My Experience Teaching Apathetic Students at a School with Open Admissions





Mr. Reeves taught history for over thirty years at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, in Kenosha. He is the author of many books including, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy.

Since 1970 I have taught history at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, in Kenosha. This campus admits 95 percent of its applicants and boasts in newspaper ads that acceptance can be granted almost immediately. In the fall of 2000, only 8 percent of its incoming freshmen ranked in the top ten percent of their high school class. A whopping 42 percent ranked in the bottom half of their high school class.

Parkside's graduation rate has been woeful. In 1989, of all the incoming freshmen, only 28 percent graduated after six years. For the class of 1992, the number fell to 20 percent. Two years later, the number of all incoming freshmen graduating after four years was a mere 12 percent.

Parkside inhabits Tier 4 of the U.S. News and World Report evaluation of Midwestern universities, the only campus among the thirteen in the University of Wisconsin System to be rated at the bottom of the pecking order, alongside the likes of MidAmerica Nazarene College in Kansas, Ferris State University in Michigan, and Northern State University in South Dakota. Only one other campus in Wisconsin inhabits this netherworld, tiny Edgewood College, a Catholic institution in Madison.

Created in 1968, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside was designed, along with a sister campus in Green Bay, to be on a tier with the huge and internationally known University of Wisconsin in Madison. The initial plan predicted 25,000 students and a thriving graduate program. In 1972, the University of Wisconsin System was created, and Parkside and Green Bay fell into the ranks of old state campuses at Oshkosh, Stevens Point, Whitewater, and elsewhere. In the fall of 2,000, Parkside had 4,921 full and part-time students, making it the second smallest campus in the system. Low enrollment exacerbates its already chronic financial deficiencies; in the system, as almost everywhere else in academia, body count equals money.

Student morale at Parkside is miniscule, as is widely understood in both Racine and Kenosha, the communities in Southeast Wisconsin that Parkside serves, and the campus boasts little prestige. Only three percent of Parkside graduates contribute financially to the campus, one of the lowest figures in the nation. Many of the more productive and ambitious faculty members seek mightily to go elsewhere, only to learn, especially in the liberal arts, that the better campuses do not recruit people (with or without publications) from what is sneeringly referred to as Academic Siberia.

While the most popular major at Parkside is business (true of college students nationally), the area of study that seems to attract the best students is science, in part because of a pre-med program that has been effective since its inception. The liberal arts attracts many who are preparing to be public school teachers and a great many who simply sign up for courses because they are offered at a convenient time. Most Parkside students live at home and have jobs, many of them full-time, and must design their college experience around the demands of their occupation. This is quite typical at open admissions institutions serving urban areas.

Teaching American history for more than thirty years at Parkside has given me the opportunity to learn much about the dynamics of open admissions in higher education. Speaking with other faculty, locally and at similar campuses across the country over the decades, in my own academic discipline and in others, I've become convinced that my experiences are by no means unusual. There is a relatively small literature on the subject, at the head of which is Peter Sacks, Generation X Goes to College: An Eye-Opening Account of Teaching in Postmodern America, which recounts the author's experiences in a community college. I thought it useful, at my retirement, to expand the accounts of others from my own perspective. (Click here to read a brief summary of the history of open admissions.)

What I have seen going on in the world of open admissions education I call "The Classroom Game." Since I teach two introductory survey courses every semester in American history, let me begin there.

One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America (I've been asked, "Is the seventeenth century the 1700s?") or the nation's constitutional machinery. All religion baffles them (no doubt a tribute to the secularism dominant in modern public schools), all intellectual history eludes them, and politics bores them. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II. All the presidents before Clinton are a blur; Franklin D. Roosevelt sometimes shows up on exams in the Gilded Age and U.S. Grant in the twentieth century. Almost all of the students simply refuse to memorize the Chief Executives in their proper chronological order. In fact, they choose to ignore dates of any kind; written exams rarely contain any. More than one student has told me frankly, "I don't do dates."

This proud ignorance rests on a seemingly invincible anti-intellectualism. The blue collar families from which the Parkside students normally come do not stress reading, and the students are generally first generation college. (I can empathize, as I was the first in my family's history to graduate from high school.) These amiable, polite, almost invariably likeable young people read little or nothing. In a class of 50, not more than one or two read a newspaper daily; what tiny grasp they have of current events comes from television news. Reading books and magazines outside the classroom is not something they would even consider doing. In short, they have no intellectual life and see no need for one. They can talk about several things, including their jobs, television, sports, and Rock, but they are often baffled and sometimes irritated to hear from their professor that there is more to life. If that "more" requires reading, they aren't interested.

On the first day of class, you learn that only a minority of the students has purchased the textbook. The others have either not gotten around to it (a few never do) or are waiting until they size up the professor. If he or she seems demanding, some make a hasty exit. I spend the initial period talking about the joys and uses of history, study habits, how to use the textbook, and how to prepare for quizzes and exams. I distribute a carefully prepared syllabus (on colored paper so that it will not be lost), a guide through the course that contains general course information, including my office hours, exam dates, and options for extra credit. I urge the members of the class to go to work immediately and not fall behind. I feel obligated to go through all of this, year after year, even though I know I have few serious listeners. High school was a breeze, they tell each other, and this can't be much different. Several invariably ask me later for another copy of the syllabus, as they have lost theirs.

How much reading should be assigned? I have dropped my standards over the years by two-thirds. Still, I am routinely described as extremely demanding. In 101, I now assign under 40 pages a week of textbook reading. Students often complain bitterly, and most simply refuse to read that much. I recently assigned Stephen Ambrose's brilliant Undaunted Courage and gave the 101 students ten weeks to read it. Not one did. On the exam, one young woman wrote proudly, "I did not read that book."

Yielding somewhat to the pressure, in 102 not long ago I assigned 20 pages a week in my own textbook, a brief history of America in the twentieth century. A senior sociology major informed me angrily that no one else among her professors that semester was so demanding. Twenty pages a week. The experiment in minimal reading ended in failure: students still wouldn't complete the assignment.

I strongly urge students to mark their books, assuring them that the re-sale value is the same whether the volume is marked or not. (A great many students sell their books immediately after the class. Some sell them before the final exams, a practice the campus bookstore has long encouraged.) I show them how to look for and mark the most important material. But most of them refuse to use their book in this way. Of course, many do not mark their textbook because they don't read it. Others, over my pleas to the contrary, depend upon the marking of the person who previously owned the book.

A major reason for having a professor teach a class in person, as opposed to offering the course on television, is the give and take between student and instructor. In my classrooms, and despite my fervent appeals, there is virtually no classroom discussion. While light banter about extraneous topics sometimes occurs, questions of a substantive nature are almost never asked. Of course, you can't ask questions about material you have not read and care nothing about. So the classroom becomes a monologue, a series of lectures by the professor. One lectures day in and day out in an atmosphere of sullen silence. (I should add that I am generally considered to be an above average public speaker. That isn't the problem.) Notebooks begin to slam and coats begin to be put on as the clock even approaches the end of the period. An early dismissal is greeted with glee, a joy surpassed only by the cancelled class.

