Liberal Education

Letter to the Editor: Response

Dear editor,

I thank Michael Bassis for his thoughtful letter. These are important conversations to have for higher education, which always has and always will change.

In terms of cost, the reasons for increasing tuition are complex, but access to high-quality faculty, recent studies suggest, is not the only or even the primary reason. Instead, state defunding, the cost of benefits, and the expanding cadre of administrators and related staff have driven costs up much more than they need to be. There are better ways to respond to the cost problem than reducing the quality and intellectual depth of collegiate education.

In terms of evidence, I embrace the idea that evidence is necessary, but would certainly not limit what counts as evidence to what is quantifiable. In fact, to do so would be to reduce dramatically the range of human experiences and knowledge to those few things that can be translated into easily identified numbers and outcomes. We know better.

In terms of competencies, my essay is not arguing against competencies, but against competency-based education. I make clear that identifying competencies may improve the quality of teaching and help articulate some of the outcomes of college education. My point is that it captures only a part of the picture, and thus competency-based education will not replace seat time.

The real issue is ensuring, as Dr. Bassis rightly suggests, that the time students spend interacting with faculty is worthwhile. Faculty need to teach effectively and to engage students, and students need to enter their classes with open minds and hearts. That this will not happen always is of course true. All of us in higher education should embrace reforms that make the best experiences more likely and resist those reforms that reduce the chances of their happening.

Johann Neem

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