Credentialism is Cruelty

May 8, 2006 | 129 comments

I’ve complained before about credentialism. Now it turns out that top experts, credible men with Ph.D’s in their field, agree with me. My friends think I must be some kind of genius, and, yeah, they’re probably right.

Points the gentlemen make:

1. The more people that go to college, the less useful college is as a signal to employers. The result is that one as to spend 4 years and thousands of dollars just not to be left behind.

2. Employers tend to overvalue the benefit of a degree–in many jobs and professions, the performance of the college-educated was not significantly different from the performance of those who had high school diplomas (I have some questions about this. The article does not give very many details of the studies from which this conclusion comes, and what information there is is more suggestive than conclusive. Certainly in technical fields college teaches something, and even in non-technical fields college probably serves as a signal that the person is somewhat dependable, task-oriented, and otherwise imbued with a minimum of bourgeois virtue. Could it really be true that this signal is false? Perhaps. But I think the real issue is probably the cost and the length of college education as compared to the benefits. Is there really no cheaper and shorter way to send a signal that one is reliable, etc., than getting a college degree?

3. Credentialism tends to reduce social mobility because it makes it harder and more expensive to break into certain high-status professions.

Credentialism is cruelty. Youths going to school in hopes of a better life find themselves still even with the pack and with a host of debt (a partial explanation, I think, for Americans increasingly postponing marriage and family, even among the Saints).

What to do?

Stuart Buck, who tipped me off to the article, has a wild answer:

Just throwing out an idea here, but maybe Congress should ban all but the top 20% of students from going to college. (Or maybe 25%? I’m open to negotiation on the exact percentage.) Counterintuitive, no? But that might be the only thing that would work. There’s a collective action problem here. If everyone else in a society is racing to get the best credentials, then you as an individual may well be worse off if you drop out of the race — even though everyone in society would be better off if more people dropped out. Same for businesses: If you’re the human resources director for a corporation, and you know that most hard-working and intelligent people in our society do in fact have a college education or a graduate degree, then it is only rational for you to demand those credentials too — even if their formal education is going to be absolutely useless on the job.

But with a ban in place, you’d have a lot of people in America who would be hard-working, intelligent, and deserving of good jobs. And the people doing the hiring would recognize that fact. They would no longer be able to assume that if you lacked a college degree, you must be in the bottom 30%.

One of the academics in the article I link to suggests making it illegal to require formal credentials in hiring (which strikes me as another wild idea, and unenforceable to boot).

Probably there isn’t an answer. We can do what we can to stop treating degrees as a measure of social status; to encourage youth to think seriously about the costs and benefits of education and the way it will open some choices and cut off others; as LDS employers, to encourage ways of sorting potential employees that don’t require four year degrees; and to resist measures that make formal degrees a legal requirement for working in more fields.

What’s really needed is a better signal that doesn’t require lots of schooling, but I confess I don’t know what that would be.


129 Responses to Credentialism is Cruelty

  1. Jim F. on May 8, 2006 at 10:38 am

    I don’t have an answer; like you I’m not sure there is one. However, the problem with Buck’s “solution” is that it would make the problem worse rather than better. By making a college education a relatively rare commodity, he would increase its cultural and psychological value. If only 20-25% or so of the population could go to college, they would quickly become a new elite. Not all employers could hire them, but everyone would want to do so. Everyone else would be assumed to be second best.

  2. Dianna H. on May 8, 2006 at 10:44 am

    I have to agree that in some cases the requirements for a degree are simply foolish. When my 7 children were grown and I was looking for work in my field (I graduated in Sociology) I applied for a job teaching parenting skills. I was told that they could not hire me since many of the people taking such classes paid for them from insurance and the insurance people required a Master’s degree. Now, the lady doing the hiring agreed with me that I knew more about parenting than a 20 something with no children and a Master’s degree but she couldn’t hire me. I then went to work for a mental health agency working with Severely Emotionally Disturbed Children where my supervisors were 30 years younger than me and most had no children. My supervisor asked me one day what I thought we should do about a certain behavior in one of my clients and I told her if we waited awhile it would go away. He was a 7 year old boy and was acting like a 7 year old boy and would probably grow out of it. Which, incidentally he did a short time later. She said she wished she had my knowledge of children’s behavior and I told her it came from experience, not school, and she would probably have to get it the same way I did. It was also a rule in that agency that supervisors had to have a Master’s degree. Making a bachelor’s degree plus life experience totally worthless means that in today’s world many more people must have Master’s degrees. This increases time and cost and does not insure better people in the job. There has to be a better way but we will have to get around institutionalized requirements for degrees and/or advanced degrees to do it and I don’t see that happening, at least not soon.

  3. rtswen on May 8, 2006 at 10:52 am

    I think one of the more concerning aspects of credentialism is the tendency to gauge success in terms of efficiencies rather than education. Stated another way, the desire of the student is to earn a degree to compete and make more money, and the desire of the corporation is to hire credentialed employees – but a significant weight is placed on credentials that apply directly to the functions of the job. Universities, to compete, are narrowing the focus of their programs, and thus creating a culture of efficiencies wherein a broad, critical education suffers at the hands of technical programs (MBA, MSE, etc.)

    The trend is towards specialized and focused education, and while this technical focus is necessary for fields such as medicine, such a trend applied broadly in the name of efficiencies is short-sighted and creates an environment wherein we have a high number of people with graduate-degree credentials, with only a small percentage of those actually trained to critically think, analyze, and communicate at a level that traditional graduate studies implied. The University is becoming a purveyor of a commodity.

    This is distressing, because in today’s world it is not very difficult to find information. The challenge lies in discerning whether that information is good or bad. An education limited to how to perform tasks, how to solve problems, and how to accomplish objectives leaves the student ill-equipped to distinguish reliable information from pseudo-information if that education does not provide a foundation from which to think critically, analyze, judge, and communicate.

  4. sue on May 8, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    I think that barring entry to college to the top 20% is a very bad idea. If people have a rough start in life, it would preclude them from ever advancing beyond that point, educationally. I can’t imagine barring access to education and improvement for 80% of the interested population. Recipe for disaster in my opinion. Rather than only relying upon degrees as an indicator of knowledge, companies can implement other measuring systems.

    I do a little consulting with a variety of firms, helping them to design pre-employment testing that will more accurately measure a given candidate’s skills, knowledge and suitability for a particular position. Many have found that whether or not the candidate holds a related degree, even an advanced degree, is not necessarily a reasonable indicator of their suitability for a related position. Instead they determine the core competencies each position in their firm requires, then develop testing programs to ensure they get the candidate who is the most knowledgeable in each area. (Of course, this is often a barrier to candidates who don’t test well, but accommodations can be made.)

    Of course there are many fields where this is not practical, but it is becoming very popular in the human resources world at large – I’ve implemented it for financial institutions, tech firms, title companies, production oriented firms, etc. I believe this is a positive trend – it is not elitist. If you have the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job, you have the opportunity. If you do not have the skills and knowledge, you are not assumed to be qualified because of your degree. Testing can provide at least a basic measurement of critical thinking skills. I agree that critical thinking skills are lacking in many candidates – but haven’t found it to be limited to those who are not college educated. I’ve been appalled at the lack of writing ability and skill throughout the population – college educated or not. Frightening.

  5. DHofmann on May 8, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    “What’s really needed is a better signal that doesn’t require lots of schooling, but I confess I don’t know what that would be.”

    In the world of computer programming, real world experience works pretty well, although there are still employers that require a degree just to get an interview.

    I’m just finishing up my degree. I’ve discovered there were gaps in my knowledge despite my work experience, and a degree helped to fill in those gaps. I feel I am more valuable to my employer, not because I have more credentials, but because I have the additional knowledge I gained by pursuing those credentials.

  6. Lamonte on May 8, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Hiring the right person is a complex and difficult process. In many cases the degree doesn’t necessarily say anything about the person’s skills. As an architect, I learned more about construction in my first three months of work experience than I did in five years of college. But I think the possession of a degree says something about the individual and their drive to accomplish something. In my profession we often have discussions about whether it should be a requirement to hold a professional license to qualify for the job. Obtaining a license involves much more than getting a degree. Some argue that in many jobs an individual’s license is not necessary because the owner of the firm is the one who stamps the drawings. Still some jobs that architects perform do not require certification of documents. But others argue, myself included, that possession of a professional license says something about the individual and their commitment to the profession. I will not argue that there are those with immense talent who never make the effort to obtain their license. Despite that fact they make a significant contribution to the profession. And so in my profession it really depends on the specific needs and the attitudes of those doing the hiring. I personally believe that credentials are important, if for no other reason, because they say something about the individual’s drive and commitment. As for the rest of the occupations – I really can’t say.

  7. Mark Butler (II) on May 8, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    The proper way to fix this problem would be to make a high school diploma a reliable indicator of serious academic achievement, rather than just an accumulation of “seat time” and a modicum of perfunctory compliance.

  8. Sarah on May 8, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    What’s alarming to me is that credentials actually aren’t all that important anymore. My college degree, when I get it in December, will probably get me a $4/hour raise for most of the jobs that employers would consider me qualified for. The only higher paying jobs that just want a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts are management training positions (where they teach you what you need to know, in large part by having you work lower-level positions to understand how the company functions.)

    This, of course, is why I plan to go to law school. If I’d known how things worked when I was 17, I would have done internships and devised mentoring programs and started my own business to pay for college on my own — I have to go to law school now in order to pay off my undergrad loans, because the other major option is to learn how to manage an Enterprise Rent-A-Car location or Target store. Ooh, or direct sales, whee! I’d much rather have gone to college knowing that it was only for my own benefit, rather than thinking it was the key to getting a good job (and therefore an appropriate thing for which to risk taking on so much debt.) For the record, I’ll probably go to a bottom-tier law school, since I can get 100% scholarships with my LSAT score, and thus avoid adding on even more debt.

  9. Jonathan Green on May 8, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Adam, it strikes me that an attack on credentialism is a bit of a broad brush. I agree with you that most endeavours need fewer formal barriers to entry and few need more, but not every field is alike. Sometimes excess credentialism is better than the profusion of quacks or disdain for actual expertise that decredentialism might unleash. Not being a doctor or lawyer, and seeing how legal and medical education works differently in other countries, I’m not convinved that only holders of a BA are eligible for training as doctors or lawyers. On the other hand, I want my anaesthesiologist to be board certified, and I want my grandparents to see an MD rather than a herbalist.

  10. TMD on May 8, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    I strongly dissent from the view that credentialism limits social mobility. Without a credential-based system, I think it would be much harder for people from non-upper-class backgrounds to break into high status professions, like management, law, or academia.

  11. CS Eric on May 8, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    I agree that, in the ideal world, experience is often more valuable than a degree, or class standing. Every time I have had an opportunity to establish qualifications for a position (attorneys), I only require a transcript for those with less than five years’ experience.

    Some places still look for class standing to fill the job. I have been practicing for 20 years. If the amount and quality of work I have done over the last 20 years is less important to you than where I graduated in my class, then I’m not sure I really want to work for you.

  12. MikeInWeHo on May 8, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    re: 2 Dianna’s experience highlights the problem of what I would describe as credential inflation. Essentially, a bachelor’s degree in the 1950s got you as far as a master’s degree does today. That’s an over-generalization, but it seems to be occurring.

    As for these PhD’s arguing against credentialism, presumably from the comfort of their tenured jobs in academia….the hypocricy could not be more transparent. Make them truly compete with the less-credentialed for such highly desirable employment and we’ll see how long they make these arguments.

    The credentialing system serves multiple purposes. It makes sure your anesthesiologist doesn’t kill you, but it also keeps incomes up in the professions. That second purpose may not be acknowledged, but it’s probably the more important of the two.

    I can’t imagine this system changing much.

  13. MikeInWeHo on May 8, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    One more thought:

    It’s interesting that the Church does not require its spiritual leaders to be credentialed in theology. I don’t think any other major Christian or Jewish body utilizes lay clergy so extensively. Does this imply that anti-credentialism is consistent with the LDS world-view??

  14. Mark B. on May 8, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    Professor (now judge) Posner told us one day that neither law school nor the bar exam had anything whatever to do with one’s ability to practice law. They were just barriers to entry–their effect being to keep out those, as Lamonte said, who weren’t willing to put in the long effort to get in.

    One place where credentials are especially invidious is in the public school teaching racket. Most school systems require a masters degree for permanent certification. In NYC, that is required by the end of the fifth year of teaching.

    So, the education bureaucracy require all the teachers to obtain masters degrees, which ensures that the graduate schools of education in the state will be kept busy, which keeps professors of education employed, and most of which, frankly, has nothing whatever to do with the quality of the teaching in the schools.

  15. Kevin Winters on May 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Re: Sara (#8):

    I’d much rather have gone to college knowing that it was only for my own benefit, rather than thinking it was the key to getting a good job (and therefore an appropriate thing for which to risk taking on so much debt.)

    Being a philosophy major, I’ve known for some time that I was going to school for my own benefit; call me a purist. But now that I’m married and have someone else to look after, the practical side of things has become more important, hence the change from philosophy to psychology (and possibly from theoretical psychology to clinical psychology, though I’m still fighting that change). Overall, though, education itself is in shambles (I think primarily because of the ‘functional’ interpretation of education) and educational reform is needed fom the bottom up before any changes in credentialism can take place.

  16. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 8, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    It’s interesting that the Church does not require its spiritual leaders to be credentialed in theology. I don’t think any other major Christian or Jewish body utilizes lay clergy so extensively. Does this imply that anti-credentialism is consistent with the LDS world-view??