Recently I offered extra credit for meaningful classroom discussion of the assigned material. Nothing happened. The students simply sat there, generally irritated by having to be there at all.

For many years I left classroom attendance up to the discretion of the students, assuring them that they were adults capable of making the most of their time in college. Almost everyone showed up regularly. Within the last decade, however, as the intellectual quality of the students seems to have fallen, many faculty have taken to requiring attendance. On a given Friday, half or more of the students would otherwise be absent. I permit my students two unexcused absences in a fifteen week semester. After that, each unexcused absence is supposed to lower the final grade by one third. Nevertheless, many skip class regularly, and not wishing to fail any more than necessary I do not strictly enforce the policy.

In 102, I recently added an Internet requirement. I devoted considerable time to finding relevant web pages, many containing photographs and films of major people and events covered in class. Since young people spend a great deal of time at the computer, I assumed this would prove popular. Most of my students simply refused to do it. I could generate no interest in the assignment at all. Many young people, apparently, do not consider education a valid function of the Internet.

I always provide recommendations for extra credit, usually involving the reading of an extra book. At times I've offered credit for seeing relevant movies. In a class of 50, no more than two or three will avail themselves of the opportunity, and they are usually the better students.

For many years I had classroom debates in the survey courses, picking a topic and dividing the class in two, flipping a coin to see which side would take the affirmative and negative. I assumed that this would enliven the class period by involving the students directly and providing a welcome change from the essentially secretarial chore of attending a lecture. I was wrong. When participation in the debate was voluntary, over half of the students chose not to become involved. When I required participation, the top students dominated the debate, leaving the great majority to serve largely as passive spectators. When the topic was Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, I could not persuade class members to watch a film on him outside of class.

I always show films in the survey courses, three or four from the great "America" series created by Alistaire Cooke. The few good students take copious notes. Most sit passively. Some put their heads down and sleep. Two students in one course recently slept through the lectures as well. Every day.

I have generous office hours, making it clear that I will go to any length to help those having trouble. Almost no one shows up. Perhaps one reason is that I ask the students to bring their textbooks with them, as I want to see how they are marking. The few who do appear invariably show me books that have not been marked, accompanying the admission with something like "Well, I haven't read ALL the assignment."

Knowing that most students do not complete the required reading, and do not even seriously tackle it until shortly before an examination, I always devote one classroom period, just before an exam, to a "review" of relevant identification and essay questions. I have the students make a list of such topics from open books. I write the items listed on the chalkboard and talk about each, providing hints about what might and might not be on the test. Contributions from the students are usually made by two or three people in a class of 50 while the others copy the list. I'm often asked after class if the exam will include anything not on the board.

Written exams, which I require, terrify many students because they are required to reveal the full extent of their knowledge. After lectures on the Reformation (which students often confuse with the Renaissance), John Calvin, Puritanism, Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, and others, I ask on the examination as an identification question: Puritanism. Typical answers state simply "Very strict" and "Very religious." One semester I was never able to get across the meaning of Anglicanism to a 101 class, although I tried repeatedly. The identification of Anglicanism with the contemporary Episcopal Church (which most had never heard of) was forgotten no matter how many times I explained it.

One semester, to see what would happen, I went to multiple choice tests provided by the textbook publisher. (Many professors in many disciplines use multiple choice tests because they are easily graded and popular with students.) I eliminated some of the tricky double negatives and added several questions on matters raised in lectures. The result was disastrous. With a possible score of 100, average scores were in the 30s. Many failed to reach that height. The students had not read the material and thought they could guess successfully. One disconsolate young man told me, "I just wasn't lucky enough."

The drop-out rate in my classes has normally been about 30 percent, which is not unusual for the campus. In recent years, however, the rate has escalated. A 101 class recently dropped from 30 to nine, a class that failed to produce a single "A" student. The average grade of those who stay in my classes is in the "C-" range, an evaluation that includes much professorial charity. (This excludes the failing grades that must be given to the many who disappear without dropping the course.)

The Classroom Game, then, is about gaining academic credits while successfully resisting education. Passive, ill-prepared, and anti-intellectual students want to know exactly what irrelevant "stuff" (as historical materials are sometimes labeled) they must memorize, often the night before a test, in order to pass a course. The stuff must come largely from class notes, as the reading assignments are largely ignored. The professor, fearing the student evaluations that are taken seriously by many faculty and administrators at this level of academia, and increasingly weary of clinging to intellectual standards long abandoned by colleagues in their quest for popularity and security, often winds up caving in and giving the students what they want, including high grades. (The sciences are less likely to succumb than the liberal arts and social sciences, but the "dumbing down" is in evidence everywhere.) There is no dialogue or intellectual excitement in The Classroom Game. And very little learning.

On the final of History 101 and 102 I ask identification questions covering the entire course, usually questions that have been asked on earlier exams. (It's a way of giving students points.) Several years ago I had to begin passing out a list of these questions when I realized that students had completely forgotten what they had written about just a few weeks earlier. Upper division students admit routinely that they have forgotten the material in survey courses, and must be introduced to it all over again. In counseling students, I've often noticed that many cannot recall anything about the contents of a course they have taken, let alone the name of the instructor.

The Classroom Game can be seen as well in the upper division classes filled with juniors and seniors, usually history majors. The students are Game veterans and expect you to follow the unwritten rules. Recently, an upper division student informed me openly in class that her job did not permit her to read 100 pages a week. Soon, the others made it clear that they were not about to do all of the assigned reading. No one did. In order to keep them from failing, I handed out a take-home exam for the first mid-term. One student said in class that all her professors were doing that now. As conditions worsened, I was forced to distribute the questions that would appear on the final exam. The students skipped class routinely throughout the semester. Discussion of the assigned materials, quite naturally, did not occur.

Despite constant pleading, the term papers by seniors and juniors are never started before the last two or three weeks of the course. They are usually based solely on two or three library books of often dubious quality. Knowledge of footnote style is noticeably absent, even though many have taken the course in Research Methods. Research in primary sources, even if required, is very rarely achieved. Offers of assistance from the first week of class are not accepted. Asking for professorial help is not part of The Classroom Game.

The Game decrees that majors will receive good grades, regardless of their effort. Disciplines need majors. Without them, the Department members would be teaching nothing but survey courses and would be less able to successfully request additional funds and faculty.

If students so adamantly resist being educated, why do they come to colleges and universities at all? There are many reasons, of course, but studies show that foremost in their minds is the desire for wealth. The U.S. Department of Education reports that in 1998 the median annual income of male high school graduates working full time and year round was $31,477. Women with those credentials earned $22,780. Men with bachelor's degrees, working full time, earned an average of $51,405, and their female counterparts received $36,559. Students are well aware of this disparity and seek a higher income. They are unprepared, however, to face the educational requirements involved in obtaining a college degree.

Fortunately for the students, graduation requirements have continued to drop in recent years all across the nation and at all levels. Only two percent of the colleges and universities require a history course of any kind. Introductory science courses often do not involve laboratory work. Politically correct propaganda courses abound and often serve as substitutes for more serious courses. Untold numbers of courses designed to assist athletes and others uninterested in intensive study cheapen college catalogues. The History Department at the University of Illinois now offers a full-credit course on Oprah Winfrey. And who takes a foreign language any more?

