I can’t help but feel like I’ve gotten away with something.
I just graduated from the 12th ranked public university in the country with a BS in biological sciences and a 3.38 GPA, but I’m not sure I deserve it.
Because it was never supposed to be that easy. It was never supposed to be routine. It was never supposed to amount to intellectual bulimia (binge, purge, fast; cram, exam, nap).
But it did.
I was supposed to find myself startlingly humbled by the thousands upon thousands of other equally impressive intellects with equally impressive resumes from equally impressive backgrounds all congregating in the same place at the same time for the same purpose. I was supposed to pull all-nighters in the library with lecture notes and scientific journals and cold chow mein strewn across the table in front of me. I was supposed to wrestle with mind-bending concepts at the cutting edge of modern knowledge. I was supposed to have to do more reading, more papers, presentations and projects and ultimately have more expected of me than ever before.
But I didn’t.
I’ve been meaning to write this column for a while, but I haven’t been able to for reasons that, if they aren’t already, will soon become quite clear.
UC Davis is an academic joke.
And now the back-peddle: That’s not entirely true, but it felt that way far more often than it should have. From the day I moved into the dorms to the closing minutes of my last final, I’ve listened to my fellow students and asked myself the same question, daily, without fail: How did these people get in here to begin with, and how could it possibly be justified that their diploma will be issued by the same university as mine?
UC Davis as an institution would like you to believe that it’s one of the best public, nay, public or private, universities in the United States, nay, the world! But if this is truly the case, then the United States, nay, the world (!), is in for a rough ride.
There are people at this university for whom the most basic concepts – the Pythagorean theorem, subject-verb agreement, separation of powers – are unfamiliar and difficult to understand. On any given day I was within earshot of people who did not know what DNA is, that there’s a difference between “you’re” and “your,” what GDP stands for and that the UK is an island. And yet they will receive a degree, like 81 percent of us eventually do, and perhaps even better the campus average of a 3.0 GPA at graduation (statistics courtesy of the UC Davis Office of Resource Management and Planning).
And it all starts with the freshmen.
The Subject-A requirement is case in point. It’s plainly ridiculous that the university is so lax in it’s admissions standards that it needs to test students as they come in for “college-level proficiency in English composition“ before they can enroll in the daunting, intellectual gauntlet known as English 1.
Shouldn’t it be a given that admitted college students can, you know, write sentences? I remember having to put together a personal statement as part of my application; can’t UC Davis glean from those statements whether someone knows how to construct a grammatically correct series of coherent thoughts?
And yet from 1997 through 2003 (most recent data) an average of 33.4 percent of incoming students failed to pass the Subject-A exam, having to enroll in either workload English or, if English is a second language, remedial linguistics courses (Fun fact: The linguistics units count toward graduation; English is apparently a foreign language).
Predictably, these students‘ six-year graduation rates are between 4 and 11 percent lower than average, depending on the cohort.
And English is not alone. When it comes to math, instead of actually screening for ability we offer yet another test, and those who fail it typically end up in Workload 55M.
Workload 55M is a review of algebra.
Plainly put, if you can’t get into college level courses, then you probably shouldn’t have gotten into college. I was under the impression that this is the sort of stuff you learned in high school, and while being “left behind“ is a serious problem and a sad commentary on the lack of support secondary education gets in America, it’s not a problem UC Davis or the University of California itself is obligated to fix.
There are other places motivated, economically disadvantaged and thus far unaccomplished students can go. That’s what the CSUs are for. That’s what community colleges are for. That’s what The University of Phoenix Online is for.
Now, perhaps I’m being unfair. UC Davis and university system as a whole are not entirely to blame, because admitting and subsequently graduating incapable students is not entirely avoidable; there will always be those who fall through the cracks, no matter how tight the seal, and there will always be those who curry favor with the elites, no matter how grave the consequences (George W. Bush and Bill Clinton both went to Yale … go figure).
Yet there are still definite deficiencies, which UC Davis could address.
I saw no new material until the last quarter of my second year, and it wasn’t until I started upper-division courses that I saw it with any consistency. Maybe that speaks more to the strength of my high school than it does the weakness of UC Davis, but whatever it speaks to it certainly speaks of wasted time and opportunity.
Along the same vein, I found that classes here were not so much conceptually difficult as they were logistically inconvenient; the hardest part was giving enough of a rat’s ass to show up.
That said, there were absolutely courses which got my full attention and professors who drove me to discover new things about the world around me and about myself; I owe more to each of those professors alone than I do the rest of them combined. Sadly, the rest of them were perhaps too interested in their research (or perhaps did not meet the Subject-A requirement) to do much good in the lecture hall.
So what it comes down to is this: I paid this place $80,000 for a piece of paper that really only does one thing: tell the corporatocracy that I did my time. I jumped through your hoops. I played by your rules. And I paid my dues. Now give me my $45,000 salary and break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat bar.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but UC Davis has embraced it; first by admitting underperforming freshmen in the name of faux diversity – thus burdening the system with unnecessary expenses, professors with unnecessary work and me with unnecessary headaches – and second by coddling those students out of an insatiable hunger for student fees and fears of an even lower graduation rate with two full years of review and inexcusably low expectations (trying to teach physics without calculus? Physics 7, I’m lookin‘ at you.)
And I can only see these problems worsening; the UC’s decision to ease admissions requirements is yet another step in the wrong direction.
K.C. CODY would like to ask those in the administration which intend to give the party line about “promoting a diverse campus community” that’s “open to a wide variety of students with unique backgrounds” as “the best learning environment for all students“ to spare him. Anyone else can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.