Goodbye Mr. Chips . . . and this time, he’s really gone

Barry Lenson

Have you ever seen the sweet, sentimenal movie, Goodbye Mr. Chips?  There are actually two films with that title. One dates from 1939, and the other from 1969. Both tell the story of an aging, beloved teacher who finds his world devastated when the boys he has taught die on the battlefields of World War I. If you go to one of these films, you better bring a skid of Kleenex.

It’s pretty outdated stuff, but somehow it lives on. On some level, many college students expect to be inspired and motivated by a tweedy old professor. (You knock on his office door, an old voice croaks, “come in” and there behind a cloud of pipe smoke you find tottering old Professor Qumquat, who imparts his or her wisdom to you and your equally inspired classmates.)

Well, that stuff just isn’t happening anymore – at least not very often. In fact “What's Driving College Costs Higher?”  a recent story on National Public Radio, reports that the days of the faithful old prof have become ancient history on most college campuses.

Here’s some of the news the story tells . . .

  • When deciding where to spend money, most colleges decide not to allocate it to faculty pay. In an effort to attract more students, they spend it on new buildings instead.
  • College administrators are more interested in hiring administrators than in hiring new faculty members.
  • In an effort to combat future tuition increases, colleges will now start to institute more extreme cost-cutting measures. That will mean deeper cuts in faculty pay.
  • A certain number of colleges will continue to recuit famous professors, but only because their reputations will attract more students. They won’t expect those famous scholars to be good teachers too.

Kevin Carey, the Director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, was interviewed for the program. He stated that, “[Professors] are not the beneficiaries of large increases in college spending that has gone on. In fact, the percentage of all students taught by non-tenure-track professors — adjuncts, teaching assistants — has gone up and up and up."

Maybe this is all a good thing. Maybe the time has come when it is most efficient to study with a teaching assistant, or in a campus computer lab, not sitting at the knee of an inspiring mentor who’s hobbling off into the sunset.

But the message is clear. If you’re looking for Mr. Chips these days, you better go to the movies.

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