The destructive impact of Open Admissions and The Classroom Game on the quality of higher education should be obvious. The demonstrable drop in educational standards over the past forty years has been tragic. But what about the effect on students? What about the countless thousands of young people who flunk out or drop out every year when they realize that they cannot handle even the minimal standards that face them. Their loss of self-confidence is no doubt more serious than their bitterness about the waste of time and money. Perhaps even worse, what about those who survive the process by playing the Game? While they are often proud that they have beaten the system and received a diploma without undue effort, in fact they have been cheated out of one of civilization's greatest blessings: a sound education and a lifelong passion for learning.

In this new century politicians wax eloquently about the need to raise standards in the public schools, and rightly so. But little is said about the quality of America's thousands of colleges and universities, most of which are scuffling for students of any quality in order to stay afloat. For the good of higher education and indeed the whole nation, which can never obtain enough genuine learning and wisdom throughout all of its institutions, academic administrators, Boards of Regents, trustees, accreditation boards, state legislatures, and faculty members should somehow summon the integrity and courage to raise admission standards, destroy the Game, and restore serious requirements for graduation. Indeed, why not make graduation examinations a prerequisite for a diploma? Faced with such a challenge, Game players might well be forced to begin reading.


This article was first published by Academic Questions (Spring 2001), vol. 14, 65-71. Reprinted by permission of Transaction Publishers. © 2001 Transaction Publishers.


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N H - 11/19/2008

First of all, great article. As a community college student, I agree completely with your experience; although, I don't think you're doing your higher level students any favors by making their classes easier. Give them an F, and they might get the message that they're going to have to work to become a higher paid statistic.

I'm also a gen x'er with a family and a full time job, and I have to say, the excuses your students made are all pretty lame. Possibly, the most disturbing thing in your article, is that history majors enrolled in upper level courses exhibit the same apathy.

I do see another side to this though. As a working adult and a potential future medical student, matriculation into a full time traditional education program is possible, but extremely difficult. It seems to me, adult students who have a rekindled interest in learning are more likely to apply themselves than students who just go to school because it's what they're supposed to do. I find it offensive that otherwise excellent schools shun the students who, to me, seem more likely to work hard. To take this to the next level, I'm not sure I agree with applications and matriculation at all. It seems to me that matriculation only serves as a venue for trying to cram people into our traditional education culture - a culture that is self-obsessed to say the least. If I could make one sweeping change to the US education system, I'd all schools move to open enrollment where any student who fulfills the pre-req's can take a class, and any student who fulfills the major requirements (regardless of matriculation, etc) can get a degree. There's nothing more two-faced than schools who give out cheap classes to anybody for continuing education, but the price goes way up and the availability way down as soon as the class is for credit or towards a degree

MIT has taken a step in the right direction with their open courseware project, but we still have a long ways to go to make education as accessible as it should be. I don't think open enrollment is the culprit, but lower education standards. It's just as easy (and probably a lot more effective) to weed out students through sufficiently challenging classes and pre-requisite hierarchies as through application processes.

Off my soap-box now. Thanks for the article. It's refreshing that you struggle against the apathy, when so many professors take it to heart.


Robert Becker - 11/14/2005

I took a graduate course taught by Reeves in 1966 or 1967 when he was a part-timer (or temp) at the University of Colorado (I think at the Colo. Springs campus). Each class he would tell us all that we should not be in college, much less in grad school. Each class he would pick one student to berate and belittle for not meeting his standards (which changed from class to class). All of us agreed that the class was the most humiliating experience we had encountered in college. Our pet name for him was "rabid Reeves." We were ecstatic when Reeves told us he was leaving for the University of Wisconsin--a real academic institution in contrast to the University of Colorado. He uncharacteristically showed elation when he assured us that he was looking forward to teaching students who were worthy of his talents.
I learned well what not to do to students as I taught and otherwise served students in various capacities during the subsequent 30+ years.

Robert Becker, Ph.D., University of Colorado, 1972


Peter F. Pingitore, Sr. - 4/14/2004

It is most unfortunate that the facts cited by Professor Reeves are met with such a clearly ad hominem response. I am also a former student of Professor Reeves (BA History, 1976), and found him thorough, well prepared, and a fascinating lecturer. One had only to complete the assigned readings and come prepared for class to earn his respect. I also recollect his concerns for the lack of historical background knowledge he observed in his lower level students, but never interpreted this as anything other than an observation and a very real concern, one that is substantiated by Reeves' own article. I had some wonderful professors at U.W. Parkside, and a number of poor ones. The best were those who set a high academic standard, and encouraged students to reach for it. No one was better at it than Tom Reeves.


Peter F. Pingitore, Sr. - 4/14/2004

I take exception to Steve Meyer's invective. I am a former student of Professor Reeves, with at BS in History from U.W. Parkside, 1976. I found his lectures intellectually stimulating and his assignments challenging. That was not always the case with other members of the History Department. Imagine using "The Passover Plot" in a survey class on the origins of Western Civilization. Reeves never displayed a hint of elitism, and was always available as needed. His "Sources and Methods in History" class was without peer in providing a broad outline of historians, the evolution of historical methodology, and the need for objectivity in research. He has been most influential in my own growth as a student of history.


renee lederman - 10/31/2003

I am looking for colleges/universities that offer open admissions.
Please email me if have information on these schools.

Thanks,
Renee


Dawn Fell - 6/25/2003

As a former student of Professor Reeves, I feel I have an advantage in evaluating his impact on students at UW Parkside. His failure to captivate his students lies not in their disinterest in history, their background, or the method in which these students attended Parkside. He was condescending, intimidating and insulting. I remember his "open" discussions well. I also remember being told quite frankly that my input was incorrect and useless. Body language also plays an important role in the relationship between student and teacher and I assure you that the rolling of the eyes, and loud condescending sighs do little to foster discussion in the classroom. Putting all blame aside on who is responsible for the student's lack of knowledge in American history when entering his survey level courses, the problem lies with what happens when a student entered his classroom.

I also had him for upper level courses and remember his opening conversations about the freshmen he just taught, actually reading some of the answers to the exams and laughing, insulting and degrading the intellectual capacity of his students. In spite of his teaching, and because of other fine professors at Parkside who believed in positive feedback, and fostering potential, I was able to get my Masters and am about to receive my Ph.D from Marquette University. I have had the honor to teach young freshmen survey courses in Western Civilization and must admit that I have not carried with me any positive memories of Professor Reeves and his teaching style. Actually, I have used my experience with him to learn what not to do in the classroom. I'll never forget the time when I was nominated to be a history tudor by another professor and asked Professor Reeves for a referrel. He looked at me and said "you?". It seemed that Professor Reeves didn't see my potential as he was too busy looking for reasons to find fault in me.

Dawn Fell
Professor, Mount Mary College


Clayton Cunningham - 1/7/2003

Within a few days, our all faculty received an email instructing us never to post grades again.

I hope your not an English Teacher because your grammar sucks!

As for the grade dilema you shouldn't post student's grades. That's their business.


