Education not based on pricing

Dr. Conrad Gubera - Professor of Social Sciences

Dr. Conrad Gubera – Professor of Social Sciences

The “In Perspective” column penned by Dr. Dale Simpson, head of the English department, in the April 7 edition of The Chart, should make us all pause and think about what we are doing here at Missouri Southern. Dr. Simpson challenged the “consumer” concept which sometimes replaces the traditional “student” status on campus. His perspective is thoughtful and analytical, but not nearly as provocative as the “Perspective” column he wrote years ago in which he stated students should not work while enrolled in college because employment kept students from acquiring the academic and scholarly depth that should distinguish a college education. I’m sure Dr. Simpson can recall the outcry and defensive responses to his column as the spring semester, 1987 ended. I would only hope such a level of response would be forthcoming regarding his recent writing, but I doubt it. Candidly, I doubt if 10 percent of the present student body read his perspective two weeks ago (or if 10 percent will even read mine). You see, I have been told a number of times by students that they “don’t like to read periodicals, and newspapers so why, Dr. Gubera, do you make the reading assignments in our text?” Regardless, Dr. Simpson’s comments about the “student as consumer” replacing the “student as scholar” model reflects a lot of my thoughts.

Higher education is a business. Every year we brace ourselves for tuition and fee increases. Ah, the fees-every one of the 3,000 community and senior colleges and universities, public and private, have an array of student fees which generate an income for their general revenue fund. Faculty and staff worry about cost of living salary and wage increases and the administration struggles with the budget for the better part of the year, always concerned about the levels of incoming funds.

On our campus, the unique book rental system is consistently touted as a way through which we can “keep costs down for the students” and we hear repeatedly that Southern has the lowest, or close to the lowest, costs for a college degree in Missouri. I smile as I recall reading, several times, letters to the editor written by one of Dr. Simpson’s colleagues in the English department who observed that “at MSSU one can get an Ivy League education at a Wal-Mart price.” I wonder if tacitly this comment hasn’t reinforced the very “student as consumer” model that Dr. Simpson (and I) find objectionable.

We have both been here a long time; he 27 years and I 38. We were both young and eager when we received our appointments, excited about our academic disciplines and wanting to do the best we could in sharing our skills and knowledge. I was thrilled with the ideas, interpretation, data and explanations that sociology (my academic discipline) provided. I thought of quiet hours in the library, reading, reflecting, note taking and learning (always the thrill of learning) more. Having taught in the crucible of public high schools, I idealized the luxury of time a college professor seemed to have to engage in scholarship and commit to the academics of the university environment.

Well, I was wrong (at least in my tenure here at Southern). I have learned throughout the years that my idealized concept of being a professor may be as jeopardized as the traditional concept of student as scholar. And so I respond to Dr. Simpson who in his article offered various other perspectives which could rival the retail image. He posited the “drill sergeant,” “karate instructor,” “dance teacher,” all mentor types. He then went on with interesting analogies of student-professor to an “apprenticeship” model, a “product” model and “shaper of clay” model.

I will propose yet another model. I find myself more and more, a “service provider.” This has evolved over the past decade and is much different than what I conceptualized my teaching career to be. In my youthful dream of becoming a “learned professor,” I never thought about the many independent studies and student internships I would supervise. The many dull committee assignments I have completed were unexpected. Such campus activities as “Discovery Days” and an array of other recruiting and public relations efforts are requests which brought out my sense of volunteerism. Special topics courses (298s) and senior seminars (498s) provide students with zestful electives but seem counter productive when the extensive time and effort needed to develop them are duly considered.

The true “service provider” model emerges so often in the personal student-teacher relationship. With empathy and candor I have listened to so many personal explanations as to why a scheduled exam was missed, a paper is late or a project incomplete more now than a generation ago, students divulge the personal and intimate details of their lives which obstruct their academic responsibilities. And I make allowances, always mindful of life’s hardships and conflictual demands that encumber students. I sometimes wonder if I’ve heard all the stories.

Then there are the assumptions that are made. So far this week, I’ve had a student voicemail asking me if the student should come back to class (I haven’t seen him since late January). Another student e-mails me and asks the same question while yet another e-mail asks me to report to the business office the last date she came to class (January). She hadn’t withdrawn because she thought I would automatically drop her from the class roll. And as an instructor of an intersession class that has an international trip built into it, I find new responsibilities which come with this sort of offering. Developing objectives, itineraries, budgets, class syllabus, application form, committee approvals, recruiting students, airline schedules, contacts in a foreign country, collecting completed student forms and admonishing students to pay their accounts are all part of this new effort. Traveling with students is a whole new dimension of this relationship. Being a faculty advisor who each year travels with students to a professional conference or a competitive participating event presents another view of responsibilities and “services.”

Occasionally my long-ago “vision” of the college processor returns when I glimpse a colleague absorbed in the library or instructing a class out on the oval. I still see the beauty of the pursuit, but I have also come to believe that a greater good is rendered to more students by my current model. And I quizzically shake my head at the changes Dr. Simpson and I have seen.