    I think you need to separate the lay clergy situation with what leaders counsel re: education. The Spirit is the key in the lay clergy in the Church (no prior anything required), but the Spirit cannot give you the qualifications to get you a job. The Church actually recognizes credentialism and competitiveness in “the world” (to get gainful employment) — hence, the heavy emphasis on education/training.

  17. anon on May 8, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    “I have to go to law school now in order to pay off my undergrad loans”

    This is a very, very sad statement on our current culture and economy.

  18. bbell on May 8, 2006 at 2:58 pm


    You always make the most interesting comments.

    I think its kinda grey. It does seem though that SP’s and Bishops tend to be either well credentialed or very succesful. I am not sure what the relationship is to callings though.

    My PHD dad Bishop just told me that the new SP in the northern suburbs of Chicago was my distant cousin and then added “he is also the CEO of Cardinal Health”

    Usually callings like this in my exp tend to go the well credentialed people but not always.

  19. Lynnette on May 8, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    The idea of limiting a college education to the top 20-25% seems to be based on the premise that the sole value of education is as a means to an end. Since I see education as intrinsically worthwhile, I’d be very uncomfortable with setting up a limit of that kind.

  20. Mark Butler (II) on May 8, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    Is anyone arguing that credentials should be abolished? I don’t think so. Credentialism is not the bare advocacy of the value of credentials, rather it is undue bias in favor of credentials (of often questionable merit) to the detriment of other modes of gaining equivalent or superior ability in the field in question.

    There are many problems with credentialism – the first is that credential granting instuitions tend to certify individuals of questionable ability who have merely completed the necessary steps, diluting the value of the credential as a certification of actual ability or achievement.

    The second is that credentialism commonly discriminates against people of often superior real world knowledge, ability, and experience.

    The third is that credential granting instituions and certifying bodies often hijack the educational process in favor of questionable, often ideologically tinged material with little real world merit.

    The fourth is that credential granting institutions often are run by those who have a vested interest in reducing the number of certified individuals, either by raising standards unnecessarily high, or much more commonly by creating artificial, generally time consuming barriers to entry.

    The fifth is that credential granting instutions seek to justify their own existence and magnify their influence by making sure that all comers have to pass through their doors, on their terms, often by force of law.

    Other than that, credentials are just fine

  21. Western Dave on May 8, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    Many fields prefer liberal arts grads over those narrowly trained. The financial services industry (aka Wall Street) loves liberal arts grads, especially history and poli sci grads, over BBAs or econ majors. They value these fields ability to cut through corporate smoke screens. Their training programs are excellent but not family friendly.

    The other industry I can think of that is not credential heavy is banking. Everybody starts as a teller and you go from there.

    Historically speaking, credentialling opted to keep people out rather than operating for inclusiveness. This started around the 1830s. However, since the 1960s credentialing has opened up some fields (academia, medicine, and law in particular) to women and minorities because their credentials could not be denied once legal non-discrimination was in place.

  22. no one on May 8, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    I am a dentist, and I would be scared to go to another dentist that was not formally trained in an accredited dental school. I have seen dental patients who received dental work while in foreign countries (mexico for example) that do not have the same strict standards and it can be very depressing. And the thing is the patients don’t even know that they are receiving completly substandard dentistry. There is a reason that Canadian and American dental school cross accredit each other but don’t accredit Mexican dental schools.

  23. Wacky Hermit on May 8, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    My husband refuses to apply for jobs that require “bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience” because he doesn’t have the bachelor’s degree (although he does have the “equivalent experience”). As a result he is earning much less than he’s worth. He is extremely talented at what he does (customer tech support) to the point where the people hiring him at his current job asked “is this guy for real?” when he went in for his first interview. His second interview was only a formality; they’d already decided to hire him, and if there had been five clones of him they would have hired all of them on the spot.

    As far as proof of how good he is, though, the only thing I can see on his resume that would recommend him is his longevity at his previous jobs. He’s very much a “company man” and will only leave a job when the working conditions become intolerable. He wouldn’t, for example, leave his previous job even though they were in total, blatant violation of OSHA regs and labor laws, and the only thing that made him leave was that they wanted to charge us $750 a month for a $2500 deductible health insurance plan. And even after he left he still wouldn’t turn them in to the authorities.

  24. queuno on May 8, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    I’m going to make someone mad here, but I’m sorry…

    I’m one of those people who absolutely has to have his arm twisted to hire someone *without* a bachelor’s degree. Now, I do a lot of hiring in the technical arena, and my preferences are graduates with CS, engineering, hard sciences, math/stats. But, all things between two candidates being EQUAL, I’ll take the journalism grad over the non-degreed.

    One reason is that when I hire people who haven’t got direct work experience (e.g., new grads or professional hires making a career adjustment), I need a record of achievement to which to refer. A degree program is one great way to do this.

    To the charge that ‘credentialism’ is a gatekeeper to keep people out, I’ll say, guilty as charged. But then again, I’m paying 10-15% over market value and I average 20-25 resumes per job. I’m only going to do 4-5 face interviews; the degree program is an excellent way for me to weed people out.

    There is a great thread over on Techrepublic right now asking if Calculus was valuable for an IT career (when it might not otherwise be used). The overwhelming consensus is that if you can’t handle Calculus, you’re probably not going to be much of an IT guy. It may be unfair, it may be exclusionary, but in my mind, if you *have* handled a degree program successfully, you can handle what I’ll throw at you.

    I agree with Posner – it’s a gatekeeper against people who won’t do the work.

    queuno, the future PhD

  25. queuno on May 8, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    [Now, that said, I am less persuaded by where someone went to school, within reason. Harvard trumps the U of Phoenix for obvious reasons. But Harvard does *not* trump BYU or even a state school, in my mind. Harvard induces yawns in me; maybe because I've got too much exposure to unimpressive Ivy League grads and the aura has been blown for me.]

  26. DKL on May 8, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    Interesting post. I agree. I did completed college, but I got my degree in philosophy with a minor in humanities, and I have no marketable skills whatever.

    Posner is dead wrong about college being a gatekeeper for people that won’t do the work. Undergraduate college is not work. Graduate school, maybe. But let’s get real. At BYU, you roll of be whenever, and you go to class, if you feel like it. Then you take your test in the testing center. You can get straight A’s while barely ever setting foot on campus. (I spent more time on campus doing my Teaching Assistant stuff for the psych department than I did taking classes). The main reason I went to college was because it was easier than working for a living–and lets face it, it’s almost always easier to spend more than you earn. So Posner suggests that it’s somehow more work to spend 4 years in college than to spend four years earning money and paying taxes? Sounds to me like he’s either an academic or he’s not a very productive member of society (I’ll assume for the moment that there’s a difference).

    In any case, siting credential’d experts who run down credentials seems to run afoul of the liars paradox.

  27. Adam Greenwood on May 8, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    “But, all things between two candidates being EQUAL, I’ll take the journalism grad over the non-degreed.”

    Sure, and its probably rational for you to do so, given the way our system is set up. But the system as a whole is inefficient and cruel.

    “Undergraduate college is not work. Graduate school, maybe. But let’s get real. At BYU, you roll out of bed whenever, and you go to class, if you feel like it.”

    And lots and lots of schools are *easier* than BYU. Four years of prolonged adolescence.

  28. Jim F. on May 8, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    DKL (#26): Since I’m a credentialer, my word is suspect, but my experience is that there are plenty of students at BYU who can’t roll out of bed whenever and go to class if they feel like it. I don’t think you were very typical of students, at BYU or anywhere else.

  29. DKL on May 8, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    Jim, I don’t mean to pick on BYU, because it was also largely true of Wabash, too. I’ll back off a from my “straight A’s” comment–that’s hyperbole; it’s actually quite difficult to get straight A’s at the colleges I know of. But it’s not very hard to get between a C and a B+ at most colleges, and that’s what most students are getting, and everything that I’ve seen indicates that they aren’t working terribly hard for it.

    One issue I have with the education thing is that it’s often pretended that advanced education is about education, when education is more often a means to the end of making money–for most students and nearly all schools. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with making money, it’s just a matter of transparency. And it’s important to be clear on who the customers are, because they seem to be the primarily the students and donating alumni (and only secondarily their parents or prospective employers, if at all).

    I remember hearing an old lady say that when she applied to Radcliffe in the 1920s, the acceptance letter included 16 applications that she could give to any of her friends that wanted to go. I don’t know if this is indicative of the state of women’s education in particular or of university education in general, but I thought it was interesting and kind of humorous.

  30. BK on May 8, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    “Undergraduate college is not work. Graduate school, maybe. But let’s get real. At BYU, you roll of be whenever, and you go to class, if you feel like it. Then you take your test in the testing center. You can get straight A’s while barely ever setting foot on campus.”

    Speak for yourself. If this is the way you approached college it is little wonder you “have no marketable skills.”

  31. Kimball L. Hunt on May 9, 2006 at 12:01 am

    If a more prestigious institution than the um university of Harvard had been mentioned, maybe queno’s sentiments re (ahem!) Phoenix, America’s number one (by size) private university, affectionally known by as the U of “F”, could be believed. But in light of the statement by famous humorist Christopher Buckley’s father Bill — Yalies all — perhaps during his spoof NYC 1965 mayorality race that he’d rather entrust the government of his beloved country to the first two-thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than . . . blah blah.

  32. Jim F. on May 9, 2006 at 12:01 am

    DKL (#29): I wasn’t feeling picked on, either personally or as a representative of BYU. I was just pointing out that you were not the typical undergraduate, so your observations about what typical students may not be reliable.

    However, I agree with you about high Cs and low Bs: I don’t think they are usually that difficult to get. But it does depend on what kind of class you are taking, who the teacher is, whether it is a general education class or one for majors, and a number of other factors. I pity the poor person who thinks that it is easy to get a B in Chem 105 at BYU.

    Enough schools are hurting for applicants nowadays that your story may turn out to have its modern counterpart.

  33. smb on May 9, 2006 at 9:00 am

    Why not make education cheaper, ie more consistently publicly funded? Wasn’t that the aim of the state university system? Certainly if someone doesn’t want to go to college and would prefer to get straight to work and there are jobs where college is irrelevant, we shouldn’t force her/him to go to college, but there are plenty of people, myself included, who really rather enjoyed college and feel that the experience is a reasonable thing to share with whoever wants it. Perhaps a modified community college version that would give basic credentials as needed, as well as the chance to learn something.

  34. Mark B. on May 9, 2006 at 9:41 am

    It’s interesting that Judge Posner’s calling law school and the bar exam a barrier to entry to the practice of law has been criticized because undergraduate education isn’t all that hard. Perhaps I should have taken another logic class so I could figure out whether the criticism is apt.

  35. DKL on May 9, 2006 at 10:09 am

    smb, attempts to subsidize education with tax credits and tax deductions always ends up with the educational institutions raising tuition to compensate. The result is seldom a cheaper education.

    Mark B., I was taking what your statement about Posner to be something that you were offering as something that could be taken as an instance of something that could be generalized. Surely you can see the logic my arguments in arguing against such a generalization.

    Even so, in my experience, lawyers are no smarter or harder working on average than other people that I know, so law school and the bar exam can’t be doing that great of a job as a gate keeper. And judges that I’ve met have tended to seem less intelligent and lazier on average than most people I know. Perhaps this is the root cause behind Posner’s claim.

  36. Mark B. on May 9, 2006 at 10:48 am


    The problem with generalizing Posner’s statement is that there is (or certainly was in my experience) a substantial difference in the work required in law school as compared to my undergraduate years–although I can’t say I breezed through those years the way you seem to have done.

    So, you can’t attack Posner’s statement because undergraduate education is not (or was not, in your experience) difficult enough to be a meaningful barrier to entry–you’d have to attack it because law school isn’t that tough.

    The other problem with your argument is, as Jim F. has pointed out, that your personal experience can’t necessarily be generalized. Just because the one Indian you saw walked in single file doesn’t mean that all Indians walk that way.

  37. Beijing on May 9, 2006 at 10:59 am

    DKL, I would agree that for a student whose tuition and living expenses are (all or mostly) paid for by scholarships and parents, it is often easier to be in school than to work. But some people have to work for a living, whether they’re in school or not. School takes hours away from work and family, and school demands tuition, fees and books. Those folks are relieved when full-time school finally ends, and all they have to do is work.

  38. Daniel on May 9, 2006 at 11:50 am

    This is largely because we are experiencing the same thing that the Nephites experienced in 3 Nephi, immediately prior to the Savior’s coming. The people began to be divided into classes according to their chances for learning. The rich had many chances, the poor had few. This is an outgrowth of a school system that offers as its primary raison d’etre the ability to link grades to money and the perpetuation of classes according to the ability to conform to their system. John Taylor Gatto’s “Dumbing Us Down” discusses this at length, including the failure of the schools to properly understand the role of education, becoming instead a hegemony to defend their own interests, despite the presence of many wonderful and well-intentioned teachers. I highly recommend the book. The National Federation of Teachers still has as one of its guiding goals the persuading of businesses that grades should equal success. This is ironic because many of the most successful men I know have no college education. One in particular, among the most successful has no more than a dismal semester at BYU. He was too busy out succeeding to believe the people that told him that he needed an MBA to do what he does. And I’d trust him long before I trusted any MBA.

  39. MikeInWeHo on May 9, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    There is ample evidence that some of the most successful people are college drop-outs (Bill Gates comes to mind), and many use this to support anti-credentialism. But when we arrive at those jobs which are directly life-and-death (anesthesiologist, airline pilot, et. al.) everybody suddenly becomes unequivocally pro-credential.

    Thus I conclude we are ambivalent about the system as it currently exists. I’m all for it when it protects my life or my BMW, and against it when I feel it unjustly affects my ability to get a job.