Michael A. Bellesiles - 11/5/2002

I don't understand all the hoopla about low standards, I mean the point here is to get a degree and start earning the big bucks. Just like with my book, Arming America. The point had nothing to do with rigorous research, but everything to do with villifying right-wing gun nuts, becoming a liberal media sensation and getting a huge contract for my next blockbuster. Who cares how many pages you read in college or how many probate records you actually look at when researching a book? Keep your eye on the prize! Michael A. Bellesiles


Klayton E. Kramer - 10/29/2002

If you want to be so petty as to base your criticisms on typos, could you explain to the folks at home what a "bad of honor" is? It doesn't sound like I'd want one.


Clayton E. Cramer - 10/23/2002

Steve Meyer complains that Reeves is a "a cranky elitest." Yes, I would suppose that he is--he can probably even spell "elitist" correctly.

While I was not thrilled at the caliber of my fellow students at Sonoma State University, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as Professor Reeves describes UW-Parkside. Perhaps the decline in quality of students over 30 years put Reeves into an unnecessarily foul mood when he wrote that essay. I can tell you that I have heard a less fierce denunciation of the quality of entering undergraduates from some of my professors at Sonoma State University--that students were definitely less prepared in 1995 than in 1965.

I will say this Professor Reeves's defense: when your colleagues criticize you for being a "a cranky elitest," you should regard that as something of a bad of honor. A university is supposed to be somewhat elite--and spelling is definitely one of those marks of elitism.


Steve Meyer - 10/12/2002

As a former (about 15 years) colleague of Thomas Reeves at UW-Parkside, I wish to concur with John Buenker's comments.

My frank assessment of Reeves-- I recall him as a cranky elitest who cared little for his students and his colleagues, little for his teaching and his service responsibilities at UW-Parkside.
While some feel that he should be pitied, I feel that he should be condemned for his outrageous comments about his former students.


J. E. Stone - 10/12/2002

Professor Reeves complains that Parkside students are listless and unprepared. He reports that they study little, learn little, and yet receive high grades.

Professor Reeves' colleagues cite the accomplishments of Parkside graduates and claim his portrayal of Parkside and its students to be "false, erroneous, misleading or outdated."

The contradiction could scarcely be starker: Is Parkside a publicly funded diploma mill or is Professor Reeves bitter and deluded?

With a bit of cooperation from UW-Parkside, there may be a way to get to the truth of this matter.

The Education Consumers ClearingHouse (http://www.education-consumers.com) is interested in examining education quality issues K-16.

If we were to provide funding, would the faculty and administration of UW-Parkside be willing to cooperate in a study of students who had recently completed selected Parkside courses?

The students would be randomly selected and examined over the content from the course syllabi by an independent scholar.

We are planning to undertake a study of remedial instruction in another state and are interested tapping a broader sample.

Please contact me at the following address.

J. E. Stone, Ed. D.
Education Consumers ClearingHouse
& Consultants Network
http://www.education-consumers.com
professor@education-consumers.com
phone & fax 423-282-6832



mark safranski - 10/10/2002

A very interesting juxtaposition of experiences from two professors of the same institution. As an outsider looking on my primary comment is that neither view is mutually exclusive. Generally at so-called " open admissions " schools the quality of educaton a student receives is primarily up to them. Many students hailing from " blue collar " backgrounds where educational excellence is not a prevailing ethic can simply mark time while others with intellectual curiousity, can transfer to top tier institutions, particularly when they move on to law or graduate school. It is important to rember that a majority of the US population never goes to college and a significant number of freshmen at most universities never graduate - at least on time. Often returning, " nontraditional " students who hit the books with dedication are the formerly obnoxious and generally ignorant blockheads who partied their way out of school at a less mature age.


Patrick McGuire - 10/10/2002

One more time: As a fellow Roman Catholic, I say to Thomas Reeves, "Let it go. Let it go."


Josiah Bartlett - 10/10/2002

It is predictable, and not unreasonable, for others in the Parkside History department to attempt to paint a picture different from that sketched out by ex-professor Tom Reeves. It is impossible for any outsider visiting this website to judge between two competing sets of anecdotal evidence. I am inclined to believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

But, there can little doubt in the mind of any objective and experienced observer in America, that higher learning in this country is plagued by the declining quality of many high schools, by grade inflation at collegs and universities, and by discipline problems, learning disabilities and attention deficits exacerbated by TV and computer addictions amongst students at all levels.

The very fact that, in their posting, the six colleagues ignore such real and fundamental challenges, regardless of the degree to which they are or are not particularly prevalent at Parkside, suggests that Reeves may indeed have some justifiable grounds for complaint.


john d buenker - 10/10/2002






I am resubmitting the opening lines of my original posting.

Although I am already a signatory to the response drafted and signed by every other member of the U.W. Parkside, I still feel compelled to write my own response--not as a faculty member with over forty years of teaching experience in four in institutions of higher learning, 32 of which have been at Parkside, but as the father of six children, all of whom are college graduates, were consistently on the dean's list, and graduated with honors ranging from cum laude to maxmia or summa cum laude. Three of my children are graduates of--respectively-- the University of Arizona, Marquette University, and the U.W.-Madison--all fine schools with prestigious reputations. The other three are graduates of U.W.Parkside. While that circumstance--in Professor Reeves view--should have seriously handicapped them, I see no evidence that it has diminished them in any way--intellectually, professionally or in the quality of their lives-- in comparison to their siblings or to
the cohort

Two other observations--these as a faculty member concerned, as we all are, with the quality of the education on our respective campuses. Situated as we are in the Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor, Parkside is surrounded by numerous other institutions claiming that students can earn degrees in two years or less by going evenings, weekends, and /ot taking courses via the internet or email. We have generally resisted the temptation to go that route and have probably suffered enrollment losses because of it. We also demand that all students seeking teacher certification have an academic major, not one in education. That is one of the current "reforms" of the day, but it is battle that our faculty fought and won30 years ago. We also continue to require that our faculty engage in "research and creative activity" resulting in publication or other venues, despite the fact that we have a heavy teaching load, no TAs or graduate students, and get little or no financial support save what we can scroung for ourseves. We do that because we believe that you must be a practicioner of your discipline to be an effective teacher and a true professional. In short, I firmly believe that those students who "stay the course" at Parkside, even if it takes 8 or 10 years, have a far richer experience in higher education than do those who get "quickie" degrees in courses largely taught by adjuncts or other part time faculty.

One last observation. During my 32 years at UWP, I have taught scores--probably hundreds--of students who have gone on to become attorneys, teachers, civil servants, physicians, and even college professors. Many of those owe their situation today largely to the existence of UWP and the many regional campuses of state university systems--and they know it and thank us for it. We in turn are grateful that we have been able to play that role for many deserving individuals. Although I often complain as loudly--and even profanely--as Tom Reeves does about the apathy and incompetence of many of our students, I think that the good we do for those who do stay the course makes it all wothwhile.

John D. Buenker, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside


UW-Parkside History Department - 10/10/2002

The first two paragraphs of our response were cut off in the original posting: we are resubmitting them here:

We are Tom Reeves' former colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside; long-time colleagues, it should be noted. Together the six of us have spent a collective 166 years at this campus, with individual careers at UW-Parkside that range from 20 to 38 years.

