Quests for Uni

Right now I am sitting in Union station by Gate H waiting for a train, train #150 to whisk me away to Albany for the weekend.  I packed pretty lightly with my friend in tow.  I honestly feel strange to not be doing work right now, to just be able to sit and do whatever I want to do.  What does that mean my semester has become?  Further what does this feeling reflect about my views towards education?  I wonder if that intensive workload I heaped upon myself has caused me to harbor hard feelings towards a college’s mode of operation:  work until you can’t function.  I started to read David Allen’s work on stress free productivity and marvel at how low I have sunk to necessitate someone telling me how to relax.  Admittedly I feel pushed beyond my limits and question the normal process of being a college student.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by programwitch
First we must consider the aspects of being a student that must be drawn into our questioning.  The university has centered itself along different lines involving students.  It primarily functions as a space for students to come learn from professors and other faculty that the university administrators hire.  It’s second feature of course is to encourage the growth of healthy student social activity.  For most universities the first is a much easier requirement to satisfy than the second.  Student life usually gets relegated to clubs and organizations on campus for students to join and participate.  Sitting on top of these two is the university’s greatest concern, keeping the flow of money constant through student applications and good reputations, essential keys to turning a profit.

Although club work takes us to a whole other level of problems, I want to just focus on the university’s way of producing stress through its academic programs.  The image above jokes at the solution for the stress yet, you will find if you go to flickr and find the photo a comment reading:  “I had this very thing posted in my university office for a number of years. It got a lot of laughs — and many folks wanted copies!!”  Even in the university office others are laughing at this statement.  What does it tell us?  I think it speaks to the fact that everyone feels the workload crunch and laughs in some ways to commiserate with all those whom suffer at the hands of heavy workloads.

I cannot speak from the angle of a college professor and will not attempt to do such.  However, the typical college student at the liberal arts institution must take a rack of General Education courses in order to fulfill degree requirements, besides the general requirements, major programs have their own significant hurdles.  Every program will require its own unique set of requirements in order to ensure the student that he/she has been receiving the education for which they paid; however the requirements often force students to take on hefty work loads in order to graduate on the four year track, because at least to me there seems to be some stigma attached to graduating late, as even the term Super-Senior feels degrading.  “Oh here’s  a college student that just couldn’t manage his time right.”

The amount of credit hours required to be considered a full time college student is, at least for my institution 12 credit hours, this roughly translates to 4 courses (unless of course you are taking labs which end up being 4 credit hours instead of the traditional 3).  Each course has a list of expectations in terms of both participation and assignments.  These assignments can range anywhere from extremely easy and fun to time-consuming.  When taking a heavy course load, the student can easily become overwhelmed with the level of work involved.  Yet at many times this is what a university requires of a student to complete a somewhat possible task but not with a feeling of satisfaction.  Perhaps I step a boundary to far and criticize that I fear in many ways I complete a whole set of assignments, then have to ask myself what I truly learned.

These thoughts are not articulated well enough yet, and I don’t claim to fully even understand where my problem with higher education lies.  However, I think we must ask ourselves as students and faculty what a B.A./B.S. should mean.  I won’t reduce the question to an A or B, because it is more complex than that.  However, who should define what the degree means?  If I want an education experience that puts me fully centered in studying China, why should I struggle against gen eds.  Furthermore (and most importantly to me) should a senior be taking the same amount of classes as the Freshmen?  While one could make an argument for the seniors being better trained to handle a rough courseload, I think this to be an absurd point.  Credit hours ought reflect the difficulty of a course with the intention that the student needs to focus specifically on that course.

Even if you read this post and believe it says nothing at all.  At least consider the core question of how academia functions for the undergraduate student.  Please post comments and add to the discussion.

The Panda wonders.

2 Responses to “Quests for Uni”

  1. Reverend says:

    Panda very phoilosophical. Panda wonder, Panda must read bava to learn more…yes, yes.

    Now young jedi, your questioning is a sign of learning, learning a sign of understanding that institutions are always fraught with exigency and curricular requirements that do more to stifle and restrict and expand and explore a subject. This is particularly true at UMW when in comes to geneds, it is still far too prescriptive, and for me brings into question the very logic of a liberal arts degree which should be all about looser requirements and more exploratory curriculum in the early years. And you right, this should loosen up as you become an upper classman even more. But the university as business, and this is not just UMW but a much larger pandemic, often frames progress through a taylorized system laid out clearly for anyone to follow like a good soldier. And that gets even scarier when we get into assessment, in fact this post is much bigger than what even you think it is. It’s a very healthy realization that institutions do as much to suck your soul and waste your time as they do to bring you together with great people and challenge you on many levels. The complicated part is they do both, and we can’t simply focus on one without risk of losing the other.

    What I really would like, is to see students bring this questions up in a more vocal fashion, and have a dialogue between faculty students and administration that can start pushing UMW towards a re-thinking of some of these assumed truths of curriculum, gen-eds, and assessment—it is a moment where we can and need to think about what an education could be like, not should be like.

  2. Grace says:

    I should read your blog more often. I’m reminded of 19th c. Russian Lit professor Dr. Sergay’s comment on “overloaded students being taught by overloaded professors” –such a way to “learn”!