    Maybe this ambivalence is reflected in the Church. As noted above, education is pushed and many successful businessmen are called as leaders…yet nobody is required to formally study theology before they can be at the highest levels. You can imagine the response to anyone who suggested such study might be helpful.

    (Some morning thoughts from my pleasant office here at the hospital…nothing standing between me and unemployed except some diplomas and license on my wall….)

  40. TrailerTrash on May 9, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    >yet nobody is required to formally study theology

    I don’t think studying theology will do our leaders any good (well, at least not very much). I don’t think that this is an argument against credentialism. If they should be required to study anything, it should be leadership, counseling, and organizational design. This may be part of the reason that successful business people are called to church leadership positions. Their skill set more closely matches the needs of church leadership roles. As the church is currently consistuted, practical matters greatly outweigh more theoretical ones for church leaders at all levels. I am not saying this is either good or bad, it is just how it is.

  41. DKL on May 9, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    BK: Speak for yourself. If this is the way you approached college it is little wonder you “have no marketable skills.�

    LOL. Well, BK, I was thinking more of the fields of study that I chose, but I suppose the analysis is also correct on the attendance habits. I was, to be sure, a pretty lousy student by almost any measure.

    Beijing, you’re right that adding school to an already productive life is to be difficult. I’m referring to the extended adolescence phase of “advanced” education.

    On a side note, most of the parents that I know insist that education is so much more expensive nowadays, and things are so different (I really get tired of hearing how different things are nowadays…), that they plan to pay for their kids’ college. But I’ve got a brother in law who’s starting medical school in the fall who has paid his entire way through college and will continue paying his own way through medical school. Things haven’t proven so different as to thwart him.

    Another problem with education is that nobody knows what it means. Thomas Sewell pointed out that if I claim to be an expert on milking cows, that means that if you give me a pale, I’ll go out to the barn and come back with milk. But if I’m an expert on education, there’s no telling what I can or can’t do.

  42. Floyd the Wonderdog on May 9, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    I work for a German company. The German PhD’s put down my American MS. Yet, I show them up on a regular basis. It’s the Old World feudalism versus American egalitarianism. I’d rather sit under the tree and munch on the white fruit than party in the great and spacious building.

  43. Ben H on May 9, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    (10) Without a credential-based system, I think it would be much harder for people from non-upper-class backgrounds to break into high status professions, like management, law, or academia.

    But the problem is that getting the credentials usually requires the sort of money and leisure that people from non-upper-class backgrounds have a hard time amassing.

    (24) I’m only going to do 4-5 face interviews; the degree program is an excellent way for me to weed people out.

    Right. That’s how most employers feel. So the prospective employees go to school for a few years and pay many thousands of dollars in order to save you a couple of hours’ trouble. Um, that seems stupendously inefficient! to the point of being cruel.

    I think a big part of the problem is a reflection of much broader trends in our society toward branding and standardizing and becoming superficial because we don’t have time to make more nuanced judgments. Of course, this is a big part of why, while more education is becoming more expected, it is also becoming less valuable. Professors don’t have time to really assess student ability or improvement, so the process goes along without a very strong relationship to those things that give it value.

    If this is part of a bigger trend (chain restaurants replacing local places, an increasing fixation with being thin and fashionable . . .), though, unfortunately it would require a very broad and deep change in the way our society runs to fully combat it. I think this is partly true, but I do think there is a lot we can do if we start doing a better job of measuring educational outcomes–measuring whether students are really learning! and using that to judge which schools are best.

    (35) attempts to subsidize education with tax credits and tax deductions always ends up with the educational institutions raising tuition to compensate.

    Interesting. Is this what one would expect if the demand for degrees is pretty much fixed–in particular, by the demand of maintaining class standing? If so, it would support the research Adam is talking about.

  44. DKL on May 10, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    queuno, I’ve been hiring in technology since before the tech boom, and I can’t remember the last time that I bothered to glance at someone’s educational credentials. The problem with a CS degree is that it doesn’t actually teach students anything useful, plus it gives the students the unfortunate (and incorrect) idea that they actually did learn something useful. I won’t hire CS majors straight out of college, because there is too much they have to unlearn. But I will hire people without degrees or who are fresh out of college with a degree in another field.

    Experience on my staff ranges from a guy who went to MIT and who worked on the Xerox Star operating system when it was still at PARC, the math engine of Lotus 123, and the X Window System to another guy who is just 2 years out of college (I don’t remember which college or what he studied). My lead system administrator got his degree in film and he’s the best I’ve ever seen. There are two people in my company that I’m interested in poaching from another department (I call it a “career advancement opportunity”), neither of whom even have college degrees (they’re self taught).

    If you want to know how hard it is or what it takes to program, you’ve got the wrong idea if you’re listening to programmers. You’ll do much better to talk to the QA folks (they’ll actually have metrics) and the audience that uses the software. The problem with most programmers is that they delude themselves into thinking that their in the product business, when they are, in fact, in the service business.

    I suspect that the difference that you think that a college degree makes in hiring in technology is vaporware.

  45. Robert C. on May 10, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Ben H. (#43): So the prospective employees go to school for a few years and pay many thousands of dollars in order to save you a couple of hours’ trouble. Um, that seems stupendously inefficient! to the point of being cruel.

    But these aren’t substitutable goods. I think a potential employee’s performance during 4 years of schooling tells me much, much more than I can learn from an interview, no matter how long, creative or gruelling the interview might be. I know too many people with a silver tongue who can look very impressive in interviews, but don’t have a work ethic to back it up to believe this claim….

    . . . broader trends in our society toward branding and standardizing and becoming superficial

    I understand where you’re going with this critique, but I think you also need to account for the tremendous efficiencies that can be gained by branding and standardizing. Money is a standard that is incredibly more efficient than the barter system. And last time I took a road trip with my mother who cannot consume MSG for health reasons, we were able to quickly find a restaurant she could eat at b/c of branding—without branded franchises, I think this process would’ve taken much, much longer.

  46. DKL on May 10, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Robert C., given how easy it is to coast through most colleges with a B average (a lot easier than actually working for a living), I just don’t see how 4 years of it constitutes “performance” of anything. For the vast majority of students, all it really tells you is that they had a lot more free time during that four years than their counterparts that were actually productive members of society.

    I honestly don’t know what college students you’re talking about, because most of the ones I know are beer guzzling slackers.

    But you’re right that the purpose of branding is economic. Knowledge costs time and money, and branding conveys knowledge. Effective brands gain loyalty by conveying accurate knowledge. Unfortunately, the purpose of college branding is to elicit alumni donations, and there’s no effective metric for measuring the accuracy of the claims made.

  47. Robert C. on May 10, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    DKL (#46): I appreciate your anecdotal evidence, but other statistics indicate about 40% of students who start college never finish. You are also ignoring the crucial difference between A and B students. I would argue there is a lot of benefit for recruiters in being able to stratify students into at least 4 broad categories: A students, B students, barely graduating students (with an easy major), and never-finishing students. I also think there is significant signaling by selection of a major (students taking the approach you describe do not survive in harder majors, viz. engineering, math, hard sciences, economics, CS, etc.).

    Also, there is surely a lot of self-selection going on in students who chose to go to college. Suppose those who never graduate knew ahead of time that they would never graduate and never enrolled. There wouldn then be 100% graduation rates, but you would still have significant screening going on.

    As unimpressive as beer guzzling college slackers are, I believe they usually go on to perform well in their jobs. Those who don’t go to college or don’t finish college would most likely not perform as well in white-collar jobs….

    Mind you, I’m not arguing there isn’t a more efficient system for screening good potential employees, just that the current system isn’t really all that bad. (I also believe there is significant value added in the tougher majors, but this is already too long.)

  48. DKL on May 10, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    The problem with the statistics that you quote is that they’re meaningless unless you assume that there is more value in finishing college than in finishing a meal. This is what I find kind of disgusting about the entire pro-credential crowd; viz., the proud assertion, “Heck yeah, I use college as a proxy for hard work” all the time ignoring whether it really is correlated to hard work. I’m really convinced that most college graduates feel this way, because it’s otherwise hard for them to rationalize all the time and money they spent on their own credentials (and let’s not confuse credentials with education).

    In the end, you just create your de facto elitist club of potential employees, and the only real reason to go to college is to satisfy the sadistic expectations of people like you.

    I don’t know how hard a CS degree is, but I can tell you that they’re either wasting a lot of time with busy work (very probable) or they’re not nearly hard enough. I know a lot of people with graduate degrees in computer science, and the same goes for them, too.

  49. Beijing on May 10, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    DKL, I know you’re talking about the undergrad years, but they are not an extended adolescence for everyone. People whose parents really do cut the apron strings at 18, and whose grades and skills don’t bring in the scholarship cash, don’t add college to their self-supporting working life; they begin their self-supporting working life and their college life at the same time. I knew many people like this at BYU. Too bad you apparently didn’t. Great folks.

  50. DKL on May 10, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    Beijing, on the contrary, I married a person like that. She graduated from BYU and received not even a dime from her parents. Nor did any of her 8 siblings, all of whom completed college and more than half of whom completed post-graduate degrees (and only 1 of whom graduated from BYU, because their father discouraged them from going there based on his own experience in the 60s–basically the same problems as now; viz., BYU treats students like numbers and has no cognizance of any obligation to its students as a university, yet it relentlessly harps on every conceivable obligation that it can burden its students with). You may have noticed that in my earlier comment that I referred to my brother-in-law (my wife’s youngest brother) who is starting med school this fall–all on his own dime. These constitute a very, very small minority of college students.

  51. Beijing on May 10, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    One reason there aren’t more students like your wife and BIL is because few are willing to put in the long effort to do as they have done. See #14. Those whose parents can pay slip past the gatekeeper; those whose test-taking skills get them scholarships slip past the gatekeeper; in the vast pool of people outside those demographics, college really does require quite an effort…you’ve seen it up-close. Only amazing, hardworking people like your wife and her siblings get past that gatekeeper.

  52. Robert C. on May 10, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    DKL (#48): You missed my point—for the B students in an easy major, it’s not about hard work, it’s about signalling a certain degree of intelligence and a certain amount of follow through (not enough to be A students, but more than non-college-grads). But it doesn’t matter whether you or sadistic profs like me think finishing a degree is more significant than finishing a meal, recruiters seems to believe a degree is significant, and they’re the ones with the jobs. Sorry if I don’t believe that you know how to make hiring decisions better than they do.

    I have heard that recruiters have recently shown less interest in MBA’s b/c they can hire BA’s who are nearly as competent for much cheaper. I find this an encouraging sign that the market is working and adjusting to the relative costs and benefits of education, making it harder for me to believe that the market is significantly out of whack.

  53. DKL on May 10, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Robert, you were talking as though you were in a hiring position, and hence my phrasing. Evidently you’re not, so I’ll rephrase: the only real reason to go to college is to satisfy the sadistic expectations of employers that share your outlook.

    You’ve got the wrong idea about recruiters. I work with recruiters, and I can tell you that they’re not experts on who’s qualified to do what. The only feedback that a recruiter is qualified to offer on job requirements is how likely or unlikely they are to describe a decent pool of candidates and and what might the approximate salary ranges be. Recruiters are experts on matching dictated job requirements with potential employees. If recruiters are looking for fewer MBA’s, then it’s because their employers are looking for fewer MBAs. And their employers are the kind of people who won’t ever even have anectdotal evidence about hiring non-college grads because they won’t hire them in the first place (well, that and confirmation bias).

  54. Jim F. on May 10, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    DKL: BYU treats students like numbers and has no cognizance of any obligation to its students as a university, yet it relentlessly harps on every conceivable obligation that it can burden its students with.

    Robert C was polite enough to ignore that and not create a threadjack, but I’m not. What the hell is that about? I’ve spent 31 years teaching at BYU, including stints as a department chair, an associate dean, and a dean. I don’t recognize the place in your characterization. I’m not a Pollyanna; I know well, probably better than you, that there are problems at BYU. But that kind of generalization is nonsense.

  55. Kimball L. Hunt on May 10, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    I’ve never matriculated at BYU but: hear, hear!

  56. DKL on May 11, 2006 at 12:44 am

    Jim F: Oh, my. Where to begin. The administration never gets over the favor they’ve done you by letting you into their school, so they don’t recognize the need to actually do anything once you arrive. As a consequence, they’re constantly telling students that there are eight or so people waiting to take the space that you’re occupying. I heard that a lot from people working in the X-shaped aquarium building. From what I’ve seen, when it comes to ranking colleges that actually implement the Lord’s plan for education, BYU ranks pretty low. I could write a whole post on the topic. But if you want examples of BYU not recognizing that it has an obligation to its students, here’s a good one:

    A friend of mine was getting straight A’s at BYU and his wife and him inadvertently ended up pregnant with their first child. Both him and his wife were working to pay the bills (he at the MTC), and when he asked for the possibility of a scholarship based on his record of academic achievement, he was told basically told to take a hike, because scholarships are for attracting new students, not retaining existing ones. At Wabash College, the motto of the registration department is, “No man shall be turned away based on financial needs” (it’s an all-male school). Sometimes, they go so far as to contact alumni directly to get sponsorship for needy students.

    You want more stories? I could go on all day.

  57. BrianJ on May 11, 2006 at 1:41 am

    DKL, post 56: …they’re constantly telling students that there are eight or so people waiting to take the space that you’re occupying.

    I don’t recall hearing this even once from the administration while I was at BYU. I heard it from other students, but never from any BYU official. If it was said and I just missed it, then your use of the word “constantly” is still suspect. I don’t mean to say that I felt personally accepted by BYU; most often I felt like a number as far as the administration was concerned (but then, I was a number: roughly 1 out of 35,000 other students). But I had dozens of teachers that went out of their way to educate me and my classmates.

