Genesis 83: What I learned in Art’s class

Academics continue to argue about the value of a liberal arts education, while universities continue to witness plunging enrollments in Humanities programs. The current decline of Humanities in post-secondary institutions has caused the Doctor to ponder the true value of his own education. Although the Doctor has had many valued educational learning experiences, the one most relevant to this discussion is the life-lesson learned from his midterm test on an “Introduction to Programming” course back in 1983.

The test was a fairly straightforward two-part assignment. Part “A” presented a typical business accounting problem, and the student was required to write the solution using the course’s programming language. Part “B “of the test presented a similar business problem, but this time the student was required to produce the “program logic flowchart” for the solution, rather that the actual programming code. The test problems were somewhat challenging, but the Doctor instinctively knew that his answers were 100%. That is why it came as a shock when he received his midterm back with a score of ZERO. Needless to say, he was first in line at the instructor’s office to question his failing score.

The instructor agreed that the Doctor’s programming solutions to both problems were indeed correct. So why the ZERO? The instructor explained that the key to solving problems was understanding the true nature of the questions, and, more importantly, following instructions properly. My costly mistake was providing a program flowchart for the question that required computer code, and computer code for the question that required the logic flowchart. Hence, I did not read the instructions properly, I performed the wrong function, and my test paper was worth ZERO.

A life-lesson learned from Instructor Art M’s programming course: Learn how to effectively read and understand basic instructions. But that was not the only lesson gained from taking Art’s class. Apparently, at that point in my education, I not only lacked the ability to effectively read instructions, I was also not able to differentiate an “A” from a “B” on the midterm test questions. In other words, my education was lacking in languages and letters.

The inHumanity of it all!

Ode to Humanities or first they came …….

First they came for Religious Studies, and I did not speak out because I did not teach Religious Studies.

Then they came for Philosophy, and I did not speak out, because I did not teach Philosophy.

Then they came for Language Studies, and I did not speak out because I did not teach Language Studies.

Then they came for the rest of the Humanities, but there were no tenured faculty left to speak for any of us.

Dr. StrangeJob


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Non Rational Academia – The New NRA

Something is amiss in the field of higher education. Post-secondary institutions, once the tranquil seat of knowledge, have now become festering sites of carnage. How else to explain the increase of sexual assaults, alcohol poisonings, drug overdoses, campus murders, and rampant sexism on our university and college campuses? If the goal of higher education is to teach students how to survive in the real world, then the real world is truly f#@ked.

In my day, surviving university meant that we finally graduated, but today it seems more about getting out alive. Crazier still are some of the solutions to the above issues currently being touted by university administrations. On the one hand, we have Liberty University promoting guns in dorms, and on the other hand, we have the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University informing his “self-absorbed and narcissistic” students that a university is not a day care and that they should all grow up. So, I guess the choice is between scolding spoiled students or allowing them to shoot each other.

Not all of the blame can be put on university administration. Many of today’s students are taking the whole “coddled comfort” syndrome a bit too seriously. Take, for example, the recent decision by University of Ottawa’s student union to ban free yoga classes due to “cultural appropriation”. Also, for many students, it is no longer about the journey, but only about the destination. Simply put, it’s all about obtaining the degree with as little effort as possible. Check out, a website devoted to helping students select an institution’s easier courses based on their “birdiness” value.

Then, of course, we have the professors. I will leave that discussion for another blog, but the idea that tenure is a sacred cow that guarantees a job for life is no longer viable in today’s fiscal arena. That said, the solution is neither filling seats with students that are not academically prepared nor sacrificing quality for quantity. Some universities are forging ahead with distance based offerings, and although there may be something positive about that approach, there are also grave concerns. Take New Westminster College, for example, this particular bastion of online learning has no students, no building, and operates solely as a fellowship degree-factory that guarantees tuition costs under $1000 per course and workloads less than 40 hours per credit. If this is the future of online education, then I hope it becomes virtually non-existent.

In a perfect world, post-secondary education would build our intellectual future by ensuring classes are filled with students eager to learn. In an imperfect world, post-secondary education is solely a business venture that builds the institution’s economic future by ensuring classes are filled with students willing to pay. Economic realities suggest the solution is somewhere between these two extremes, but I fear we may have already moved too far from Plato and too close to play station.

