My university has offered online MBA programs for almost 15 years. In the early years it was typical to have 12 to 15 students in a class. The small class size allowed me to develop a dialogue rich online teaching pedagogy. This pedagogy has advantages over face-to-face classes and fostered outstanding learning experiences for students.
About five years into the program, the university realized that for budgetary reasons it could not sustain small class sizes. The number of students in an online class sizes increased to 30 or 35.
I was disturbed. Even at a class size of 15, my online class pedagogy required more effort on my part than a face-to-face class. I strongly believe that online classes should be dialogue rich and not self-study experiences, so what could I do?
I did the only thing I thought was professionally responsible. In order to maintain an effective learning environment, I split my new larger classes into groups so that the size of the online forums was exactly the same as before. Students would receive the same educational experience they did when class sizes were 15, but my workload would double.
Was I happy that my workload doubled? No, I wasn’t. But I had no power to change the university’s budgetary priorities, and I had my professional standards.
Of course the faculty talked about the issue. I remember vividly one conversation. A colleague explained why increasing the class size had no effect on him; his policy was to limit the time he spent teaching an online class to the same amount of time he spent for a face-to-face class. The increased class size would mean that students would receive even less of his attention. He was not concerned at all about the issue; he had shifted the cost of the university’s decision to the students.
I was incredulous. His sense of entitlement was such that he believed that his external environment should bend to his needs, despite any impact that would have on students or the academic standing of the university that paid his salary. If he had the slightest bit of doubt over his course of action, he didn’t show it.
Unfortunately, his attitude of entitlement is all too common in contemporary America.
Consider the town of Central Falls, Rhode Island. Like many towns and cities, Central Falls entered into unsustainable bargains with public employees. In 2011, the town filed for bankruptcy and pensions were cut.
It is easy to see why the town went bankrupt. One former fireman worked for 22 years and then retired at the age of 42. There is no way to reasonably fund a lifetime pension, beginning at age 42, of $34,000 a year for a fireman who earned $60,000 a year at the time he retired.
The public employees of Central Falls however see things differently. They feel “degraded.” They feel “robbed” of money they “deserve.”
One former fireman said this: “We can’t afford to go out and eat, we can’t afford shopping, we have no hobbies, we can’t travel. We’re basically stuck in our house.”
It may come as news to this former fireman, but for many Americans going out to eat and traveling is a luxury.
Stuck in his house? Actually, he is stuck in his mind’s sense of entitlement.
Why can’t he take a walk? Why can’t he grow a garden? Why can’t he help an elderly neighbor with needed chores? Does he really believe that he has no hobbies because his pension was cut by 25%? As we all know, the best hobbies often require little money at all.
One pension holder, age 53, who worked as a policeman said: “It’s degrading to me as a man. I’m supposed to be the father in this family … I would love to give my children more than what I had. It’s hard to sit here and tell my children if you do the right thing in life, you’ll be all set. I did the right thing. I did what I loved.”
His pension is not fully funded, and so the only way his pension could continue at its former level is to increase taxes on his neighbors. Many of these neighbors are earning less than he did and have no possibility of even receiving a modest fixed pension. Why is it not degrading to him to take money from his neighbors and their children? Why does he think he has a claim on the resources of his fellow citizens?
By his example, what is he really teaching his children? Is he encouraging them to expect unreasonable returns on their efforts—returns funded by confiscating wealth from others?
Retirees like this fire fighter and police officer of Central Falls haven’t been degraded, they have degraded themselves. Educators like my colleague degrade themselves when they punt on their professional obligations.
We can appreciate the shock people feel when the trajectory their life is suddenly altered. But a stubborn refusal to not question assumptions about life is a recipe for social disaster. This disaster will be coming soon the cities and towns all over America as budgets shrink and the public pension crisis unfolds.