    …he was told basically told [sic] to take a hike, because scholarships are for attracting new students, not retaining existing ones.

    Perhaps your friend attended BYU before I did. When I was a student (mid-90s), BYU offered scholarships to the top performing students. It was based on GPA rank–the top percentiles getting full tuition. That meant that the actual minimum GPA needed for a scholarship would change–but the two times I checked it was around 3.7. So your “straight A” friend would have had no trouble getting a scholarship.

    Having grown up in Provo, BYU seemed very typical. I appreciated BYU much more when I was applying for graduate school. At every school I visited, when I mentioned that my GPA was not anything special, the professors interviewing me all had a similar reply: “But you went to BYU. A so-so GPA from BYU is like a very good GPA from somewhere else.” (I interviewed at schools in the Midwest and East Coast.) My point in bringing this up is to show that credentialism works on different levels. There is the degree itself: PhD > MS > BS > GED. And then there are the “credentials” of the institution, and of the major. In my field, one’s graduate or post-doc advisor could also be considered part of one’s “credentials.”

  58. DKL on May 11, 2006 at 2:28 am

    BrianJ, I was attending at the time when they introduced the continuing ecclesiastical endorsement. When I was first admitted, the need for an ecclesiastical endorsement was limitted to the application stage–once you were in you were home free. When I was a sophomore, they changed the rules, so that students had to get ecclesiastical endorsements every year, and part of the qualification process included some minimal level of attendance. (In fact, my wife [who is hot babe] worked her way through college in a job that required her to work Sundays and so she was seldom able to attend church. As a consequence, she was briefly expelled from BYU while her ecclesiastical endorsement was pulled and her father and bishop had to intervene over the course of the ensuing weeks to get her re-instated. So much for the blessings of paying tithing.) At any rate, during this period, administrators took a cavalier attitude about the status of students who had been admitted under the previous regime and suddenly found their church attendance to be mandatory. The rationale (as I heard it repeatedly) for the continuing ecclesiastical endorsement was that there were eight people who were waiting to fill the spot that they gave us, and if we didn’t like it we could leave. Well, I did (after they yanked my endorsement a couple years later), and from what I’ve read in the comments on this thread and this other thread, they did me a huge favor.

  59. Robert C. on May 11, 2006 at 7:47 am

    DKL (#53): “[E]mployers are the kind of people who won’t ever even have anectdotal evidence about hiring non-college grads because they won’t hire them in the first place (well, that and confirmation bias).”

    That’s like saying it’s stupid for zebras to run b/c you hardly ever see a lion catch and eat one…. We have new recruiters/employers come to BYU and give our students a test drive all the time. Sometimes they’re very impressed and hire more students the next year, sometimes they are unimpressed and hire fewer or no students the next year. My experience suggests employers are much dynamic and responsive to student quality than you want to believe.

    DKL: “From what I’ve seen, when it comes to ranking colleges that actually implement the Lord’s plan for education, BYU ranks pretty low.”

    The best estimates I’ve seen are that BYU offers about $10,000 per semester per student in tuition subsidation (largely from tithing funds). Although I feel bad for the struggling students in the stories you relate, I think there is a much bigger problem with students who do not seem to appreciate the tithing funds spent to subsidize the education. I do think there are better ways BYU administrators could allocate these funds (perhaps like offering more needs-based scholarships), but you seem to have an unwavering bias against BYU, which is perhaps why you are projecting a confirmation bias on recruiters/employers.

    DKL: “Unfortunately, the purpose of college branding is to elicit alumni donations, and there’s no effective metric for measuring the accuracy of the claims made.”

    What about college rankings (see #8). Of course there are many serious flaws with rankings, but you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone they’re a completely “ineffective metric.”

  60. Jonathan Green on May 11, 2006 at 10:11 am

    To get the obligatories out of the way: credentialism may be bad, but education is good, and my even my B/C+ students are learning important things.
    I’m glad that there are employers who value the degrees I help students to earn, and also glad there are employers who couldn’t care less about credentials.
    BYU is a great school with strong academic programs and lots of first-rate students.

    But DKL’s remark that BYU places great weight on student obligations to the university and little weight on the university’s obligation to students, even if over-generalized and exaggerated, seemed more or less in line with my experience in the early 90′s. I felt like I was constantly reminded how much the university had invested in me (which I don’t dispute at all), but any feeling of dissatisfaction was quickly met with “Oh yeah? Why don’t you go somewhere else?” I’m skeptical that students will really understand the institutional needs of a university, but it seemed to me at the time that often no one bothered to make any kind of reasoned response to complaints. Instead, the preferred response seemed to be delegitimizing any standing to express any kind of dissatisfaction at all. While students might not understand the whole institutional context, I think they have a decent sense of when their needs and a university’s priorities don’t coincide. Sometimes it took the form of an unyielding and impersonal bureaucracy, other times an insistence on adherence to an idiosyncratic disciplinary agenda that left students ill-prepared for work or graduate study, other times a general unhelpfulness and lack of interest in what students did after graduation. These were the exceptions, not the rule, but the exceptions were not entirely rare. It’s good and right for BYU to set different institutional priorities for itself, but I thought that too often it took its students for granted.

    Here’s a concrete example: the requirement to live in approved housing split the local rental market, drove up prices, and enriched the apartment owners at the expense of students. The approval process was cumbersome and inflexible, so that potential landlords didn’t want to go through the bureaucracy required in order to rent to students. Complaints were met with the insistence that the process only protects students from dangerous and inappropriate housing. (The fact that thousands of BYU students had already lived for 18-24 months in some pretty shady places never seemed to count for anything.) At the other five universities where I’ve been, only the city fire inspector cares what kinds of holes the students choose to live in, at least after their first year.

  61. DKL on May 11, 2006 at 10:37 am

    You’re counter-point about recruiters test-driving your students touches on an interesting point; viz., that from a purely logistical point of view, it would be nearly impossible to locate a large number of potential entry-level employees without a college around to feed them to you.

    I’ve been hiring in the technology sector since before there was a technology sector (way back in the 80s, just after I’d failed out of high school, before I went to college, and after I’d started my first business, the tech sector was known as “the computer business.”) CS students (even in graduate programs) in my experience lack several key points of knowledge. Here’s a giant leap into the generalizations that I make based on my experience: CS students don’t learn how to write code that can be maintained by them and other people over the course of several years. They don’t “get” the fact that you’re not really coding unless you’re using some form of source code control. They don’t generally know what different kinds of software development cycles should look like. They generally think of their software as a product rather than as a service (though the most visible software is a product [e.g., Microsoft Office], the vast majority of the software written provides a service). They don’t “get” the importance of project management (and it’s well nigh impossible to get them to track their hours). They tend to view QA solely in relation to writing higher quality code. This is just off the top of my head. When I interview people, I’m not looking directly for “problem solving skills,” I’m looking for a thorough grasp of issues related to these factors, and in my experience most CS students are disqualified right out of the shoot–someone with 4 years of programming experience is more likely to understand factors such as these than someone with merely a bachelors in CS. Moreover, I’ve found that the single best gauge for disciplined programming (in any language) is one’s fluency in C, which colleges seem to be emphasizing less and less.

    I do recognize the degree to which the church subsidizes BYU. Historically, the reason why the church ended up owning it in the first place was because it was a financial disaster.

    I emphatically do not have an unwavering bias against BYU. My complaint is largely against the way that the administration viewed and treated students when I attended. I actually really enjoyed BYU. I made great friends there, I enjoyed living in Provo, which has one of the best small used bookstores anywhere in Walt West’s Used Books. I had great roommates (though I doubt they’d say the same thing about me). I had some really outstanding professors (to name a few names, but not to imply that anyone I exclude was substandard: Jim F, Harold Miller, Codell Carter, Daniel Graham). BYU has an outstanding library and a great bookstore (this was especially true when I attended, since back then there were no mega-bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Nobles). I thought it was great that you could add whatever classes you wanted to with an add/drop card, whether or not the registration system said the class was “full” (this was so valuable, that I just opted to pay the late registration fee and sign up for classes with add/drop cards). With the exception of the service provided by the folks in the X-shaped aquarium building, all of the gripes that I have are either trivial or not really gripes (i.e,. just standard caveats associated with most schools); on the fairly trivial side: it annoyed me that the library closed at midnight, there were no caffeinated beverages on campus (this is partly made up for by the fact that the ShopKo brand 200mg caffeine tables were very cheap), and the “Lord’s University” thing is laid on a bit thick; on the standard college caveat side: if you didn’t know the ropes or who to ask, you were likely to get average or below average professors.

    In any case, here is a lampoon of BYU that I wrote a year and a half ago that you might think is funny.

    As far as college rankings, they are a means to an end. I went to Wabash because it was ranked #1 by the National Review College Guide. Many colleges spend nearly as much energy convincing their students that they’re getting a good education as they do providing it. Rankings are one way to do this. Proud alumni donate more money to their alma mater than embarrassed alumni.

  62. DKL on May 11, 2006 at 10:45 am

    On second thought, it occurs to me that maybe the fact that the library closes at midnight is related to the fact that no caffeinated beverages are sold on campus.

  63. Robert C. on May 11, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    Jonathan Green (#60): “Sometimes it took the form of an unyielding and impersonal bureaucracy”

    I also complained about this as a student in the early 90′s. For punishment, God made me serve in the mission office in Russia where I learned to appreciate the efficiency, compassion and flexibleness of BYU’s bureaucracy!

    JG: “. . . other times an insistence on adherence to an idiosyncratic disciplinary agenda that left students ill-prepared for work or graduate study”

    I understand an idiosyncratic disciplinary agenda and ill-preparation, but I don’t follow how you’re linking them here.

    JG: “. . . other times a general unhelpfulness and lack of interest in what students did after graduation.”

    I’ve talked at length with the new Assistant Dean of Corporate Relations at the Marriott School about this. This is something he’s determined to improve. So I think your criticism here is well-founded. I must add that his character, vision, and sacrifice in accepting a colossal salary cut to work here makes me optimistic for the future.

    DKL (#61): Thanks, I enjoyed your lampoon of BYU. Interesting view on CS training. I think many universities, esp. ones focused on research, do not do a good job training students for jobs. On the one hand, this is a problem that needs to be corrected. On the other hand, this approach essentially reduces universities to vocational training institutions. In finance, students complain that we (me esp.) focus too much on teaching theory. But the idea is that employers have the comparative advantage for training in the specific jobs they need to do, whereas our comparative advantage as academics is that we have a broader and more objective view of how everything fits together—if we can train students to understand the key underlying economic forces affecting corporations, they will eventually be much better prepared to truly make a contribution to their employers. But this means won’t be as ready to hit the ground running in new jobs….

  64. Nate Oman on May 11, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    Since we are posting links to prior threads on BYU, I thought that I would add this one to the mix.

  65. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 11, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    63 — but that (practical experience) is why internships are so pushed these days, is it not? Then students can have a combination of theory and practice. Students can take some initiative in their preparation. I think sometimes students are ill-prepared because they don’t know what they can do to prepare — which is part the fault of the institution and part the fault of the student.

  66. queuno on May 11, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    Re #44 — First, you erroneously assume that I only hire programmers, and that I only hire the engineering/CS/physics folks. Also, I should point out that I’m generally talking about entry-level positions. A great tech guy with 20 years of experience doesn’t need a degree.

    Second, I will agree with you on the worthlessness of a CS degree if you want to program. I’m ABD toward a PhD in CS, and the best thing that my CS degree did for me was teach me that I didn’t want to write code. CS degrees, however, are great for people who want to go work in operations research and business process outsourcing, because they tend to understand algorithms better than the average EE grad.

    Third, there are people on our staff without degrees, but by and large, they are less equipped to handle “change” than those with a college degree. Part of surviving IT is the ability to work on a team. The “genius” who can’t function within a team structure is of less value to me than the “smart, but not a genius” guy who can work well with others. It’s a generalization that college helps instill a sense of adaptability and teamwork, but I find that it is true in many cases. We recently interviewed about 20 people for 2 entry-level positions. We hired a guy with a marketing degree but who had some solid tech skills. We hired a guy with an engineering degree. Of the 20 who were interviewed, 17 had degrees, three did not. We reviewed probably 50 resumes for these positions. Of the 50, probably 35-40 had degrees.

    Yes, these are all anecdotal, but these are my anecdotes from my 15 years of tech industry work, and I’ll stand by them. A degreed individual will never suffer from degree bias in the workplace, but a nondegreed individual always risks it.

  67. Robert C. on May 11, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    m&m (#65): Good point about internships, I think those are becoming more and more common for undergrads (they’ve been common for MBA’s for a long time already).

  68. Mark Butler (II) on May 11, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    I am curious: In the interest of transparency, why doesn’t BYU simply raise the tuition to the actual per student cost, and then implement financial aid based on whatever considerations the trustees feel will best further the mission of the university?

  69. Jim F. on May 12, 2006 at 1:19 am

    Mark Butler (II) (#68): The only answer to that question anyone I know has ever received is that the Board of Trustees doesn’t want to do it that way.

    DKL and Jonathan Green: BYU is a large institution run by ordinary people, from top to bottom. As does any other large institution, it sometimes has bad policies and sometimes does hurtful things to people. However, I know that it has pretty consistently been the goal of the majority of people who work at BYU (staff and faculty alike) to do otherwise. In the last 31 years I’ve occasionally met people who were simply mean or rude, but not often. More often I’ve met people who didn’t recognize that they were causing trouble for someone else or who didn’t know what to do in the face of a difficult situation. Sometimes in the second kind of case, we do stupid things not knowing what we ought to do.