We are writing because the picture presented by Professor Reeves does a disservice to this campus, to our colleagues across the institution, and above all to our students.


john d buenker - 10/10/2002

Although I am already a signatory to the response drafted and signed by every other member of the U.W. Parkside, I still feel compelled to write my own response--not as a faculty member with over forty years of teaching experience in four in institutions of higher learning, 32 of which have been at Parkside, but as the father of six children, all of whom are college graduates, were consistently on the dean's list, and graduated with honors ranging from cum laude to maxmia or summa cum laude. Three of my children are graduates of--respectively-- the University of Arizona, Marquette University, and the U.W.-Madison--all fine schools with prestigious reputations. The other three are graduates of U.W.Parkside. While that circumstance--in Professor Reeves view--should have seriously handicapped them, I see know evidence that it has diminished them in any way--intellectually, professionally or in the quality of their lives-- in comparison to their siblings or to
the cohort with whom they work, live, and compete. Indeed, my son who graduated from Parkside received an assistantship in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (widely regarded as one of the top schools in the country in that discipline), graduated from it with honors, and is now a reference and instructional librarian at Arizona State University West. He and I are currently co-editing an historical encyclopedia. Since he also attended ASU and Marquette as an undergraduate, he is certainly qualified to make comparisons. Suffice it to say, he does not feel that his education at UWP was in any way inferior to that received in the other two institutions. By the way his highest GPA--a 4.0--came during his year at Marquette, and he was a dean's list student at all three institutions, graduating magna cum laude from UWP. His two sisters who graduated from UWP have gone on to highly successful careers--the one in business and the other with the federal government. The quality of their lives--both personally and professionally--is every bit as good as that of three three non-Parkside siblings. Whatever contribution their college educations made to my six children, they apparently were all very positive. When my oldest son was a freshman at Marquette, he spent considerable time defending the education that he had received in public high school from disparaging remarks made by his fellow student who had gone to more prestigiuous parochial and private prep schools. He won the argument by graduating summa cum laude and being elcted to both Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Sigma Nu (the same Jesuit national honor society to which I had been elected while a student at Georgetown University in the 1960s). He received early admission to Medical School, graduated the outstanding student in both research and clinical practice in his field of specialization, and is currently completing his last year of residency. What is my point here? Snobbery rears its ugly head
everywhere and is usually based upon false assumptions and an inflated sense of self on the part of snobs.

Two other observations--these as a faculty member concerned, as we all are, with the quality of the education on our respective campuses. Situated as we are in the Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor, Parkside is surrounded by numerous other institutions claiming that students can earn degrees in two years or less by going evenings, weekends, and /ot taking courses via the internet or email. We have generally resisted the temptation to go that route and have probably suffered enrollment losses because of it. We also demand that all students seeking teacher certification have an academic major, not one in education. That is one of the current "reforms" of the day, but it is battle that our faculty fought and won30 years ago. We also continue to require that our faculty engage in "research and creative activity" resulting in publication or other venues, despite the fact that we have a heavy teaching load, no TAs or graduate students, and get little or no financial support save what we can scroung for ourseves. We do that because we believe that you must be a practicioner of your discipline to be an effective teacher and a true professional. In short, I firmly believe that those students who "stay the course" at Parkside, even if it takes 8 or 10 years, have a far richer experience in higher education than do those who get "quickie" degrees in courses largely taught by adjuncts or other part time faculty.

One last observation. During my 32 years at UWP, I have taught scores--probably hundreds--of students who have gone on to become attorneys, teachers, civil servants, physicians, and even college professors. Many of those owe their situation today largely to the existence of UWP and the many regional campuses of state university systems--and they know it and thank us for it. We in turn are grateful that we have been able to play that role for many deserving individuals. Although I often complain as loudly--and even profanely--as Tom Reeves does about the apathy and incompetence of many of our students, I think that the good we do for those who do stay the course makes it all wothwhile.

John D. Buenker, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside


john d buenker - 10/10/2002

Although I am already a signatory to the response drafted and signed by every other member of the U.W. Parkside, I still feel compelled to write my own response--not as a faculty member with over forty years of teaching experience in four in institutions of higher learning, 32 of which have been at Parkside, but as the father of six children, all of whom are college graduates, were consistently on the dean's list, and graduated with honors ranging from cum laude to maxmia or summa cum laude. Three of my children are graduates of--respectively-- the University of Arizona, Marquette University, and the U.W.-Madison--all fine schools with prestigious reputations. The other three are graduates of U.W.Parkside. While that circumstance--in Professor Reeves view--should have seriously handicapped them, I see know evidence that it has diminished them in any way--intellectually, professionally or in the quality of their lives-- in comparison to their siblings or to
the cohort with whom they work, live, and compete. Indeed, my son who graduated from Parkside received an assistantship in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (widely regarded as one of the top schools in the country in that discipline), graduated from it with honors, and is now a reference and instructional librarian at Arizona State University West. He and I are currently co-editing an historical encyclopedia. Since he also attended ASU and Marquette as an undergraduate, he is certainly qualified to make comparisons. Suffice it to say, he does not feel that his education at UWP was in any way inferior to that received in the other two institutions. By the way his highest GPA--a 4.0--came during his year at Marquette, and he was a dean's list student at all three institutions, graduating magna cum laude from UWP. His two sisters who graduated from UWP have gone on to highly successful careers--the one in business and the other with the federal government. The quality of their lives--both personally and professionally--is every bit as good as that of three three non-Parkside siblings. Whatever contribution their college educations made to my six children, they apparently were all very positive. When my oldest son was a freshman at Marquette, he spent considerable time defending the education that he had received in public high school from disparaging remarks made by his fellow student who had gone to more prestigiuous parochial and private prep schools. He won the argument by graduating summa cum laude and being elcted to both Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Sigma Nu (the same Jesuit national honor society to which I had been elected while a student at Georgetown University in the 1960s). He received early admission to Medical School, graduated the outstanding student in both research and clinical practice in his field of specialization, and is currently completing his last year of residency. What is my point here? Snobbery rears its ugly head
everywhere and is usually based upon false assumptions and an inflated sense of self on the part of snobs.

Two other observations--these as a faculty member concerned, as we all are, with the quality of the education on our respective campuses. Situated as we are in the Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor, Parkside is surrounded by numerous other institutions claiming that students can earn degrees in two years or less by going evenings, weekends, and /ot taking courses via the internet or email. We have generally resisted the temptation to go that route and have probably suffered enrollment losses because of it. We also demand that all students seeking teacher certification have an academic major, not one in education. That is one of the current "reforms" of the day, but it is battle that our faculty fought and won30 years ago. We also continue to require that our faculty engage in "research and creative activity" resulting in publication or other venues, despite the fact that we have a heavy teaching load, no TAs or graduate students, and get little or no financial support save what we can scroung for ourseves. We do that because we believe that you must be a practicioner of your discipline to be an effective teacher and a true professional. In short, I firmly believe that those students who "stay the course" at Parkside, even if it takes 8 or 10 years, have a far richer experience in higher education than do those who get "quickie" degrees in courses largely taught by adjuncts or other part time faculty.