The Doctor is not sure where the future of post-secondary education is heading, but a good start would be for universities to stop treating students like consumers, and for students to stop treating universities like Walmarts.

Dr. StrangeJob

Update: The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) has recently reinstated their free yoga classes. Add one point to the student side of the NRA equation.

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Blessed are the plagiarists, for they will inherit the mark

The Doctor may have protected himself from potential libel suites with his Disclaimer: Libel or Naught posting, but there is still that nasty issue of plagiarism and copyright infringement. They say the best line of defense is a good offense, and since the Doctor doesn’t mind being a tad offensive, he has decided to tackle the issue head on.

The Doctor will cite religious grounds as his key defense against all plagiarism or copyright claims. In simple words, he is following the directive and past practice of the Holy Vatican. In 2012, the Holy Vatican admitted to copying the biographies of 22 newly appointed Cardinals from Wikipedia. Yes, you read that correctly – of all the academically unholy places they could have chosen from, the Vatican selected Wikipedia for their cut/paste/submit reporting strategy. In addition, the Doctor will also cite the recent regal precedent of the Peruvian Cardinal who was proven to have plagiarised from Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Paul VI. Holy heaven forbid, but if it’s OK for the Vatican, then it shouldn’t be much of a sin for Dr. Strangejob.

There are also many notable cases of plagiarism in academia, including professors, research chairs, and even Vice Chancellors. In 2013, for example, Germany’s education minister was forced to resign after being stripped of her doctorate due to plagiarism. If these are academia’s current role models, then it should come as no surprise that 50 per cent of undergraduate students and 35 per cent of graduate students admitted they had cheated on written work. This is not just a Canadian or United States problem. A recent study in Britain reported 45,000 cases of cheating in 80 institutions over a three year period.

How do we deal with this issue? Praying for it to go away will not work, especially if the prayer leaders are also plagiarizing. Seeking guidance from academia will not work, especially if they are plagiarizing as well. As a professor, I required my students to submit research papers through a plagiarism checker. Although that approach caught the scattered delinquent, it reflected poorly on the student group as a whole. We encourage students to choose between cheating while praying they don’t get caught, or buying papers online. In other words, a choice between papal or paypal. Perhaps a more imaginative solution is required.

The problem is the result of a broken system, so let’s fix the system rather than focusing on a symptom of the real problem. If students are required to submit rote research papers, then they will routinely go the cut/paste route. It’s time for academia to get its head out of their ass and realize that all of the world’s information is only a click way. If we encourage students to apply knowledge rather than regurgitate data, then we will all be better off – and you can quote me on that.

Refer to Dr. Strangejob’s Copyright Notice for additional detail.

Dr. StrangeJob

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The university system is broke(n)

Universities must stop treating students like consumers and students must stop treating universities like Walmarts.

The above was a recent tweet from Dr. StrangeJob that received a bit of attention, so I thought a further explanation was called for. The tweet was in reference to the recent Nova Scotia budget item lifting the three percent tuition cap for universities and colleges, supposedly to allow them to make a “one-time market adjustment”. The cap will return next year, but not for out-of-province or graduate students. In other words – it’s open season on tuition rates.

In a perfect world, we would look upon post-secondary education as a service that builds our intellectual future by ensuring classes are filled with students eager to learn. In an imperfect world, we would look upon post-secondary education as a business that builds the institution’s economic future by ensuring classes are filled with students willing to pay. In the perfect world, QA is an acronym for quality assurance. In the imperfect world, QA is an acronym for quantity assurance. The current post-secondary education system is both broke and broken.

One would assume the collective wisdom of student, faculty, and administration would have realized by now that the status quo is no longer viable. Unfortunately, the system will defend the status quo until someone forces a change. According to Mark Twain, the only person that likes change is a wet baby. Student driven solutions tend to be short-term focused – at least until graduation. University driven solutions tend to be long-term focused – at least until retirement. Things change, not because we see the light. Things change, because we feel the heat. This may be the hand dealt by the recent Nova Scotia budget.

We can talk solutions in a later post, but first let’s admit we need to change or at least realize things are starting to heat up.

Next up will be a discussion on the Peter Principle inspired phrases “Thinking out of the box” and “We need to make tough decisions”.

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