    There is no institutional conspiracy to make life difficult or to ignore students. Neither is there something like that which results merely from ignoring the problems. Indeed, I know that administrators from the president down spend a good deal of time trying to figure out how to make life easier for students and to make sure that students aren’t treated merely as a number. That’s why I said that DKL’s description was nonsense. When I was dean, we spent countless hours working on problems related to the fact that students are sometimes treated like a number and more often feel that way, and we were hardly alone. We solved a few of the problems, but those kinds of problems are not likely to go completely away so they must be continually worked on.

    One of the success stories has been Freshman Academy, not an unalloyed success story to be sure. (There are probably no unalloyed succes stories in any large institution if we are honest.) But Freshman Academy has been a success, helping entering students be treated less like a number by putting them together in cohorts with many of the same teachers.

    So “the BYU administration is unsympathetic to students, treating them like numbers” is an unfair complaint because it is made as a moral complaint: the administration has committed moral error because it treats students in a certain way. It may be that BYU’s administrators (and I include myself) are sometimes or in some individuals dumb or incompetent, but they aren’t mean-spirited or complacent.

    As for “the other X number of students who could have been here” as a constant refrain: I haven’t heard it constantly or even often, but I’ve heard it sometimes–and I’ve used it once or twice. When I’ve used it, as when most others have used it, it has been to try to wake up students who often begin to take for granted the privilege of going to a good school for little money. Faced with a student who thinks he or she has done BYU a favor by coming–and I’m not pointing at either of you–that reminder is appropriate. It is also an appropriate reminder to students who have decided to squander their opportunity by not taking education seriously, and in my mind one of the biggest problems we have among students is that: too many don’t take their opportunity to learn (which is not the same as the opportunity to be taught) seriously.

  70. DMS on May 12, 2006 at 8:41 am

    Example of BYU culture of customer no-service from my experience: In the late 1980′s they sent with the tuition statement a line item charging a new fee for catastrophic health insurance. No notice, no explanation. When I called to talk to the Dean of Student Life to inform them that I wouldn’t need their catastrophic health insurance, the Dean did not return my call. The secretary informed me that students were the cause of great problems at the school and in the community because so many got sick but did not have insurance. Of course my response that I had insurance and therefore was not a part of this problem was irrelevant to her. I was told I had to pay the fee. I eventually got the money refunded after proving I was insured. This was one of several experiences that caused me to feel that the institutional culture often reflected a feeling that the students were there for the school instead of the other way around.

  71. Kimball L. Hunt on May 12, 2006 at 10:10 am

    I don’t know what restraints might be inherent such regimented of institution as military academies and foundationally parochial universities such as the Y, but the sense I get from Jim in the bloggersphere is such that I’d completely take his overarching concern for students within his deanships as something unquestioningly granted! (still, I look forward to seeing how DKL’s & Nate’s experiences, expressed in their essays linked to above, reflect on its milieu — )

  72. DKL on May 12, 2006 at 10:43 am

    Jim F, you seem to be taking the fact that it is inevitable that students will sometimes be disappointed with the treatment that they receive at the hands of administrators to be a justification for a general lack of attention to quality of service. But this lack of service problem is not inevitable. The problem is not lack of camaraderie among freshman. The problem is an arrogant and dismissive attitude. Indeed, your reaction is part of the problem that I describe: My complaint is “unfair” and “nonsense” because (a) there is no conspiracy to screw students, and (b) it is intended to negatively characterize the behavior of administrators in relation to a perceived normative standard. There appears to be no sense in which you accept what I have to say as a valid critique of the way that BYU conceives of its mission.

    I really was shocked to read your reply, because it is so very indicative of the mindset that I wish to deride as a moral flaw. Your arrogance here is truly astonishing. University of Virginia is a better school that BYU, and it is also very cheap for Virginia residents by virtue of tax funds. Wabash is also a better school than BYU and it is also very cheap by virtue of one of the largest per capita endowments of any school (indeed, Wabash men are well endowed). Both of these schools do a better job of servicing student needs than BYU. BYU is not in some privileged position just because its subsidy comes from a church rather than tax payer money or alumni donations.

    Make no mistake: When you describe your need to “wake up students who often begin to take for granted the privilege of going to a good school for little money,” you’re the one that needs to wake you up for beginning to take for granted the privilege of working for a “good school” that my tithing pays for–and I pay enough tithing yearly to pay the full yearly cost of attendance to any of America’s most expensive schools–and that is supported by a church in which I spend between 10 and 30 hours a week supporting through volunteer work. If no students showed up, you’d be out of a job no matter who your financial backer was, and your idea about “waking up” students is little more than gloating over the fact that you perceive yourself to have a captive audience. Moral flaw, indeed.

    But what makes your reasoning in support of your arrogance (your customers need a wake up call) so obviously wrong is that it is the common refrain in dysfunctional organizations that have no vision of how to prioritize what they do in light of customers. The two most famous examples of this are the president of GM who said that the cars were great but the customers were the problem (the Japanese proved him wrong), and President J. Earl Carter’s statement that America was suffering from a malaise (R. Wilson Reagan proved him wrong). In any case, imagine how your words would sound if you were describing the management of a restaurant or a car rental agency or a package delivery company or a bank or even a government unemployment agency.

  73. Ben H on May 12, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    Universities are a tricky place to apply ideas of “customer service”, because at a university, the customer is not “always right”, and that’s as it should be. A consumerization of education I think is part of the problem with credentialism. Students are paying for a degree, but the universities need to insist on giving them something a bit different from what they are looking for. Even at Notre Dame, with a price tag about 10x that of BYU, there are students who seem oblivious to the investment being made in them, who need to wake up. And given how modestly Notre Dame paid me to teach (as a graduate student), I think I am in a credible position to speak on this.

    Nor is BYU the only place where students can easily feel like a number. This semester I ran into several former students and said “hello,” using their names. In almost every case, s/he remarked, “Wow, you remembered my name! Most professors don’t.” It has been no more than a year since I taught them. Once or twice is one thing, but when several students all say that, it indicates a trend. One student I bumped into, walking across campus, and chatted with for a few minutes, said “I think this is the first time I’ve just talked to a professor like this.”

    I think this is a problem that goes both ways, and is hard to avoid in a large institution. I was recently talking to a BYU student who didn’t know the name of a professor for a class he was taking at the time, mid-semester! I would like to see BYU make some changes to mitigate some of the problems of its size. One thing Notre Dame does is cultivate a dorm culture in which students stay four years in the same dorm. This would not work the same way at BYU, but perhaps wards could fill in–if people stayed in the same ward throughout, they would be likely to develop richer relationships in their wards.

  74. DKL on May 12, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Ben H., the “customer is always right” mantra doesn’t really work when it’s taken literally in business either. It serves the purpose of re-orienting employees so that they stop seeing the institution that they work for as the center of the universe, but merely one distant satellite in the complicated lives of the universe of the customer. The more precise way of stating the value proposition of customer service is “there is a strong positive correlation between what the customer wants to receive, and what the institution makes money providing.” Problem is, that formulation isn’t a great motivator.

    And you’re right that BYU is not alone in its poor offering–neither among educational institutions nor in the corporate world (how many times has an exchange with a utility or credit card company left a bad taste in your mouth?). Customer service is a difficult nut to crack–it’s an ongoing struggle, because there is no silver bullet; it’s partly an issue of organizational culture, and it’s easy to let one’s guard down and drift. And some organizational cultures are anathema to a consistently good quality of customer service (as Aristotle said, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”), and from what I can tell, such is the nature of BYU’s. That said, many organizations (educational and corporate) do succeed with good customer service, so it is possible to achieve it and to maintain it with a reliable frequency.

    A long time ago, I was talking to a non-mormon friend of mine about a conversation that he had with his mormon next-door neighbor (who happened to be working out the details of starting an airline) about why people hate to fly. It’s obviously not that flying is onerous per se–first time flyers typically find it exciting, and people don’t hate driving even when both the car and the road suck. His neighbor said, “I’m going to start an airline where if you push the attendant-call button 50 times, then the attendant actually comes 50 times.” Most airlines, if you push the attendant-call button 50 times, they treat you like you’re smoking crack. In a way, this is a novel idea. But it’s also the exact same type of thing that FedEx and UPS has been doing for years to steal business from the Postal Service.

  75. Nate Oman on May 12, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    DKL: As I understand your exchange with Jim it goes something like this–

    DKL — BYU is flawed because it is run by people who have a flawed moral attitude toward students, namely that they are not entitled to any real concern or respect.

    Jim — Nonsense. Some BYU administrators may suffer from this moral attitude but most do not. No doubt they often fail to actually solve problems or meet student needs, but this is generally a matter of pragmatic rather than moral failure.

    DKL — What a horrible response! This is just an example of the moral failure that I am indignant about. If you are right, then by definition I cannot make a valid criticism of BYU, which is absurd.

    It seems to me that Jim is simply making the rather pedestrian point that people can screw things up without being ethically monsterous. Furthermore, given his experience with BYU administrators he thinks that your characterization of their motives is inaccurate. It seems to me that you could provide two sorts of responses. First, you could provide evidence in support of your claim as to the motives of BYU administrators. Second, you could simply concede his point with regard to motivations and focus in on particular ways in which policies are screw up. Hence, rather than saying “X is bad. This is evidence of the moral failure of BYU administrators and employees.” You could say, “Even if BYU administrators have morally unobjectionable motives, X is bad. Here are the reasons why X is bad.”

  76. Ben S. on May 12, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    DMS, your example is not unique to BYU. My wife works at the University Hospital full-time, and I have excellent health insurance through her. Though I would never go there, I am yet required by the University (I’ve discussed it with several administrators) to pay the Student Health Fee for the Student Health Care Center.

    If BYU is guilty (and from my own experience there, I don’t think it is), their guilt is shared by many other schools.

  77. DKL on May 12, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Misery loves company, and so does failure. To choose an extreme example: FEMA, for example, if FEMA fails to address the needs of its clients, it’s no excuse to say that customer service problems are all over.

    Nate, I don’t agree with your characterization. But allow me to make a rather pedestrian observation: If you work at a service organization, and you view customer reactions in terms of the privileges that you extend to them, then you’re doing something fundamentally wrong.

  78. Nate Oman on May 12, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    DKL: I actually agree with your last point. I would just add two caveats. First, one’s customer service can suck not because one has an improper attitude toward the customer but simply because one is incompetent. I actually tend to think that the world is filled with far more incompetent people than with evil people. This is probably doubly true of university administrators. (FWIW, I found the Harvard bureacracy much worse than anything I encountered at BYU.) Second, when one is on the recieving end of bad service it is very easy to jump to conclusions about the nefarious motives of those involved and then generalize those motives in ways that are unwarranted. To the extent that one is actually interested in persuading people, overstating one’s case in this way is not generally helpful.

  79. Jim F. on May 12, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    DKL: I am as shocked by your response as you were by mine. Though you don’t agree with Nate’s characterization of our exchange, it seems quite accurate to me. So, I suspect that there is a major misunderstanding between us. Let me try to summarize as briefly as possible what I was trying to say: (1) The people I know at BYU, and I know a good many, are sincerely working to be sure that students are not treated as numbers. They may not always succeed–perhaps, though I doubt it, they rarely do–but it isn’t for want of trying. (2) There is sometimes a place for reminding some students that the university is highly subsidized and that they, therefore, have an obligation to those providing that subsidy. I assume that both of those points apply to most universities, not just BYU.

    That said, let me also respond to some of your particular points:

    I haven’t seen you criticize the way in which BYU conceives of its mission. I’ve seen you make assertions about how it treats students, but that’s not the same. I didn’t claim that BYU is better or worse than any other school, nor claim that BYU is in a privileged position.

    I’m baffled why you think I take for granted my privilege of working for a school that your tithing money helps pay for. How do you see my claim that some students need to be awakened to be gloating over the fact that I have a captive audience, and how are they captive? Perhaps some have parents who force them to go to BYU in some way, but most do not. You are an example of the fact that those displeased with BYU can go some place else.

    I was not portraying students in general. That’s what the word “some” does rhetorically; it narrows the scope. I could have said “a few,” and I thought that the fact that I have said something about the obligation owed to the tithe payers once or twice showed that I didn’t think there was a general need to make that point.

  80. Ben H on May 12, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    I do think there are some problems among some of the functionaries (particularly lesser functionaries, I think) of the administration at BYU that are peculiar to BYU, going beyond the usual pattern of bureaucratism one would be likely to encounter at any very large university. For example, there is sometimes a tendency to think of BYU as the center of the universe, perhaps because of course why would any faithful Mormon kid want to go elsewhere?

    Example: an academic counselor told me one of the most preposterous things I have ever heard. I had lots of credits. The counselor hassled me about not graduating sooner, citing how many credits I had. I pointed out that many of them were from APs I had taken in high school, and so I didn’t think they should count for assessing whether I was dawdling. She told me, with a straight face, that my high school should have told me I would be expected to graduate sooner if I took APs! Does that sound like someone who thinks the rest of the world should revolve around BYU? I could tell some other stories.

    Considering how a student’s experience with the administration consists in dealing almost exclusively with lesser functionaries, it shouldn’t be surprising if students feel the administration has a less than expansive sense of purpose. Yet this may be a very incomplete picture of what the administration is really about. When encountering someone unhelpful, I tended to think “this person is an idiot,” rather than drawing conclusions about the administration generally.

  81. Jim F. on May 12, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    DKL: I, too, agree with the last point you make in #77: If you work at a service organization, and you view customer reactions in terms of the privileges that you extend to them, then you’re doing something fundamentally wrong. I don’t think that is how most BYU staff, administration, or faculty view students.

