Phi Beta Cons

How One Student ‘Aced’ His Degree at Binghamton U.

Read all about (at the Chronicle of Higher Education) not only Kevin Carey’s poker-playing and other revelry during his four years on the campus, but also his “lifeguarding” and other studies as well as his pass/fail astronomy course in satisfaction of a science distribution requirement (for which he only had to answer correctly 20 percent of the final-exam questions to pass).

But take special note of this revealing and damning bit of Carey’s reminiscences, concerning the point in his undergraduate years when — or so he thought at the time – he had 88 actual college credits to earn:

Except, not really [i.e., he did not have that number of credits to earn]. Late last year, I was reliably informed that Binghamton, unique among the scores of individual SUNY [State University of New York, where for twelve years I served on the board of trustees campuses, endeavoring evidently without much success to raise academic standards] awards four credits for classes that require only three faculty-contact hours per week [emphasis added]. The origins of that sweet, state-approved deal for faculty members are shrouded in the mists of time, dating back half a century. When asked about it, a university spokesperson told me that “Binghamton faculty well understand what student work is required to satisfy a four-credit designation.” She didn’t explain how the policy is enforced, or how it could be, given the autonomy that faculty members enjoy in defining course content.

I also talked to the provost, who insisted that Binghamton’s four credits are more substantive than, say, the State University of New York at Stony Brook’s three. But there are no external studies or standards to verify that.

Carey wraps up his disclosures by remarking wryly that he really ended up with the equivalent of an associate, not true four-year, degree. “Who knew?” he exclaims.

It would be fitting also to ask, “Who cared?” The B.U. faculty? The campus administration? The SUNY Board of Trustees?

Would the adults on such campuses where such lax standards and course loopholes prevail please stand up?

Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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