled administrations into retreat, upsetting centuries of status quo. Angered by the prolonged campus militancy, alumni, legislators, boards of regents and the general public joined the attack against universities. Administrators responded to these and related pressures by saying, "I surrender. You can do what you like with the others if you'll just let me be." Who were the others? Students, faculty -- the entire campus community, in fact, with the exception of the administrators themselves. The trend continues. At the University of Montana, when 56 faculty positions were thrown to the mob, not one administrative post went with them.
If the student activists who led the charge in the '60s would return to campus to see how thei aims have been channeled, I think most of them would feel betrayed. But they're not here anymore, and we students and faculty still on campus are left to deal with the outcome. Even so, we're only intermediaries. Society at large is the true recipient of what we do here.
Students not held to reasonable standards of scholarship and authority are cheated by their educations, unable to distinguish between art and entertainment, substance and hoopla. And professors dressed like roofers are only aping caricatures of themselves.
But then, with the exception of certain tour guides at Universal Studios, everyone complains about his work, after all. Believe me, college is still a fine place to be. You ought to enroll yourself. Hell, no, you don't have to call me "Professor Goldman." Hey, I'm damn glad to have you in my class, brilliant buddy. Just step atround those gigglers in front and take a seat. Sure, you can come in late. Here, let me light that for you.