    Perhaps that is the briefest way to make my main point.

  82. Robert C. on May 12, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    DKL (#72): UVA’s undergrad student body is about 1/2 the size of BYU’s, and I’m guessing Wabash is much smaller than UVA. So I’d be surprised if UVA were not less bureaucratic….

  83. DKL on May 12, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    Jim F, when you or anyone says, “eight other people want your spot” you’re saying, “you need us more than we need you.” Aside from the fact that this does not reflect the Lord’s program, it’s darned poor customer service. There’s just no room for that kind of talk.

    It really doesn’t matter that the President of BYU (or any other higher up) cares about how the students get treated. For all I know, Rex Lee (the president when I was there) cried himself to bed over the poor treatment of his students. Fat lot of good that did BYU, because I was never so much as in the same room with the poor guy.

    To most students, the underlings are the face of BYU’s administration. That’s all (or very nearly all) the administration that they ever meet.

    A credit card company could send you a sloppy bill and allow you to correct it by calling up very polite and helpful people. Then they could justify it by saying, “it’s only the bill!” But since the bill represents the vast majority of the contact that the credit card company has with its customers, they spend a great deal of time making the bill useful and attractive. For many companies, their bill is one of their primary branding mechanisms (and credit card billing is far more complicated than any task being performed in the X-shaped aquarium building).

    When it comes to the view of the BYU administration from the student point-of-view, the underlings are the brand.

    And it’s no excuse for BYU’s very poor customer service to say that a large organization run by ordinary people so that it’s inevitable, or to say that it’s just the underlings so that it doesn’t really reflect BYU’s outlook. This is just a evidence that there is no solid grasp on the value that good service provides to its clients.

  84. anonymous on May 12, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    DMS’s comment may not be unique to BYU , but BYU is unique. It is run by the church and it’s leaders are called by the First Presidency. Naive or not, when we enter we expect to be treated as Saints. I appreciate Jim F’s comments, I don’t think the staff at BYU has ill intentions. I think they are in an impossible situation.

    If the Lord really were running a University it would certainly not have the shortcomings that BYU (or any other school) has. When our 18 year olds arrive at BYU they don’t know this. And they often are not prepared for the shortcomings. As Mormons we teach our children well regarding what to expect when we say that the Lord’s hand is in something. They enter expecting this to be “The Lord’s University”. At the very least they expect to be treated like they are typically treated in a church setting. That is the real problem – the way the university/business has has been set up with the religion/church. It is a recipe for disaster. In this society we are taught to protect ourselves in business dealings, but to be open emotionally in religious settings. At 18-22 years old too many of our youth leave confused and hurt by their religious/university/business/church experiences at BYU.

  85. Kimball L. Hunt on May 12, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Nate’s link in # 64, where bloggernaclers talk of their experience at the Y, is great — I loved it! So I’m going to regale you with my own — NON-experience?

    Yeah, sure, you fellow bloggernaclers rarely note things I post; but then I can’t say I read absolutely every post m&m writes on T&S, either, truth be told. . . . . . . So let me tell ya this one doozy of a boring post (you’d be best to skip ‘lest yer a good speed reader.

    Which, come to think of, perhaps a goodly number of ya are, though — smiles; and as another aside: most normally, my feeling as much an outsider as I might tend, naturally, to feel here would discourage such participation as I continue to engage in here; but it’s just that T&S’s subjectmatter actually happens to be really quite a passion for me in a way. If contrarian-ly? So for the time bein’ you’re stuck with me!

    But, OK: As for BYU: ORIGINALLY I thought I was gonna go there, get married, and . . . well, actually, that eventually I’d grow up to be president of the Church. And of course with also my becoming a multi-millionaire, a famous author, famous artist, famous actor, famous inventor, and last but not least president of the United States — all thrown in for good measure! But these sincerest expectations didn’t pan out the way I’d so carefully planned; because, you see, there’s this little thing called “stopping to sit around and daydream and to actually do something” that I’ve never been particularly good at. Something like that. (Bored yet?!)

    (Well, you WILL be!): Because what I really did was to decide I probably would become a famous writer. And writers don’t have to go to school, of course, do they! So after highschool I just — well, just hung out with other drop-out types. Meanwhile, I was still gonna perhaps . . . well, if not become the prophet, at least become TEMPLE MARRIED . . . ! So, I stayed chaste, really —

    Then in 1976 when I was 21 years old I started to notice that my game plan as far as the temple marriage part of it wasn’t working too well, since the only women I would meet would be hippie girls. So I went on a mission. Another deep sigh. (Note that I paid my full tithing on my meager hippie earnings — and my brother in law who was bishop — laughs — had reprimanded me for not earning more. Which I thought odd at the time, being a non-materialist by my personal convictions.)

    Which leads into my next topic . . . which, OK, is that I’m supposedly “very sensitive”(????!)? and so my mission experience was absolutely and stunningly and spectacularly awful for me, absolutely and positively: I mean just awful, y’know? Shrugs and gives another deep sigh. (As an aside, maybe when institutions’ defenders resort to saying that individuals’ these institutions scar are simply too sensitive . . . Well, just maybe that’s not a very humanistic of a viewpoint or something; but still, the point remains that I was indeed extremely sensitive to the scarring I received there, y’know?)

    So anyway when I got off my mission for a bit I somehow ended up living in Orem, Utah, and working at Signetics helping in the manufacture of silicon, integrated circuit chips.

    And suddenly it occured to me to apply to BYU into their design program. My ACT test scores were high and despite my never having really done homework my grade point average was OK enough. But I had to get a ecclesaistical interview –

    Oh, the other point is that I had a girlfriend with whom I was chaste with. And I kept the Word of Wisdom. But I never went to Church since I’d decided at the time that I was atheist. So, anyway, I went into whomever was the bishop of my ward and told him I fully expected to live by the Honor Code, but that I of course didn’t attend church ‘caus after all I was atheist.[*] And to my surprise . . . he wouldn’t authorize me!

    And I may be a little naive, but I was genuinely surprised in this: this because I happened to know of believing Mormon attenders at the Y that were fairly wild — well, some more than fairly wild. And also knew of non-members who attended. So if I myself was an inactive but atheist member, what should be the problem? Laughs. So, anyway, I was rejected by him. (So instead I ended up going to the University of Utah for about two years. That is before I dropped out. Shrugs. And that was my BYU experience. I hoped you enjoyed it!)
    |[*(It never even occured to me to LIE to him: as actually my very atheism I took as a badge of an absolute commitment to Truth -- or perhaps, rather, I should say Doubt lol. Aren't I obnoxiously earnest? But, trust me, I'm crazy. So I really can't submit such earnestness as any kind of example to you or anyone!)]|
    Anyway, I think I would have enjoyed my experiences at the Y — if I’d only have qualified to go there, that is! And in this way, well, I could have recouped some of my parents’ lifetime of tithes, hmm? (Joking.)

    Speaking of money: Anyways, I’ve always been a sort of “knockabout” kind of guy; and, when I visited my local ward a few years ago a handful of times, I vaguely imagined that, due to the Church’s welfare system, my bishop MIGHT have had some idea I’d come there to ask for help. But, I was very careful to emphasize to him that I was financially just fine!(!!)

    I told him of my current “Universalism” and this bishop and I had a very interesting discussion about the nature of faith, by the way: A truly bright and sincere man. I was extremely impressed. But anyway, to drone on more about this “money” question:

    Actually, you see, my mom had lent me the down payment for a car — which loan she later forgave me; but I’d voluntarily told her I’d be visiting the church after she lent me the money. And, man of my word, I started to do so — although not completely, as after awhile I quite going. But still in a roundabout sort of way, when I’d visited it was sort of monetarily inspired due to my mom’s “loan” to me.

    Actually the only time I got a check from the Church was once in Florida, as my wife (I was married at the time) was attending Church then — which was for our rent. But the time I got it, I told this “Spanish branch” president I’d be paying him back in a couple of weeks; and . . . he was surprised when, true to my word, I showed up in a couple of weeks with the money! He told me to keep it and not repay it but I insisted. You see, I was still in my ardently anti-Mormon phase then: Ardently anti-materialist but also stringently hyper honest. Which is my own version of Mormonism, I’d dare say!

    End of story; with this being where you’re supposed to say, Well: Thanks for sharing! To which my reply is: Thanks for listening! lol. But actually I, as I often do, have some sort of postscripts here. Which are these.

    PS, there probably are weirdly hyper religious people at BYU, with their religiosity coming off in bizarrely strange ways ‘n’ all, for sure. But in my own way my own hyper-religiousness has manifested itself in my own hyperly bizarre ways too. So I perfectly understand.
    PPS, a little factoid: Hey, I’m an eighth child and all of my sibs except one other has a BYU degree (and this one sis, unlike me, had actually matriculated there).
    PPPS, when I’d lived in Orem for a short while, I’d had some really cool Mormon BYU roomates. But I’d also once had a strange bunch one time where only ONE kid was cool and the rest simply bizarro Mormo-nazis — to whom ANYTHING I said — as, say, for example, about missing food in the apartment — they assumed must have been a lie, due to my being an inactive member who self-identified as an apostate! But, oh well, other minorities elsewhere have certainly suffered much worse impositions of prejudice than this very mild amount that happened to have been inflicted on me there.
    PPPPS, love you guys! Sincerely, mista Kimball Leigh Hunt (who will never the president of the United States)

  86. Jonathan Green on May 12, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    Actually, I think there are situations where reminding a student of his or her obligations to the institution would be appropriate. I read Jim’s comments to refer to those situations. (For example, a senior comes to you and says, “Like, I’ve looked into all my options, and I really think I would make more money if I dropped out in order to raise an acre of weed in the forest.” That would be a good time to mention the consecrated tithing funds of poor widows, the tax dollars of working-class citizens, or the generous donations from generations of alumni.)

    On the other hand, I don’t think freshman orientation is the right situation to harangue students about how much they owe the university, and how many students are clamoring for their place. I don’t remember the exact incident, but that’s about as early as I remember the rhetoric. Undoubtedly it didn’t come from anyone important, but then one assumes that the unimportant people that deal with freshmen were picking it up from somewhere higher up. Maybe not; sometimes these things persist after the upper echelons have moved on.

    And BYU or any university should be grateful for its students. The last I checked, BYU’s acceptance rate was greater than 50%, which means there’s only something like .5 or .8 of a person waiting to take each student’s place. If we assume that the student who, faced with the choice between loving it or leaving it, chooses to leave it, is an average student, then that average student will not be replaced by another average student, but by one who is less qualified for BYU than even the least qualified of all admitted applicants. Avoiding that has got to be worth something. Undoubtedly my perspective reflects a decades-long disciplinary crisis in student enrollment, but my professional DNA tells me that students can’t be taken for granted, and their complaints have to be taken seriously, rather than dismissed as the whining of those with no right to be dissatisfied.

    Again, this wasn’t my experience with every BYU employee, or even many of them, but enough to become a recognizable pattern that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

  87. Robert C. on May 12, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    Kimball (#85): Thanks for sharing. Too bad you weren’t admitted, I think you would’ve been a good addition to BYU’s campus. In an effort to understand the bishop’s response, I think it’s common to hold members to a higher standard then nonmembers. There is a related theme in the BOM (apostate Nephites being more hardened then Lamanites). I think having gone through the temple is an important factor that is considered in church courts.

    Jonathan Green (#86): I think teacher evaluations are a related issue, but at the opposite extreme. It’s much easier to get good teacher evaluations if you teach an easy class than a challenging class. Because of this, I would argue that many teachers make classes too easy in an effort to please students in a way that is ultimately to their detriment and to the detriment of the university.

  88. BrianJ on May 13, 2006 at 12:12 am

    DKL, I’m surprised by how careless you are with Jim F’s comments. In post 83 you write, “Jim F, when you or anyone says, “eight other people want your spotâ€? you’re saying, “you need us more than we need you.â€? Aside from the fact that this does not reflect the Lord’s program, it’s darned poor customer service. There’s just no room for that kind of talk.”

    Compare your interpretation to what Jim F said himself, post 69: “As for “the other X number of students who could have been hereâ€?….it has been to try to wake up students who often begin to take for granted the privilege of going to a good school for little money. Faced with a student who thinks he or she has done BYU a favor by coming…that reminder is appropriate. It is also an appropriate reminder to students who have decided to squander their opportunity by not taking education seriously, and in my mind one of the biggest problems we have among students is that: too many don’t take their opportunity to learn (which is not the same as the opportunity to be taught) seriously.” Where’s the “you need us” claim in that?!

    Jim F, like most of the administrators and professors I knew at BYU, is concerned about the students. Your refusal to listen to what he actually says makes me suspicious of your descriptions of conversations with other BYU administrators. Because I believe that the majority of BYU grads view the administrators as being quite helpful, I wonder if you recognize that the broad brush strokes you use to describe BYU as uncaring do not match with the narrowness of your experience.

  89. Kimball L. Hunt on May 13, 2006 at 1:32 am

    Doctor C., your words extremely thoughtful & kind, for which I thank you.

    |[*(MY GLORIOUS CAREER, Epilogue: As for the bishop who interviewed me, come t'think: I'd already been disfellowshipped about a year by that time, too. (Is it breaking a rule here to say I still am?) Y'see, though I'd regularly attended church during Reservist training soon after my mission, my hyper honesty (patting myself on the back) managed to get me disfellowshipped while there. Thus I'd not partaken of the sacrament from ages of 17 - 21, due my questioning the gospel, and then after 24 for bein' dis'd.)]|

  90. Robert C. on May 13, 2006 at 6:18 am

    In case Adam is still following, I agree with the linked article that the quality of the signal of education is diluted when education becomes more common. However, I think the obvious solution is to make college harder, something that I think is effectively done through branding of degrees and institutions. The arguments in the article seem to make a stronger case against low quality, easy degrees than high quality, difficult degrees (which is why I don’t consider DKL’s posts a threadjack, though Adam may very well disagree, in which case I apologize for fuelling this subplot).