One last observation. During my 32 years at UWP, I have taught scores--probably hundreds--of students who have gone on to become attorneys, teachers, civil servants, physicians, and even college professors. Many of those owe their situation today largely to the existence of UWP and the many regional campuses of state university systems--and they know it and thank us for it. We in turn are grateful that we have been able to play that role for many deserving individuals. Although I often complain as loudly--and even profanely--as Tom Reeves does about the apathy and incompetence of many of our students, I think that the good we do for those who do stay the course makes it all wothwhile.

John D. Buenker, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside


UW-Parkside History Department - 10/10/2002

We are Tom Reeves' colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside; long-time colleagues, it should be noted. Together the six of us have spent a collective 166 years at this campus, with individual career that range from 20 to 38 years. We are writing because the picture presented by Reeves does a disservice to this campus, to our colleagues across the university, and above all to our students.

UW-Parkside does indeed advertise itself as "the campus of opportunity." We do not think this is a bad thing, given that the university is located in a region with historically low rates of post-secondary school attendance, a high percentage of ethnic and racial minorities, and in an area experiencing a slow and uneven transition to a post-industial economy. We are proud of the fact that we are providing a college education, in the Univeristy of Wisconsin model and tradition, to the citizens of Southeastern Wisconsin.

(Having said this, we should also state that Parkside is not an open admissions institution, as Reeves claims, nor has it been since the 1980s. The fact that Reeves does not know this is indicative of a wider problem with his article. Every paragraph is replete with false, erroneous, misleading or outdated information. To refute each of these points would, however, take too long and try the patience of the readers.)

But it is the portrayal of our students that pains us the most. We can point to countless success stories among our students, all the more notable in that the majority of them balance the demands of school with family and work responsibility (the NSSE -- National Survey of Student Engagement -- results show that Parkside students work hours and have family responsibilities significantly higher than the national average). Students graduating with majors in history have gone on to competitive graduate and law schools; several now have Ph.D.s in history and are teaching as assistant and associate professors. Our alumni comprise a significant portion of the ranks of social science teachers in the local school districts. Graduates from across the campus are sought out by local employers with global reach. Two of our state senators and three of our assembly members are Parkside graduates. Their proud identification with the campus belies Reeves' claim that student morale is "miniscule." Student research has been presented at regional conferences, has been the basis for exhibits at local museums, and been featured in the newspapers and local public radio outlets.

Sadly, Professor Reeves is, and was, unaware of any of this. His attack on our university was pointed and personal, and our comments here must be as well. Over the course of his career here he progressively distanced himself from the life of the department and the university, his disengagement being in fact the very thing that he charges our students with. By his attitude, his clear sense of disdain for the place and its people, he marginalized his role and influence here, so much so that at the end he was widely and justifiably dismissed and ignored by the faculty at the institution. But the real loss was his, in that he missed that reward which all of us as teachers know: the thrill of seeing students progress in their learning and knowledge.

Professor Reeves spent 31 years at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, yet even in retirement he can look at those years only with anger, regret, and bitterness. He is more to be pitied than believed.

John Buenker
Frank Egerton
Laura Gellott
Gerald Greenfield
Oliver Hayward
Stephen Meyer (formerly UW-Parkside, currently UW-Milwaukee)



john d buenker - 10/10/2002

Although I am already a signatory to the response drafted and signed by every other member of the U.W. Parkside, I still feel compelled to write my own response--not as a faculty member with over forty years of teaching experience in four in institutions of higher learning, 32 of which have been at Parkside, but as the father of six children, all of whom are college graduates, were consistently on the dean's list, and graduated with honors ranging from cum laude to maxmia or summa cum laude. Three of my children are graduates of--respectively-- the University of Arizona, Marquette University, and the U.W.-Madison--all fine schools with prestigious reputations. The other three are graduates of U.W.Parkside. While that circumstance--in Professor Reeves view--should have seriously handicapped them, I see know evidence that it has diminished them in any way--intellectually, professionally or in the quality of their lives-- in comparison to their siblings or to
the cohort with whom they work, live, and compete. Indeed, my son who graduated from Parkside received an assistantship in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (widely regarded as one of the top schools in the country in that discipline), graduated from it with honors, and is now a reference and instructional librarian at Arizona State University West. He and I are currently co-editing an historical encyclopedia. Since he also attended ASU and Marquette as an undergraduate, he is certainly qualified to make comparisons. Suffice it to say, he does not feel that his education at UWP was in any way inferior to that received in the other two institutions. By the way his highest GPA--a 4.0--came during his year at Marquette, and he was a dean's list student at all three institutions, graduating magna cum laude from UWP. His two sisters who graduated from UWP have gone on to highly successful careers--the one in business and the other with the federal government. The quality of their lives--both personally and professionally--is every bit as good as that of three three non-Parkside siblings. Whatever contribution their college educations made to my six children, they apparently were all very positive. When my oldest son was a freshman at Marquette, he spent considerable time defending the education that he had received in public high school from disparaging remarks made by his fellow student who had gone to more prestigiuous parochial and private prep schools. He won the argument by graduating summa cum laude and being elcted to both Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Sigma Nu (the same Jesuit national honor society to which I had been elected while a student at Georgetown University in the 1960s). He received early admission to Medical School, graduated the outstanding student in both research and clinical practice in his field of specialization, and is currently completing his last year of residency. What is my point here? Snobbery rears its ugly head
everywhere and is usually based upon false assumptions and an inflated sense of self on the part of snobs.

Two other observations--these as a faculty member concerned, as we all are, with the quality of the education on our respective campuses. Situated as we are in the Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor, Parkside is surrounded by numerous other institutions claiming that students can earn degrees in two years or less by going evenings, weekends, and /ot taking courses via the internet or email. We have generally resisted the temptation to go that route and have probably suffered enrollment losses because of it. We also demand that all students seeking teacher certification have an academic major, not one in education. That is one of the current "reforms" of the day, but it is battle that our faculty fought and won30 years ago. We also continue to require that our faculty engage in "research and creative activity" resulting in publication or other venues, despite the fact that we have a heavy teaching load, no TAs or graduate students, and get little or no financial support save what we can scroung for ourseves. We do that because we believe that you must be a practicioner of your discipline to be an effective teacher and a true professional. In short, I firmly believe that those students who "stay the course" at Parkside, even if it takes 8 or 10 years, have a far richer experience in higher education than do those who get "quickie" degrees in courses largely taught by adjuncts or other part time faculty.

One last observation. During my 32 years at UWP, I have taught scores--probably hundreds--of students who have gone on to become attorneys, teachers, civil servants, physicians, and even college professors. Many of those owe their situation today largely to the existence of UWP and the many regional campuses of state university systems--and they know it and thank us for it. We in turn are grateful that we have been able to play that role for many deserving individuals. Although I often complain as loudly--and even profanely--as Tom Reeves does about the apathy and incompetence of many of our students, I think that the good we do for those who do stay the course makes it all wothwhile.

