The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"I was a modest, good-humoured boy.  It is Oxford that has made me insufferable."... ...Sir Max Beerbohm.

Commentary of the Day - November 21, 2001:  Results of the IP Survey on Higher Education in America.

Regular readers of The Irascible ProfessorSM will recall that an anonymous colleague from New Zealand -- yes, we have readers in New Zealand -- sent the IP a list of questions about American higher education in the form of a questionnaire.  For the past four weeks we have been collecting the results sent to us by reader email.  The responses are tabulated below, along with with a few comments from the IP.

1. Name four universities or colleges (in the US) to which you would love to send your children.

Reflecting the diversity of our readership there were no clear winners in this category.  Readers nominated an eclectic mix of small colleges, mostly from the "nifty fifty" of elite private undergraduate institutions.  These included in alphabetical order: Albion College, Carleton College, Earlham College, Evergreen State College, Grinnell College, Harvey Mudd College, Hillsdale College, Hope College, Marquette University, Reed College, St. Olaf College, and Williams College.  Williams was the institution receiving the most votes among these schools.

Our readers also nominated a number of larger public and private universities.  These included in alphabetical order: University of California, Berkeley, University of California, San Diego, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Eastern Illinois University, Emory University, Indiana University, Bloomington, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame, and Princeton University.  U.C., Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame were the leaders among this group.

2. Name four universities or colleges (in the US) to which you would not even send your neighbor's dog.

IP readers were a little more reluctant to name their picks for the "worst" colleges and universities in the United States.  Among those receiving mention were the University of Phoenix, University of LaVerne, United States International University, and National University, all of which are known for offering "storefront" degrees of questionable quality.  Others that received a vote in this category were Savannah State University, Georgia Tech, Florida A&M, West Virginia State College, Olivet College, Tusculum College, Ursuline College, and Goddard College, presumably because of concerns about program quality or about the environment for students.  In addition, one reader nominated four Ivy League universities, Columbia, Harvard, Penn, and Yale, not because of poor academic quality but because these campuses are located in "dangerous" urban areas.

The IP agrees with the readers who nominated the "storefront" operations.  He's not so sure about the other institutions named.  Columbia, Harvard, Penn, and Yale certainly provide a very good education for their students, even though their locations may not be the most ideal.

3. Name up to four college or university presidents past or present under whom you would gladly serve as a faculty member, staff member, or administrator.

Only a few of those who responded to the survey provided names for this category.  (That may say something about our readership.)  Among those nominated in this category were John DiBiaggio, the late Lee A. DuBridge, Bob Maxim, Robert Caret, Chang-lin Tien, Peter Mitchell, John Jacobson, C. Brent DeVore, and Wanda Bingham.

4. Name up to four college or university presidents past or present under whom you would never serve even if the only alternative was food stamps.

Readers also were not too anxious to share their views about college presidents in this category.  However, the following folks each received at least one vote.  John Silber, Bob Suzuki, Peter Diamandopolous, Ann Reynolds, Michael Bassis, James Halseth, Donald Tuski, and Gretchen Kreuter.

5. Who would you judge to be the most brilliant college or university president of them all, and your reason why.

In this category there were only two nominees, John DiBaggio of Tufts University and the late Lee DuBridge of Caltech.  No supporting information was provided to support DiBaggio's nomination.  DuBridge was nominated because of his ability to lead, and lead effectively, what had to be the most cantankerous collection of prima donnas on any campus in the U.S.  He also was nominated for his genuine warmth as a human being.  DuBridge truly cared about every student and faculty member at Caltech while he was president, and for decades afterwards.

6. And who would you judge to be the most outrageous or loathsome college or university president of them all, and your reason why.

The hands-down winner in this category was John Silber, the brilliant but autocratic president of Boston University.
Return to main commentary.

© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.