  91. DKL on May 13, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Ben H. and Robert C., your statement that giving the students exactly what they want would mean giving them free and easy grades betrays exactly the kind of disconnect that I’ve been pointing to from the start. BYU is not competing with diploma mills, so there is no real sense in which this is true. If teacher surveys tend to provide deceptive information in this regard, then perhaps they should be administered differently (e.g., a full semester after the class is completed, so that temporal distance mitigates any initial frustration with difficulty.) Besides, I have no gripe with the teaching at BYU (aside from the fact that I did sometimes find it to be too easy–and not because I’m such a smarty, but because I’d sometimes encounter [for example] multiple choice exams in 300 and 400 level classes).

    In any case you’re objection is analogous to the manager of a Radio Shack justifying his poor customer service by saying, “We can’t give the customer everything he wants, otherwise we’d have to give everything away for free!”

    BrianJ, I do not believe that my interpretation is unfair. It reflects the way that students feel who are being told this really feel. If it’s frustrating for professors to hear this, then so be it. Moreover, I consider the question of how good of a professor Jim F is to be off the table. I’ve said in this thread and in many other places that Jim F is an outstanding professor. I also think that his strong affinity for BYU as an institution is quite natural and generally commendable.

    DMS’s comment is an important one. All too often, when an 18 or 19 year old attends the college and is trying to allocate limited resources for the first time and they have a question about a fee or an expense, they get stuck on hold for a half hour and then get brusquely dismissed over the phone. This was nothing more than a minor frustration for me, as I’d run a business for a few years before coming. But for many kids just out of high school, they are left feeling bullied and confused. The person on the other end of the line probably feels like, “Why do I have to explain the same thing about insurance over and over and over again?” This isn’t because they’re evil, it’s because they’ve never been taught otherwise. And this, in turn, is because BYU has no culture of customer service, no matter how much the higher-ups fret about student needs.

  92. DMS on May 13, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    What I have found in my experience in a service business is that while employees or even management can have the best of intentions, the level of customer service is often inconsistent from employee to employee and from interaction to interaction. I personally found this to be true of BYU employees and representatives at the time I attended. Poor service from well intentioned people is still perceived as just that – poor service.

    From my experience, it takes a concerted effort by the management/administration to set specific and achievable standards of service that each employee is taught to follow and held to achieve by their supervisor. In fact, I would dare to say that BYU would be well served if each job were to have a specific, written set of service standards all the way from the person checking out books, to the person helping in the financial aid office, to professors and deans. BYU did not have defined service standards for their employees that I am aware of when I attended. If they do now or did then, I would love to hear about it.

    For those who have responded that the specific example of non-service at BYU that I posted is replicated at other schools doesn’t mean that BYU couldn’t set and achieve more consistently high levels of service.

    If you want to read about achieving excellent customer service I recommend you read the book Hardwiring Excellence by Quint Studer. Although it is written about hospitals/healthcare, I believe many of the principles apply to other service businesses. Some of his ideas were developed by watching other service industries. It gives examples to show that even well intentioned employees can find that they often didn’t realize the things they could and should do to give excellent service to their customers. He tells about the specific but sometimes small things he had his employees do that dramatically changed the perception of service at the hospitals he ran.

    Jim F: While I too believe that “there is no institutional conspiracy to make life difficult or to ignore students.” What I would like to see in your post however is a vision of what BYU could become if it were to achieve a consistently higher level of excellent customer service. I’ve seen it elsewhere – it is achievable. And no I’m not talking about “the customer is always right” kind of approach. It would be even better if a vision of, measurement of and striving for excellent customer service was pursued by the President of BYU and built into the organization.

    As a side note, I have also noticed that my perception of the service toward me when I was a student has affected my desire to donate money to the institution. That is an unfortunate side effect that may be truly impacting BYU if others have the same reaction. Usually if there is one there are others who feel the same way.

  93. DKL on May 13, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    DMS, that’s very well said. Customer service impacts every other area of a business.

    When I was a bartender, I could hustle all night, make great drinks, get everything right, and make people laugh and keep them engaged, but if I made them wait too long to give them their check when they’d requested it or took too long to run their credit card once they were ready to get out the door, it ruined everything. As far as my tip was concerned, I might as well have spilled a drink on them. These are what I call sandpaper moments. It doesn’t matter how well things things are going otherwise, if someone rubs you with coarse sandpaper, it makes you sore, and it impacts every aspect of the transaction.

  94. BrianJ on May 13, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    DKL, post 91, “Moreover, I consider the question of how good of a professor Jim F is to be off the table.”

    I did not bring up the quality of his or other BYU professor’s teaching.

    “I’ve said in this thread and in many other places that Jim F is an outstanding professor.”

    That doesn’t give you an excuse to insult him (and, by implication, other BYU professors) as you did in post 72. Do you recall using the words “lack of attention to quality service”, “dismissive attitude”, “arrogance”, “gloating”, “Moral flaw”? You put those accusations “on the table” and it is those that I am disputing. To use your “bar tips” analogy, the administrators and professors I met at BYU were “hustling all night,” and if they made some mistakes I was able to look past them instead of focusing on the “sandpaper moments.”

  95. DKL on May 13, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    Brianj, I stand by everything that I said in comment #72. Frankly, I don’t care if you think that it’s insulting. I engage Jim F as a peer in a very frank manner, offering quite specific and very constructive criticism. Moreover, I’ve followed up to clarify at length.

    You can congratulate yourself all you want for your ability to look past BYU’s flaws, but this part of the thread has nothing to do with my reaction to BYU. The issue here is the poor quality of service that the administration offers to students and the mindset that leads people to imagine that they’re justified ever telling students that there are eight people who want their spot (which, as Jonathan Green has pointed out, is mathematically incorrect). Your attitude that me or other students should just be expected to look past these things is exactly the kind of arrogant, heavy handed, morally flawed approach to the problem that I’m discussing. Specifically, it’s not your place to tell me or anyone else that I should accept poor treatment at the hands of church institutions with a smile–but it is my place (and everyone else’s place) to tell people who try (like you) to back off.

    In fact, my general reaction to BYU is quite favorable. This all started when I made a one sentence aside that identified the decades long problem that BYU has had with customer service, and there are too many people here who will brook no serious criticism of BYU to allow that to pass without being dwelt on at length, creating the impression that I’m some kind of malcontent. This type of thing has happened repeatedly lately. Specifically, when I identify small (but serious) criticisms with things that I have a generally positive attitude about these areas of criticism get blown all out of proportion by people who insist that it’s not enough for me to have a broadly positive attitude. That said, I’m happy to discuss these things at ad nauseam. I enjoy the back and forth.

  96. kristine N on May 13, 2006 at 10:44 pm

    On the topic of how to get good student rankings (#86), I saw this the other day:

    I don’t think I had a single easy class in college. I did have a couple of chili-pepper worthy profs :) The classes I liked most were the ones that balanced good teaching with a challenging atmosphere, and those are the classes I still value to this day. I think the more successful people I know–not just academically, in all fields–are those who enjoyed the challenge in a well-taught class. That doesn’t necessarily correlate well to good grades, but I think an inquisitive mind does show in class, and I do think education encourages (or should encourage) questions and curiosity. Thinking about my own teaching experience, I always have students who do well because they care, students who do well because they’re just that talented, students who do poorly in spite of caring, and students who do poorly because they just don’t care. I’ll take the ones who care and do poorly over the ones who do well but don’t care any day of the week. Caring won’t necessarily show in the gpa, but it will show in the classes a student chooses to take.

    Recently one of the last faculty members lacking a PhD at my prestigious alma mater died. The path he took to getting on the faculty was much more aprenticeship-like in that he started working for another faculty member, helped on some important projects, was published a number of times, and at some point was awarded a PhD for the work he had done even though he’d been an employee, not a student, and hadn’t actually matriculated. That would never happen again, and I do think it does a disservice to acadame to

  97. DKL on May 13, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    I should add that, like DMS, BYU’S low level of customer service has impacted my wife and my desire to donate money as alumni–enough, in fact, that BYU is too far down on our list of causes worthy of donation for us to ever reach it. Quite aside from the humorous fact that they solicit money from me after having thrown me out, they just don’t end up being high enough on this list to illicit a response. It’s a crowded list, and tithing money is just going to have to suffice.

  98. kristine N on May 13, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    (continued) limit professorships to only those with PhD’s, just as it does a disservice to other professions to limit jobs to those with certain degree level. That said, going to the trouble of getting a higher degree shows a committment to knowledge (or used to at least), so at least for acadame I understand the use of credentials to differentiate between candidates. In theory, I think that’s why people pick more educated over less educated candidates.

    Education really is a luxury, though.

    As for the treatment of students, I’ve attended one private and two public universities, and while I found administrivia irritating in all institutions, there is a difference between the private university, where I was seen as an investment (they spent WAY more on me than I spent on tuition), and the private universities, where I was a tuition paying, and thus income-producing entity.

    Probably the most important difference, though, was size. The private university had 900-ish undergrads, total. Both public universities have been over 30,000. I definitely think the size of the beaurocracies did not scale linearly with the number of students.

  99. Kimball L. Hunt on May 13, 2006 at 11:28 pm


    Your back and forth — and aces of course, as well as antics protesting bad calls! lol — makes for good TV. And it’s always important to have people manning the barricades about certain things, too. The only other option’s to diplomatically frame issues, but then hearers will barely even know a ball’s been put into play, sometimes; and there are differing advantages and shortcomings to either approach . . .

  100. Robert C. on May 14, 2006 at 1:04 am

    Having waited tables many years myself, I was always grateful for the customers who tipped even when my performance was subpar—as I’m grateful when my students give me good ratings despite course hiccups. (I’ll resist the temptation to start another threadjack by going more into student ratings….)

    I don’t dispute that BYU has a a lot of room for improvement in the customer service front. How BYU fares relative to other schools seems hard to pin down (though I think surveys from rankings institutions suggest customer satistfaction is pretty good at BYU relative to other schools, despite there still being much room for improvement), but I think there have been many suggestions made that might help improve things. I also think universities face bureaucratic challenges that normal businesses don’t, so I’m tempted to challenge those analogies (but won’t b/c of time, and threadjacking considerations, I already feel guilty enough on both fronts!). If I’m ever stuck—I mean priveleged—enough to be put in an administrative position, this discussion will likely prove very helpful (though perhaps I will simply try to convince students that their tuition money is subsidizing an elitist trend of credentialism in society and they would be better off not wasting their money this way!), so thanks.

  101. Kimball L. Hunt on May 14, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    Betcha the average Y student’s more serious than the usual run of underagedly beer guzzlers goin to the state U’s!; and also if sometimes folks look at a BYU diploma and think: Oh no! religious nut!, those kinds of folks would be best for Y grads to avoid in the first place, I’d bet.

    For the first centuries of the Enlightenment, Jews generally were off to the side somewhere, studyin torah. But when they connected in more with the main stream of Western civilization, they did so with a vengeance! Anyway — that is, if you can catch my transitions of thought here! — I think Mormons have much to be proud of their “separate ‘n’ to the side” intellectual tradition and I believe the Y surely to be quite a competetive school, by most measures, even if this fact should remain a secret to many out in the greater culture, somewhat.

  102. Jim F. on May 14, 2006 at 11:30 pm

    All: I wasn’t insulted by DKL’s comments, though they took my by surprise. I assume he wasn’t insulted by mine. I suspect, however, that this is one more thing about which David and I will continue to disagree.

    As I see the topic of discussion right now, I not only started a gigantic thread jack, I also opened a can with a variety of worms, all of which have been lumped together. There are all sorts of ways of thinking about customer service at BYU. Profs think about it and have to deal with it differently than to secretaries, for example. I would be interested in a study of customer service at BYU that parses out those different arenas. I don’t think we can accurately talk about how BYU treats students without making some of those distinctions, and I have to admit that there are parts of the university in which I know nothing about how students are treated. Oddly, however, those areas tend to be ones where we hire a lot of students. An honest question: is it fellow students in clerical-type positions who have given people the most grief? Or does it tend to be full-time employees? It is possible that part of the problem comes from the overt policy to hire students for as many positions as possible. I’m not suggesting that students are more naturally rude than full-time employees, but it is a lot harder to train them well because the turnover is so great. That is one possible explanation for at least part of the problem that some perceive.

    Jonathan and DKL: BYU doesn’t have a very effective way of knowing what our acceptance rate means because unlike at many schools our recrutiment staff spends considerable time trying to encourage students to think about other options than BYU. Since beginning that effort, we’ve seen a drop in the number of applications, but we don’t really have any way to know what the cause of that drop was, especially given that there has been an overall drop in college applications. Nevertheless, I doubt that there have ever been 8 students wanting to get into the university for every 1 accepted. If someone actually used such a statistic, they made it up.

    Nevertheless, I continue to think that there are occasions, though not frequent ones, when it is appropriate to remind students that they are at BYU (or any other university) because someone else has paid for them to be there–however much they paid for tuition–and, as long as the university is turning somem prospective students away, that some were denied admittance who might have occupied the place that the student in question occupies. The fact that universities are not fully funded by students’ tuition and fees and that they turn away some “customers,” selecting among those who wish their services, is an important distinction between a university and service providers. It isn’t a distinction that justifies poor service, of course, but I think it is enough to justify the remark, perhaps even to first-year students.

