Hilarious But True · Nature of Academia · Teaching Political Science

“I’m learning valuable career skills,” says student lounging in the lazy river.

I remember when I was in college.  I viewed my grades as a starting point, and I always knew to complain to the Dean when the grade wasn’t what I wanted.  I had my father call my professors and say, “I paid for this class, it was an expensive class, you need to be responsive.”  My evaluations of my professors were based solely on how easy the class was for me to pass.  When graduation was coming up, I knew it was the responsibility of my professors and of the career center to make sure I had a great job.

HAHAHAHAHA wouldn’t it be hilarious if that were true?

Oh crap. It is.  You see, a recent article has suggested that it’s the responsibility of professors to be sure their students get jobs after college.

Listen, I know it’s 2016 and we live in a world where nearly everyone goes to college. I know that the consumer model of higher education is creeping in more every day (the parent phone calls I receive seem to back this up), and that most students do see college as a means to get a better job than they would if they’d stopped after high school.  They’re right!

But I’m not quite ready to resign myself to the idea that a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science should be a vocational program.  To reframe my role as an expert in international relations into a role as a job coach.  To continue to erode the responsibilities of the students themselves.

The article does mention that “college officials will defend their career services by saying students should share the responsibility in finding a good job after graduation.” (emphasis mine)

But, share?  We’re starting with the assumption that professors and universities exist to help students find jobs?

I’m not sure that’s what my Ph.D. trained me to do.

The idea that colleges and universities exist to ensure every student has an equal outcome at the end of their college career seems to be more and more pervasive: that regardless of the student’s actions or agency, he will have a diploma that indicates he is career ready, and job offers thrown at him from all angles.

In this model, professors are no longer offering a chance for students to learn from the significant expertise of someone who has made her life’s work out of the intricacies of international negotiation.  No, we are offering a commodity:  an A in the course, so the student can check off the box on her degree plan that she achieved these four learning objectives and these 2 core curriculum skills.  And, when the student (or more likely, her parent) pays for this commodity but does not receive the final product (the A or the B, or the D for Diploma, am I right?), the next logical step is to complain and demand that this be corrected.

I completely agree with the article that there are students who will struggle more to navigate networking opportunities and identify ways to reach career goals. When a student reaches out to me for help, for ideas, and for advice, I always provide it. Students asking for help with their independent research, students needing help to know where to start looking for internships, students who don’t know which classes will help them achieve their career goals. They come to my office, and we sit down, and I help them. In fact, I even try to identify students who may be cautious and unwilling to ask, making sure they know what resources (including me!) are available to them.

From my experience as a professor (as an aside, I’m feeling more and more like I’m “in the trenches” rather than “in an ivory tower” these days), I can promise that the students who have the enthusiasm and ambition will succeed, because they will ask for help.

We don’t need to be hovering over the students as they lounge in the indoor beach (#4 – complete with waterfall!) and attend lawn parties (#5 – complete with real rap artists!) to make sure they’re networking and working toward being marketable after college.

Instead, we need to provide opportunities for students, via access to professors, career centers, and even networking events on campus.  The students who want to take advantage of these resources will do so.  Maybe  “If you build it, they will come” only applies to Kevin Costner’s baseball fields. Oh, and rock climbing walls.

-Candy Ann Richards


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