Do colleges really “close” during the summer?: A critique of Fay Vincent in the WSJ

So yesterday, I read an article in the WSJ by former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent (this link may/may not allow you to see it without a WSJ subscription).

In the article, he argues that universities can become “more efficient” if they don’t “close for the summer.” Um, I wonder if he’s ever been on a college campus during the summer? Every school I’ve seen firsthand runs a slew of revenue-generating summer classes and conferences.

He also attacks faculty, arguing they are “underutilized” and could “be used more productively” during the summer. Um, has he ever observed faculty during the summer? The faculty I know produce a lot during the summer across the domains of teaching, research, and service.

Finally, he addresses time, claiming “As school administrations over the years have steadily shortened the educational year, students were the losers. It is difficult not to conclude that my generation got a better education because we got more of it.” He fails to consider that the relationship between time and learning isn’t linear. I guarantee you my students aren’t learning as much during the 14th week of the semester as they are the 3rd–the comparison between the 74th and 6th minutes of class is also apt.

I agree we need to ask serious questions about higher education practices and consider creative answers. And speaking of productivity, such brainstorming is most productive when it doesn’t betray basic ignorance about fundamental facts of academic life.