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.

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

  1. Ahhh, summer vacation, when I can work only 8-10 hours a day instead of the 16-18 that I put in during the “school year”! Gotta love being “underutilized”…

  2. I went to a small liberal arts college in central Illinois (Eureka College). At the time I attended, there were only about 500 students at the school (I think they are up to around 800 now). Anyway, we didn’t have summer classes there. But, I also only had one professor for my communication classes, and she usually taught 4-5 classes a semester. So, I think summer was her time for research. In other words, I went to a school that closed for the summer. But I don’t feel like this was the norm because we could take summer classes at the local community college and transfer them in.

    On another note, at KU our summer enrollment is falling because students have to work. I used to love summers in Lawrence (I have only been here for 4 of them) because no one was around. You could get anywhere quickly. It was dead. It was lovely. Now, Lawrence doesn’t change much in the summer. Part of that is because students can’t afford to leave, but if they stay they can’t afford summer school. They have to work. So, I don’t know how extending into summers really helps our students. They don’t take the classes. I know of at least 3 GTAs who got assignments this summer but lost them because of low enrollment.

    I feel like we haven’t seen outrage at the rising costs of higher education, because the US government is the one that stands to make the most off of my loans. It is hard to say it costs too much when you are trying to double the interest rate on student loans.

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