Blazing Saddles and Higher Ed

One of my favorite comedies is Blazing Saddles, and I love the sequence where Governor LePetomane is talking with Hedley Lamarr and various apparatchiks to take care of their Rock Ridge problem. “We’ve got to protect our phony baloney jobs!” the governor cries, echoing the suspicions of real-world conservatives across America.

Higher Ed has its share of phony baloney jobs as well, and the trend shows no sign of slowing. This brings us to an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed. The National Association of College and University Attorneys held their annual conference recently, and not surprisingly, they announced that an emphasis on “diversity” means… wait for it … more work for College and University Attorneys.

A point I found particularly interesting is that the pool of folks eligible for the comforting tongue-bath of diversity accommodation is an expanding one:

[S]peakers at the conference said colleges are finding new justifications for emphasizing diversity even as they face increasing pressure to ensure equitable treatment not only for those of all races and genders, the traditional measures, but also for those of varying sexual identities and persons with learning disabilities.”The vision has changed with regards to diversity,” said Jonathan Alger, senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers University. […]

But the demand to meet the needs of a wider spectrum of student types and abilities can bring legal and financial risks to the institutions, Mr. Alger said, in the form of costly, frivolous lawsuits.

Laura Rothstein, a professor at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, said one expanding group in that spectrum is college students who have had accommodations for learning disabilities in elementary or secondary schools under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Those students arrive at college expecting similar academic accommodations, she said[…]

New requirements under the [Americans with Disabilities Act] could […] add a wide range of pets that are allowed in campus buildings to provide emotional comfort, Ms. Rothstein said.

Now, leaving aside the practical ramifications of a student bringing “therapy livestock” into say, a gender studies course (which may well have all the manure it needs already), what we’re seeing here is a confluence of several factors. The most obvious one is that when government gets involved, there’s no such thing as enough. Bureaucrats and lawyers have phony baloney jobs to protect, and they have the advantage of creating that protection essentially by fiat.

A corollary to this is that, if these bureaucrats and lawyers can get more people to think of themselves as victims, then sloth will lead those people to let themselves be “taken care of” by those same bureaucrats and lawyers. The system thus creates its own baloney.

The other point brings us back to the notion of educational romanticism. Because the idea that “everyone is capable of high achievement” is part of the blue mud that we as a tribe have chosen to rub into our navels, it becomes heresy to suggest that if Suzy can’t comprehend what she reads, or if Bob can’t leave his room without Zippy the Comfort Weasel, then maybe a university education isn’t for them.

Of course, the underlying issue here is the fact that many elements of our society have made equality of outcome the goal, rather than the more rational equality of opportunity. But in higher ed (and most other fields of endeavor), the only way to assure that everyone succeeds is to declare success at such a low level that it means nothing. This of course makes education itself a “phony baloney job,” but that’s fine with our society’s administrators, as long as they can keep the baloney coming.

For those of us who care about the arts, humanities, or sciences, however, and for the students who want to be challenged and grow, it’s a sandwich of another, much less appetizing sort. And we’re being force-fed.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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3 Responses to Blazing Saddles and Higher Ed

  1. Mike says:

    Two quotes seem applicable:

    1) “Well I think Bisexual Asian Studies should have its own building” – PCU (movie)

    2) “This ain’t Lake Wobegon. Half the children are below average.” – Jerry Pournelle.

    Of course I’m a little jaded. I started college in the 80s, finished (after a break) in the 90s, and did grad school in the 00s. The literacy at for students at the top of the curve has been fine. The emerging illiteracy of average and struggling students makes me question the competence of grade-school English (excuse me “Language Arts”) teachers.

  2. majormaddog says:

    Did someone say something about jobs for lawyers?

  3. Pingback: It Doesn’t Add Up… | Professor Mondo

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