Students who can’t get into elite schools through the front door based on academic merit don’t change once they’re in class. They can’t do the work, and are generally uninterested in gaining the skills they need in order to do well. Exhibit A from the recent admissions corruption scandal is “social media celebrity” Olivia Jade Gianulli, whose parents bought her a place at the University of Southern California, and who announced last August to her huge YouTube following that “I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend. But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying … I don’t really care about school.”
Every unqualified student admitted to an elite university ends up devouring hugely disproportionate amounts of faculty time and resources that rightfully belong to all the students in class. By monopolizing faculty time to help compensate for their lack of necessary academic skills, unqualified students can also derail faculty research that could benefit everyone, outside the university as well as within it. To save themselves and their careers, many of my colleagues have decided that it is no longer worth it to uphold high expectations in the classroom. “Lower your standards,” they advise new colleagues. “The fight isn’t worth it, and the administration won’t back you up if you try.”
For untenured faculty members, the pressures created by this setup can be a threat to their careers: it’s very difficult to teach well, let alone do the research and publishing necessary to keep your job, when you’re being hounded to provide a remedial education on top of an already heavy set of official duties.
Even for tenured professors, whose jobs are supposedly secure, becoming known as someone who won’t “play ball” by giving the sports star or the legacy an easy pass can mean exclusion from important opportunities and sources of support. So we suck it up as we recap our lectures for students who couldn’t attend due to golf team practice, or teach them skills most Americans learn in high school, or create extra credit assignments to bring up their marks.
This kind of thing has easily added 10-12 hours a week to my workload, and I know I’m not alone in that respect. As one of my colleagues put it, the unskilled and entitled students will “eat you alive”. Over the past decades as an instructor, I have seen my teaching workload increase dramatically despite holding the same number of courses in the same subjects. What has changed is the proportion of unqualified students in the classroom.