How Johns Hopkins Plans to Reform Higher Education
Johns Hopkins recently released a draft of its Strategic Planning Final Report, a thing that sounds so dull I can’t help but wonder if they named it that hoping that we’d all fall asleep rather than take a close look.
But many people — Hopkins grad students in particular — have taken a close look, and they don’t like what they see. In an attempt to attract undergrads, curb costs, and compete with its rivals, the university plans to reconfigure the way it treats graduate students. And, since Hopkins is a leading research institute, its choices may have a major impact nationwide, if other schools choose to follow in its footsteps. “Given the information that’s been released so far, I think this plan could have serious negative consequences for our graduate programs,” Amy Sheeran, a Hopkins grad student, told Inside Higher Ed. Here’s why:
The plan would make a number of changes. They include:
- Increasing funding from $22,000 to $30,000 per year for 5 years in order to “compete against our wealthier rivals.” All well and good, right?
- But current students would see no such funding increase
- And enrollment would be cut by 25 percent over five years — meaning departments would shrink
- To compensate for lower enrollments, the university would hire more teaching assistants with master’s degrees to take on certain undergraduate classes
- And when senior faculty retire, they’d be replaced by “leaning junior” faculty instead of highly-accomplished senior faculty; these would not necessarily be tenure-track positions
There are some smart ideas embedded in Hopkins’ plan. Star faculty’s salaries often far outstrip those of their peers, and tuitions rise accordingly. Not to mention the fact that the most accomplished professors usually find a way to dodge teaching undergrads. Replacing the old guard with younger faculty who are actually engaged with teaching would be a boon for undergrads and would presumably save the department money in the long run.
But more than 275 current students signed a letter objecting to the plan, arguing that a 25 percent cut to already-teeny departments might effectively kill them. (When I was a grad school at Hopkins, my master’s degree program included eight students.) “A strength of Hopkins is the graduate student community, which includes interactions with faculty members and grad students. But now with only three people, let’s say, as opposed to six, in your cohort, the opportunities for discussing with your fellow grad students are really curtailed,” sociology student Smriti Upadhyay told the JHU Gazette.
And even more troubling is the increased “adjunctification” of higher education, where full professors with tenure and hefty benefits packages are replaced by adjunct faculty who are paid much less, and who have little-to-no benefits or job security. And this from a school with one of the highest tuitions in the country.
The plan is still just that — a plan. Stay tuned to see if Hopkins’ grad students objections have any practical result.
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