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Universities and students both share responsibility for quality of education

March 4, 2003

By Dana White

'Have you been challenged at Baylor?' my professor asked me one day after class. For a senior who is only months away from graduation the question was disturbingly difficult.

Sure, I've had to pull my fair share of all-night study sessions. I've not always made the best grades in some of my classes. I've attended some lectures where the subject material soared miles above my head. But are these things indicative of a challenge issued to me by Baylor or brought on by my own negligence?

As I prepare to enter the 'real world' or at least graduate school, I wonder if I have been truly prepared by my education at Baylor.

Apparently, my professor and I are not alone in questioning the quality of higher education now. In fact, we're in good company.

Professor Harvey C. Mansfield was asking these same questions in his article in the Feb. 21 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Mansfield said he chose to examine this situation at Harvard not only because he teaches there, but also because he said he believes trends at Harvard reflect conditions at other universities.

Mansfield said he believed the students at Harvard were 'coddled' by curriculums and professors who would inflate grades and recommendation letters 'as unconsciously as a parent might spoil his children.'

My own experience leads me to believe that Mansfield is right in assuming this problem is not unique to Harvard. Now I enjoy receiving an 'A' as much as the next student, but I don't think that an unmerited reward will actually help my self-esteem, not to mention enhance a future career.

Mansfield said, 'A student knows very well when he or she is getting away with a misdeed, failure or lax effort.' The true danger arises when a student is coddled for so long that she fails to realize she is 'getting away' with a minimal effort. An less than challenging education would seem to lead to a false or at least untested confidence in one's ability to achieve.

While Mansfield said the ambition of Harvard's students will ultimately save them from the consequences of the failings of the university system, what will redeem Baylor's students?

Placing the blame entirely on Baylor would be unfair and a waste of time. The lack of challenge in some classrooms could be supplemented by my own independent study or initiative to seek out the challenging courses and extracurricular activities. But it stands to reason that universities should still be held accountable for their failure to assist their students more fully in acquiring an education.

While Baylor is increasing its efforts to 'see' itself as a Tier 1 school, the university should look to its current classrooms and question the quality of the education students are 'getting away with' now.