IN BRIEF DEFENSE OF 4x4

Selmer Bringsjord

The following piece appeared in The Rensselaer Review during the Spring '95 semester. It involves the (controversial) plan at Rensselaer to move to a 4 credit/4 course curriculum. Copyright Selmer Bringsjord.
There are apparently five main objections afoot to "4x4," viz.,

  1. Students worry that they will be subjected to two too-tedious two-hour lectures per week;
  2. A loss of diversity will result;
  3. Faculty ought to be compensated for the considerable time and energy needed to implement 4x4;
  4. 4x4 will set the stage for further reductions in the size of Rensselaer's faculty;
  5. The issue isn't one of pedagogy, nor one of business. The issue is governance: the fact is, 4x4 is tyrannical; it tells faculty how to go about doing what *they* know best how to do.
Alas, 1-4 are anemic:

Objection 1 seems downright odd in the context of a university moving (perhaps more aggressively than any other national university) toward group-based (studio-based, ...) interactive learning. Either not enough of us are doing what the "marketplace" already reads us as doing, or 1 reflects a stunning misperception. In my dept., as in many others, the 4x4 is viewed as an unprecedented opportunity to provide more hands-on projects (and the like), not more lecturing.

Objection 2 reflects the truism that less faculty means fewer courses, but conveniently ignores the rigorous evidence that less *in more depth* is much more effective. A shallow smorgasbord does no one any good, not in any discipline (this has been demonstrated repeatedly in educational psychology).

Objection 3 seems to assume that faculty are project-paid free lancers. They aren't. Professors get paid, in part, to search for and test educational innovations -- like 4x4. Nonetheless, the fact is, relative to our competitors, Rensselaer faculty *are* remarkably underpaid. Faculty, I submit, should be compensated at, say, 95% of top competitors like MIT. But this is an issue which needs to be separated from the 4x4 plan, or else faculty are lining up to receive spare change and nothing else. Reengineering without "incentivizing" is death. But panhandling with the refrain "I need some change to do X" will only exacerbate the underlying problem.

Objection 4: Rare is the reform which is both better business and better pedagogy. But such is the case, I submit, when it comes to "4x4" (adapted to maximize classroom use).

Objection 5 is well nigh absurd. Do faculty regard it tyrannical to find themselves, in their first semester here, having to teach *3* credit courses? The 4x4 provides an opportunity for all of us to "turn over the soil" together and start afresh. That isn't tyranny; it's freedom.