John D. Buenker, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside


john d buenker - 10/10/2002

Although I am already a signatory to the response drafted and signed by every other member of the U.W. Parkside, I still feel compelled to write my own response--not as a faculty member with over forty years of teaching experience in four in institutions of higher learning, 32 of which have been at Parkside, but as the father of six children, all of whom are college graduates, were consistently on the dean's list, and graduated with honors ranging from cum laude to maxmia or summa cum laude. Three of my children are graduates of--respectively-- the University of Arizona, Marquette University, and the U.W.-Madison--all fine schools with prestigious reputations. The other three are graduates of U.W.Parkside. While that circumstance--in Professor Reeves view--should have seriously handicapped them, I see know evidence that it has diminished them in any way--intellectually, professionally or in the quality of their lives-- in comparison to their siblings or to
the cohort with whom they work, live, and compete. Indeed, my son who graduated from Parkside received an assistantship in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (widely regarded as one of the top schools in the country in that discipline), graduated from it with honors, and is now a reference and instructional librarian at Arizona State University West. He and I are currently co-editing an historical encyclopedia. Since he also attended ASU and Marquette as an undergraduate, he is certainly qualified to make comparisons. Suffice it to say, he does not feel that his education at UWP was in any way inferior to that received in the other two institutions. By the way his highest GPA--a 4.0--came during his year at Marquette, and he was a dean's list student at all three institutions, graduating magna cum laude from UWP. His two sisters who graduated from UWP have gone on to highly successful careers--the one in business and the other with the federal government. The quality of their lives--both personally and professionally--is every bit as good as that of three three non-Parkside siblings. Whatever contribution their college educations made to my six children, they apparently were all very positive. When my oldest son was a freshman at Marquette, he spent considerable time defending the education that he had received in public high school from disparaging remarks made by his fellow student who had gone to more prestigiuous parochial and private prep schools. He won the argument by graduating summa cum laude and being elcted to both Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Sigma Nu (the same Jesuit national honor society to which I had been elected while a student at Georgetown University in the 1960s). He received early admission to Medical School, graduated the outstanding student in both research and clinical practice in his field of specialization, and is currently completing his last year of residency. What is my point here? Snobbery rears its ugly head
everywhere and is usually based upon false assumptions and an inflated sense of self on the part of snobs.

Two other observations--these as a faculty member concerned, as we all are, with the quality of the education on our respective campuses. Situated as we are in the Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor, Parkside is surrounded by numerous other institutions claiming that students can earn degrees in two years or less by going evenings, weekends, and /ot taking courses via the internet or email. We have generally resisted the temptation to go that route and have probably suffered enrollment losses because of it. We also demand that all students seeking teacher certification have an academic major, not one in education. That is one of the current "reforms" of the day, but it is battle that our faculty fought and won30 years ago. We also continue to require that our faculty engage in "research and creative activity" resulting in publication or other venues, despite the fact that we have a heavy teaching load, no TAs or graduate students, and get little or no financial support save what we can scroung for ourseves. We do that because we believe that you must be a practicioner of your discipline to be an effective teacher and a true professional. In short, I firmly believe that those students who "stay the course" at Parkside, even if it takes 8 or 10 years, have a far richer experience in higher education than do those who get "quickie" degrees in courses largely taught by adjuncts or other part time faculty.

One last observation. During my 32 years at UWP, I have taught scores--probably hundreds--of students who have gone on to become attorneys, teachers, civil servants, physicians, and even college professors. Many of those owe their situation today largely to the existence of UWP and the many regional campuses of state university systems--and they know it and thank us for it. We in turn are grateful that we have been able to play that role for many deserving individuals. Although I often complain as loudly--and even profanely--as Tom Reeves does about the apathy and incompetence of many of our students, I think that the good we do for those who do stay the course makes it all wothwhile.

John D. Buenker, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside


Donald K. Pickens - 10/10/2002

I know Tom and he is correct about the situation regarding higher(?!) education and history. Reeves is a fine historian and deserves better. It will not come from an indifferent student body whose interests are elsewhere.


Gary Ostrower - 10/10/2002

When I complained four years ago about classes in which students receive all A's, an administrator shot back "how do you know they all get A's," as if I was exaggerating the grade inflation problem. So I said what every faculty member knew: that grades (without the names of students) were posted by faculty outside their office doors.

Within a few days, our all faculty received an email instructing us never to post grades again.


John G. Fought - 10/10/2002

I was born in Racine when the UW Extension (2 year) campus was there, before Parkside. I was a blue collar boy too, but I got a scholarship and went to UW Madison, then on to graduate school at Yale and to teaching at the University of Pennsylvania (I mention these schools for a reason. Bear with me.) Without the scholarship, I might well have started and possibly finished at what we then called 'the Stench'. The important thing to remember about these schools is that they are THERE -- for people who can go nowhere else at that point in their lives. That is vitally important for the students who start there and consequently do move onward and upward, at least inside their heads, and some of them do. Of course it would be better if more and more students each year tore into their courses and were transformed by doing so. How can one know how many do, and when they do it? From my 27 years of teaching at Penn, to both undergrads and grads, I could tell quite a few stories of torpor, cluelessness, and opportunism, even among the students. And I saw enough Yalies over six years there to know that they aren't so different. We all see a prominent piece of evidence of this truth just about every day. It may be that standards and expectations have slid steadily downhill since the Fifties, but how can we be sure? I think it's important to make allowance for the buildup of disappointment and resentment over 30 or more years of teaching undergraduate survey courses in anything. There's an old saying that you can't tell where a teacher's influence stops. Sometimes I think it stops immediately, but you really can't tell. In the end, think about those students without access to any Parkside at all.
John Fought


Jonathan Dresner - 10/9/2002

While I have seen many of the same things that Prof. Reeves describes, I have to take issue with the idea that open admissions is the main problem. As long as there has been higher education, there have been people who treated it as a gateway to success rather than an end in itself: in the Ivy League they used to give out the "Gentleman's C" which was a pity grade for students who had no intellectual drive but who nonetheless were part of the social strata which "belonged" at college.

The expansion of college education over the last half-century has created the impression that college is simply an extension of High School, four more years of academic spoonfeeding to sit through. (and the fact that high schools are often like that is a subject for another discussion) What I always impress on my students, something which I learned myself the hard way, is that college is not high school: it is a different kind of education, requiring different skills and methods of study and learning.

However, though I find myself muttering the occasional "Kids these days..." I also try to remember that I have two purposes in the classroom: teach them, even though they don't particularly care about the course material and aren't well prepared, and evaluate clearly and fairly through grades how well they are learning. My job is to teach, and though I don't get to pick the students, nonetheless it is my job to figure out how to teach the material and methods in ways that are accessible. But my job is also to evaluate and judge their success, and I will be as fair as I can but I am doing them and everyone else a disservice if I don't let the grades accurately reflect the quality of their work.

I would agree that the student evaluations, and their abuse by departments and administrators, is a serious structural problem which needs to be addressed separately. But professors are in a position to shape the college culture by their expectations and by their grading, which we need to take seriously and take advantage of.