  103. Adam Greenwood on May 15, 2006 at 8:02 am

    If I may summarize this thread:

    Credentialism has issues.
    Most colleges and universities have issues.
    BYU has issues.
    DKL and Jonathan have issues.
    The rest of us have issues.

  104. John Mansfield on May 15, 2006 at 10:08 am

    The reports of poor administrative service at BYU don’t match my experience. The principal intersection of myself and the administration was registration for classes, which worked smoothly and even conveniently. Obtaining lockers, transcripts or anything else I sought was always simple. The department secretaries were always attentive and helpful. When I took a semester off for work and needed a third-party scholarship deferred, the folks at registration gave me all the help I needed with no fuss.

  105. Jonathan Green on May 15, 2006 at 12:53 pm

    Adam, I don’t think that’s “summarizing,” I think it’s more like “taking it out behind the shed and shooting it.” But, yeah, that’s pretty much it, except I think that BYU’s issues are interesting issues, because they’re not always just the local subset of the issues that all universities have. Thank you for allowing us to borrow your thread.

  106. Robert C. on May 15, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    #105: I wouldn’t say borrowing, I’d say stealing, pillaging, abducting, or even despoiling….

  107. Jim F. on May 15, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Robert is right: stealing, pillaging, abducting, despoiling.

  108. Jim F. on May 15, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Back to credentialism: the other side of the issue from that described well by Adam is the fact that credentialism ruins education itself. When the university diploma becomes a credential for employment, many come to the university only for the diploma, some get upset with the university if it requires classes that don’t have obvious credentialing functions or, heaven forbid, offers degrees withough credentialing functions.

    But what to do? This horse is already out of the barn and a mile down the road.

  109. Frank McIntyre on May 15, 2006 at 3:00 pm


    I’m pretty sure us academics gain a whole lot more (in terms of raw employment) than we lose (in student disinterest) from the fact that universities have taken on a veneer of job training or screening.

  110. Mark Butler on May 15, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    I don’t understand the academic disdain for “vocational training” – a *vocation* is a great thing, like a *profession* – not just a mode of earning money or providing for ones family, but a sacred duty and obligation for the general improvement of the world at large. The fact that one is compensated and that we have an over-emphasis on compensation in contemporary society need not diminish the moral value of taking on a lifelong dedication to serve and perform as a productive member of society within some role or domain.

    University education has *always* been vocational, in the proper sense. Who except the idle aristocracy could go to school without some sense of preparation for life long service in law, medicine, or the ministry? Or engineering or military service? That today we have an expanded sense of vocation and profession to include (horror of horrors) economics and business administration need not denigrate the role they play in society and the necessity for self sufficient individuals to find a position within it.

    Out of the ivory tower, pure scholarship looks like a luxury that is financed off the backs of holders of more mundane occupations. So the criticism of the not exactly new necessity for university students to take up a vocation after they graduate looks rather divorced from reality.

  111. Mark Butler on May 15, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    “Occupation” is a really silly word, by the way.

  112. Nate Oman on May 15, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    To back up Mark’s point, the first medieval universities were law schools, and it was only later that philosophy and theology were added to the curriculum.

  113. Jonathan Green on May 15, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    Jim, was that misaimed, or merely gratuitous?

  114. Mark IV on May 15, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    #106, 107,
    …stealing, pillaging, abducting, despoiling.

    We’re talking here about what universities do, right?

    Here is a serious question. Most dental schools require 4 years of study to earn a DDS. The University of the Pacific turns out new DDS graduates in only 3 years. Students from UoP pass the national board exam at the same rate as students from the other schools, and there is no discernible difference in the quality of care they offer their patients. Is there any good reason we should not think of the 4 year dental schools as shakedown artists and con-men? They are talking advantage of our assumption that we get smarter for every year we sit in a chair at school, and burdening their students with another 60,000-70,000 dollars in debt without reason.

  115. DKL on May 15, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    As far as the bias in schools against training people to be productive members of society (which literacy only plays a part in insofar as it makes you more employable), that goes back to Plato. His polemic against the sophists was based on the fact that they actually charged for knowledge and taught things of practical use. You see, Plato was an aristocrat, so he was able to teach rich people useless things for free. Anyone who actually had to learn anything useful, or who actually charged to teach it, they were lowlifes.

  116. DKL on May 15, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Mark IV, I think that the stats you site are sufficient condition for calling four year dental schools a shakedown.

  117. no one on May 15, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    As for the university of the pacific question, I went to a four year dental school and it didn’t start intil oct the first year. U o P was July. So there is a few more months that they also had. Also they don’t get as many breaks as the four year schools. And their clinics are open in the evenings a few days a week were as mine closed at 4:30. To make a long story short they actually have about the same time in school as the four year schools it is just more condensed. And University of the pacific is so expensive that it may only be “three years” but with the tuition and cost of living its is still much more expensive than going to a state four year school in a lower cost of living area. It is also a growing trend to to a one year resisdency after dental school. It is even requied now in NY and i think that is 10 years it will be requied more places. So I think that 4 year dental school is going bye bye and turning into 5 years. I am a newly graduated dentist. I am doing a one year general residency and I think that is almost essiantial now. There is so much to teach in 3-4 years, that they can’t do it all. And also I don’t know if you will like this but 30% of your patients are u o p will have AIDS. Of course the odds of getting it with a needle stick are below 1%, and its illegal not to treat them based on their HIV status.. Also, not all dental schools are created equal, some you will get out and be able to do alot, others are not so good. So are all the other dental schools con men. No they are not. But this is complicated, just check what you rent wuld be over three years in San fransisco over three years, compared to NE or OH for years. OH and NE will be cheaper even adding the extra year.

  118. RoAnn on May 15, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    Adam, yes, you are a genius for calling attention to this issue. I do see the cruelty in credentialism, but I don’t think that limiting university admissions to the top 20% of applicants would be a good solution. Many young people are “late bloomers,” and one of the great advantages of the U.S. system over that of some other countries is that someone who did poorly in school as an adolescent, can find a way to eventually get the education they desire at a university.

    It is my understanding (I’m open to correction here!) that in most countries, the percentage of young people who obtain a university education is lower than in the US. Some countires require that you orient your secondary education towards university in order to qualify for entrance. Others have qualifying exams that prevent all but the top students from entering. In some cases, anyone who does well on that exam receives a full scholarship, but there are many who desire to attend, and who might do well in their studies there, who will never have the opportunity to do so.

    In many other countries, a university education is often highly sought after, even though it often leads to unemployment because of the chaotic economic situation in those countries. (It is common in some places to ask the taxi driver about his college degree, because there are thousands of college graduates who can’t find employment in their field.) Class distinctions are a big factor, of course. An unemployed “professionalâ€? is worlds above an employed “tradesmanâ€? in the eyes of some. It is worth noting that in most places where the Perpetual Education Fund is established, loans are given for technical training that is likely to lead to employment, not for university training. In the Church we are taught to seek learning and education, AND, to prepare to support our families. That doesn’t mean that everything we learn will be useful in our employment; not does it mean that the only way we can prepare for employment is thought a university education.

    In countries where most young people cannot attend a university, there are usually alternatives, such as technical schools. Apprenticeships are another viable option for many youth in some countries. They enable youth who are not preparing for the university to finish their secondary education at 16 or 17, and then start earning some money as they learn a craft, trade, or vocation. That used to be the way that English Chartered Accountants (C.P.A.s. in the U.S.) prepared for certification in accounting.

    IMO, your suggested solutions all have merit, and in some other countries, some of them are working. Even in the U. S., young people who start work in family businesses get to learn through informal apprenticeships. I think you have beautifully stated the ideal (which at this point in the thread I think is worth restating):

    “We can do what we can to stop treating degrees as a measure of social status; to encourage youth to think seriously about the costs and benefits of education and the way it will open some choices and cut off others; as LDS employers, to encourage ways of sorting potential employees that don’t require four year degrees; and to resist measures that make formal degrees a legal requirement for working in more fields.�

  119. Jim F. on May 15, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    Jonathan (#113): I didn’t intend it to be either misaimed, or merely gratuitous.

    Obviously universities have something to do with vocational training, and I dont’ object that they do. I don’t think we should be merely about training the idle rich. We ought to be about helping people train for and get good jobs (or good graduate programs, as is the case for a very high percentage of BYU’s graduates).

    However, the difference between “mere” vocational training and university training has been–almost always only in the ideal–that the latter is a broader education and, therefore, is to help one learn not only the particular skills immediately required by one’s prospective job, but also the broader skills of thinking, literacy, math, etc. that will help one do better in that job, to continue to learn as the job changes (or disappears), to be a better citizen, to live a fuller life. That is also what university education is supposed to be about.

    Credentialism cuts sharply against that ideal. For example, general education is an important component of university education, but those infected with credentialism tend to want to get rid of it, as well as anything else that isn’t immediately relevant to the job they want.

    That is the other, to my mind equally perverse, side of the credentialism that Adam inveighed against, making the credential more important than a person’s ability.

  120. DKL on May 15, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Jim, luckily, as Mormons, we’re in a unique position to value what other’s deem to be useless knowledge; specifically, we believe that all truth leads to God (well, most of us–some leaders have been known to say that not all truths are useful).

  121. Jim F. on May 15, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    DKL: I think you’re right. My experience and the anecdotes of my colleagues at other institutions make me believe that it may be easier to find students interested in philosophy and such things at BYU, or at least to make them feel like they ought to be interested.

  122. Bill on May 15, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    “the first medieval universities were law schools, and it was only later that philosophy and theology were added to the curriculum.”

    This is a vast oversimplification. What follows is also a simplification, but slightly more accurate: Law (along with medecine and theology) was one of the higher faculties in which one could specialize after having studied the liberal arts of the trivium (logic(dialectic), rhetoric, and grammar) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). Of course, the cathedral schools had been teaching the canon law long before the development of any universities. The study of the seven liberal arts also predates the advent of universities by several centuries.

    As the demand for competent administrators increased, studies in the law became more attractive and necessary. Bologna became famous for its law faculty (as Montpellier in medecine and Paris in theology). It’s interesting how the students at Bologna dealt with customer service issues. The students collected the fees, paid the salaries and issued the working rules. Professors could not leave the university or even go out of town without permission. They could be fined for any number of offenses such as talking after the ringing of the bell, or not being able to attract a sufficient number of students (usually five)

  123. Jonathan Green on May 15, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    Jim: If you don’t like the way this thread has gone, you could have ignored DKL’s comment in the first place, or deleted it, or pulled the conversation back on topic five days ago. As one of the joint proprietors of this place and initiators of the topic drift, it’s a bit rich for you to blame others for how things went. Maybe if Adam wanted the topic to stay on credentialism, he could have responded to the substantive comments about it, rather than piping up now about whatever issues he thinks I have. I don’t see much ground for complaining about threadjacking when the original post contains its own self-threadjack, i.e. the nutso suggestion about restricting higher education to the top 20% of students. So after we’ve good-naturedly ignored that bit of bizarroworld in order to attempt a rational discussion of credentialism, which didn’t seem to interest Adam all that much and that seemed on its way to dwindling out, and after shifting to an interesting back-and-forth about institutional obligations, you’re now going to to cry despoilment? Despoil that. The thread wasn’t all that pristine to begin with.

  124. Adam Greenwood on May 16, 2006 at 12:02 am

    I didn’t mind the threadjack. Or else I would have said so. I do not believe Jim F. minded it either, except to the extent he got the impression I minded it. Save your dudgeon. And thanks for ignoring the ‘bizzaroworld’ idea, since I labeled and dismissed it as such. Quite obliging of you.

  125. Nate Oman on May 16, 2006 at 12:04 am

    Bill: Yes I agree sort of. Actually the creation of the cannon law and the foundation of the university of Bologna were more or less simultaneous. There simply wasn’t a great deal of cannon law prior to the rediscovery of the Digests and their study in Italy. Second, if one makes a distinction between “schools” and “universities” then my claim holds. (Although prior to the 12th century there were precious few schools, most education occuring in monastaries or via private tutors.) Our term “university” is derived from “universitas,” which refers to one of the nominate contracts of Roman law, which was used for partnerships and corporations (although “corporation” is anachronistic here). As you say, the law students in Bologna banded together and formed a “universitas” to hire law teachers, and the university was born! (It is also worth pointing out that one of the earliest functions of the universitas was not only to hire professors, but also to band together for mutual aid and support when the angry townspeople attacked the students.) The term, however, was drawn from the Corpus Juris Civile rediscovered in the 12th century and was first used by law students.

  126. Nate Oman on May 16, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Jonathan: Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

  127. Mark Butler on May 16, 2006 at 1:30 am

    DKL (#120), I think that lately we have started to value secular knowledge above scriptural knowledge, arguing from simple pragmatism – i.e. why learn anything that isn’t absolutely-no doubt about it-fundamental to ones salvation or ability to provide for a family.

  128. Mark Butler on May 16, 2006 at 1:45 am

    Cannon law: Thou shalt not explode without due process of ignition.

  129. queuno on May 16, 2006 at 10:34 am

    So … at what point should you put your credentials in your mail signature?

    I have a BA, BS, and an MS, and within a year or so, a PhD. Currently, I don’t put any of my B* or M* degrees after my name. We have a manager who routinely puts the MBA after her name. I think that MBA credentials in the signature are gratuitous, and that only doctorate- or JD- or MD-level initials should be put there, if you have to put them at all (maybe this stems from the technical certifications that people tend to pick up)

    queuno, BA, (full of) BS, MS, CATE


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