In the wake of the revelations at Penn State University, Miami University President David Hodge in a recent email urged the university community to be “absolutely vigilant in our commitment to conducting our personal and professional affairs ethically” and to “report any suspected criminal activity to law enforcement.”
Responding to this call, we report an affair of highly questionable ethics at Miami that involves hundreds of millions of tuition dollars and possible bamboozlement on an epic scale.
We refer to the administration’s claim that it is providing a first-class undergraduate education in small classes with direct engagement between students and faculty when, in fact, this seems not to be the case. Instead, students — especially first and second-year students — are being crammed into large class sections:
Last year, Microbiology 111 and 121 courses were taught in class sizes averaging 100 to 125 students, while Chemistry 141 average class size was 165 students. This year History 111 is being taught to an average class size of 288 students; Communications 143 average class size is 219 students; Accounting 221 has an average class size of 245 students (up from 37 a decade ago); Psychology 111 is taught to an average class size of 115; and Finance 301 teaches 61 percent of students in class sizes of 130 or more (up from an average class size of 38 a decade ago).
We refer to the fact that the administration counts sections of classes with 200 students as including 10 sections of 20 students each, because there is a once-a-week breakout session with a graduate student — an obvious distortion downward of official measures of average class size.
We refer to the university’s claim that undergraduate teaching is the top priority at Miami when research far outweighs undergraduate teaching in faculty promotion and tenure decisions (P&T); some high-powered researchers who are average teachers fly through the P&T process, while outstanding teachers who are less than high-powered researchers are obstructed at every level. A key factor contributing to large class sizes (and rising tuition) is the reduction in teaching loads for tenure-track faculty, encouraging them to produce more research.
We refer to the fact that tens of millions of dollars are being spent, not by hiring faculty to reduce class sizes, but on bureaucracy and new buildings.
We refer to the administration trumpeting the high degree of “student engagement,” when the methodological legerdemain underlying this claim is to tell students constantly how engaged they are, and then ask them if they feel engaged. If they’re so engaged, how come we have to push so many of them so hard to get them to attend class, to complete assignments on time, to use office hours, and to not take days off early before breaks and holidays? If they’re so engaged in their writing, how come so many seniors about to graduate don’t seem to know the proper use of commas or apostrophes, agreement between subjects and verbs, the difference between adverbs and adjectives, or the importance of proofreading their work — all of which hurt when applying for professional positions?
And we refer to the practice of marketing this “air-brushed” portrait to alumni in seeking their financial support, leading them to believe the quality of undergraduate education at Miami today is as high as it was when they were here.
This ethical issue doesn’t involve athletic shower facilities, but it does seem to represent a hosing of another kind, and so, responding to President Hodge’s directive, we hereby report it to the authorities and join him in encouraging others to do the same.