E.T.Strobridge - 10/9/2002

I find it disappointing that both Prof. Reeves and bbtrane find Stephen Ambrose's historic novels something to be used at the university level. While there is no doubt that Ambrose is an easy read and in fact does generate an interest in history he is also guilty of plagerism, lying,inventing historic events that never happened along with trying to steal another authors manuscript. Ambrose has also been publicly accused of plundering David Lavender's book on Lewis and Clark for his "Undaunted Courage" yet has nothing to say. If bbtrane thinks this is "tacky sniping" then I suggest it might be well for both he and Prof. Reeves to read HNN's "Historians on the Hot Seat" to see what other historians have had to say before recommending Ambrose to anyone. To this day Ambrose only trivializes the criticism, fails to admit to the truth and has only stopped his critics by announcing he has terminal lung cancer.


Elizabeth Dachowski - 10/9/2002

I question whether the problems experienced in American History classes at UW-Parkside really result from open admissions. According to the 1999 Peterson’s Guide to 4-Year Colleges, Parkside’s admissions standards were “moderately difficult” (about 85% of applicants accepted). At Tennessee State University, a historically black university in Nashville, our standards in 1999 were “minimally difficult” (about 95% of applicants accepted). At TSU I found that students were often unprepared, but seldom unmotivated or uninterested in intellectual challenge. Quite the contrary. (This is in contrast to a “moderately difficult” school at which I taught, where a significant but not overwhelming percentage of students fall into Prof. Reeves’ pattern of sullen refusal to learn.)

Percentage of applicants admitted, average test scores of entering applicants, and other common measures of “difficulty” of admissions tell only part of the story. Reputation undoubtedly has a lot to do with the applicant pool and students’ willingness to work once they arrive. The big difference is unity and consistency of faculty and administration in upholding standards. I have been fortunate to work at schools where I know that any student to whom I give a low or failing grade will not have a particularly sympathetic ear from department head, dean, or vice president if the only reason for challenging the grade was that my class was too hard. Furthermore, students have generally known that most others in my department and faculty in most other departments have comparable standards. (I also have students claiming that no other faculty member requires as much or has given that student such low grades; discussions with colleagues and examination of student records usually indicate that neither one of these claims is true.)

I have the usual problems associated with unprepared students: whining and complaining, failure to purchase the book (often postponed until financial aid checks arrive), failure to read the book once it is purchased, plagiarism (both out of ignorance and out of laziness), sullen refusal to engage in discussion, and challenges to my standards. (I have also heard my share of complaints–both from faculty and from students--about colleagues who cancel class several days in advance of major holidays, give no written assignments, or have overly low expectations.) In general, however, I have found students at inexpensive colleges with open admissions to be willing to work for their education once faculty make clear what their expectations are. The trick is not merely to set and uphold the standards but to make clear to students exactly what they need to do to meet the standards. This often involves taking class time away from subject matter and spending time discussing such basic questions as how many sentences are sufficient to define a term and what students should be writing in their notebooks during class. Many of my students revise their understanding of what college is going to be like very quickly. Others take longer to make the adjustment. A handful discover that they do not belong in college at this stage in their lives.

At their worst, an open admission policy may lead to the sort of experiences that plague Prof. Reeves. At their best, it allows students who have had limited opportunities a chance to prove themselves in a college setting.


William L. O'Neill - 10/9/2002

Sirs:

The situation on my campus, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, differs from Professor's Reeve's experience in degree rather than kind. Over my more than 30 years at Rutgers undergraduate education has suffered a great decline. That this is the case at most public universities has been amply demonstrated by Murray Sperber's Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education. Although half his book is devoted to sports, the other half reveals that underfunding is the main culprit. It is a mystery to me why this national problem is not a national issue.


Jim Van Houten - 10/9/2002

Intresting and brave article. Thanks. I was a mediocre high school student, smart but not interested in class room--minimum math and science, Etc. My mentors were all sports or social related. After HS I served in the USMC and learned value of self discipline, and the difference between mental and grunt work. However, my academic study skills were mediocre even though I was smart. So after Marines I first went to a California Junior College. In that low competitive environment I first got Cs in middle challenge courses, (but it was a real C back then) and by the end of my second year was getting As and Bs in the hardest classes I could find. I was aided by being motivated, and granted I was 4 years older, and more mature than most fresh HS grads. I continued to improve in University--a 3rd tire one because of my start up lower grtades, but still good school--and by grad school I was at the top my MBA class. I have been teaching grad students myself for 12 years now at Univ MN, Carlson School of Bus. Our student selection is getting tougher and the result is positive. I think your key points--students: need to be motivated, college: need a competitive environment that doesn't leave weak students behind while trying to catch up initially in college work, but also which tells them honestly how they're doing. Sounds like you have a lot of the second but little of the first or third. I some times wonder if the military draft was as bad an idea as we made it out to be in the 60s(and of course a Peace Corps option )--maybe we lost less of our productive lives than we thought. Couple years to learn organization and self pride in the milt. followed by serious college work vs. 4 uninterupted but confused and disinterested years as a non-scholar student.


bbtrane - 10/9/2002

Astonishing. I value history so, it is almost impossible to imagine sticking out 30 years teaching in this unfertile UW system campus. I hope he writes another book, a reallllllly good one, and it sells millions of copies!

It would be nice of HNN readers took note of Reeves' use of Ambrose book in his classroom, and his high regard for Undaunted Courage. While not my favorite book (I thought it was sloppy the first time I read it), I applaud historians who write well enough to capture the interest of the general public and bring them to further explore topics in history. I wish people would get over tacky sniping and take a longer view of Ambrose.

At any rate, thanks to HNN for printing this article.


Al Czervikjr - 10/9/2002

>>Have you (and Parkside High History Department) ever heard of the grade F ? If you want to "destroy the game" what are you waiting for ?

Very true, although from his article it appears that Professor Reeves is doing a far better job than most on this score.

What I think he misses, however, is that students are not the only players of "the game." Too many students will pretend to want to learn in exchange for good grades and little effort. Too many professors will pretend to want to teach and will give out inflated grades in exchange for not being bothered or having to put in the effort and energy required to actually challenge their students. And too many administrators are all too willing to play along with the charade as long as the funding is secure.


Emiliana P. Noether - 10/8/2002

Professor Reeves' article points out all too realistically to the debasement of education in American colleges today. Isn't it time that we reeevaluated our whole system of higher education and restructured it? Perhaps a two tier system could be introduced: one for motivated students who go to college to "learn," and one for those whose sole interest is getting a degree which will enable them to move up economically.

In a teaching career that spanned forty years I witnessed first-hand the lowering of standards, thought never to the point illustrated by Professor Reeves. My students did continue to read, albeit with some protests, and I had no compunction in failing those that did not meet the minimum requirements of the course.

College standards vary, I realize, but I am afraid that they are being lowered even in the best.

Emiliana P. Noether
Professor Emerita of European History
University of Connecticut (Storrs)


J Cuepublic - 10/8/2002

Dear Dr. Reeves:

Sorry to hear of your troubles at UW-Parkside High School.
Have you (and Parkside High History Department) ever heard of the grade F ? If you want to "destroy the game" what are you waiting for ?