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Monday, June 11, 2012

Speaking of those Portland State peer mentors

Our post of last night about the new hire at Portland State University prompted this response from a reader:

This article compliments the one you posted about the PSU graduate with the Educational Leadership degree. He was a peer mentor, and mentors are mentioned in this article about problems with the University Studies program at PSU. I read a few years ago that a group of professors were very dissatisfied with the US program and lobbied the administration to abandon it because they felt it did not give students a good college education. The program substitutes a thematic-based inquiry general studies course for the former distribution or survey courses all students had to take. About the only way one could escape the US program and get a solid general studies foundation was to go to PCC and get an AA degree and then transfer to PSU. This is what my son did -- I would not have let him go to PSU under the US program even though his major is math. We wanted him to get a thorough education in a broad range of subjects instead of a hodgepodge of stuff taught by faculty from disparate disciplines.

Here is another article on the program -- this one is from 2000. The program started in 1994 and immediately had problems with faculty critics. I can't remember the name of the woman university president who initiated the program. She implemented many innovative changes in the way the university functioned, but most of them were style over substance, and eventually she left for a school that appreciated her style.

I am glad to see that some people at the top are taking education seriously, though I have to wonder why now and not six or more years ago. It was bad then, so why are they just figuring it out now after more than a dozen years with the program in place?

Perhaps our readers can answer that question.

Comments (10)

I am not an academic or a teacher and it has been 40+ years since I attended U of O (before it was Nike U) and PSU, when it was a working kids school. However from what I see of my friend's kids who are currently in a school of some kind in the Oregon, it seems to me that grade school now equals kindergarten, high school equals elementary school, and college of some sort, equals a mediocre high school.
I find this depressing and dangerous for the future.

I believe the name of the university president the reader can't remember is Judith Ramaley President from 1990 to 1997

Around 40% of PPS kids drop out. Of those who do graduate with plans to attend college, many find that they must take remedial math and English. Obviously, $11,500 per student per year simply isn't enough money....

WHY do parent allow their children to be the guinea pigs for some educrat's "innovative" approach to education? Why would an adult get sucked into an experimental program if they were paying to be educated? Fads are a fact of life in the education field as everyone searches for the silver bullet for creating wise and wonderful students - in their own image. You have to wonder why public schools are so eager to spend millions of dollars on books and training for methods that are proven to be less than satisfactory just because they fit the newest model of cool. Kind of like light rail and condos except the public is not educated on what works in education and falls prey to the professionals. Look for educators who are experts in the discipline they are teaching rather than experts in the newest way to teach it.
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Below are excerpts from The Minnesota Daily from 1996. http://www.mndaily.com/1996/11/27/judith-ramaley

Many of her colleagues say Ramaley's crowning achievement at Portland State is an innovative undergraduate education program called University Studies.
The program "redefines what it means to be an undergraduate and what the undergraduate experience is all about," Pernsteiner said.
University Studies, initiated in 1994 by the university's provost and a team of faculty members and championed by Ramaley, brings together faculty and students from various backgrounds and engages them in community-based research and service projects throughout the Portland area.

The University District reclamation project was another of Ramaley's key initiatives.
The plan calls for a close partnership between city government, business leaders and Portland State to develop the area's housing and create new retail centers. The plan also calls for the construction of an elementary school, private and university buildings and a possible light rail system to the school. The goal is to reclaim the decaying area and renew it.
"The vision for the University District was President Ramaley's," Pernsteiner said. "It got the city, the university and the local development community working together to achieve some things that usually don't happen."

Yeah, I'll tell ya' what I believe is decaying....

I started PSU in 1997 and ended up being required to complete the US program. For those confused the US system replaces the classic General Education system. Instead of a math major taking, say, some literature courses or vice versa each student over the first couple of years is required to complete these 1 year blocks of courses focusing on nothing. NOTHING.

My first year I took Einstein's Dreams. What it was about I couldn't tell you. I learned a bit about who Einstein was, but next to nothing about physics or writing or politics. Nothing. I don't even think the class was graded, I remember nothing I could have been graded on.

In the end it is still around because of money. It keeps kids at PSU because the credits don't transfer and it keeps them in school longer because of the 1 year block nature of the classes. Any disruption throws you off.

It was a huge rip off. Still is.

PSU's "University Studies" is the biggest crock of academic nonsense I have ever seen. My son is two terms away from meeting graduation requirements to get a PSU degree in Liberal Studies, even though he has satisfied department requirements for a major in German and a minor in Music. This is because he is a student who can't sit in groups and breathe the farts of other students while they listen and hold forth on their contributions to mentored group projects in such atomized subjects as "the Chicana-Latina experience", or "Controversies in the History of the American Borderlands" etc etc The only way to get out of such nonsense is get your degree in Liberal studies, and hope any prospective employer will like your answer, should they ask how you chose your major. Not that there will definitely be too many prospective employers, what with the economy and all, especially since he doesn't go in for Eco-terrorism, and such.

Once, I was a liberal, morphed into a centrist, and now I consider myself on the right side of center-right...and the experience most directly tied to this evolution would be the forced contemplation of the absolutely moronic, group-massaged, completely extraneous and contrived coursework necessary for a shy, dreamy, slightly misanthropic student to get a degree in German with a minor in Music out of PSU.

I am a senior at PSU, finishing after a 12 year lay off. About 1/2 the people in my senior-level classes are borderline illiterate, and put forth no effort. They will graduate with a degree, as will I.

I was a transfer student, and wasn't required to take University Studies (I got to take math instead). University Studies teaches nothing, but funds classes nobody would take willingly if they had any intentions of working someday as opposed to being a career student.

Echoing the post of Gaye, PSU changed the rules on me so many times I will have taken an extra year worth of classes to get a Bachelor's. My PSU courses will transfer, but they don't really count for any conventional degree programs elsewhere. And I ended up having to take University Studies anyway in my last year.

Years ago when I was a junior, PSU taught me college was a joke. Within the past year, PSU taught me college is essentially organized, state supported crime.

All for the low low price of a few decades of indenture.

This is the classic example of the emperor having no clothes. I believe there are many more people eater to be educated than patronized and a lot more professors wanting to teach real content-rich material from their disciplines that leads to mastery of the subject.

As a teacher I resented being asked to politicize my teachings and cater to liberal agendas. I hated asking less of my students than they were capable of, and they would have resented me if I did plus call me names and give me a hard time because they didn't respect me. I have been a student myself for too many years to put up with nonsense education and pick my instructors carefully.

Respect has to go both ways. If I get a stinker anymore, I make sure I let the dept. chair (or higher if need be) know why I am dissatisfied. Public schools have less of a need to be concerned with their customers, and PSU is terrible about putting the faculty and everything else ahead of student learning. But it is still worth complaining and getting the word out about the problems at PSU and making One's concerns public. The institution cannot change until the problems are acknowledged.

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