Part of the problem with considering students as customers rather than students is a difference in perspective between administrative needs and needs of faculty and the discipline. Personally I consider those people in their seats to be students or scholars in training. More importantly I think the question suggests a gap between faculty and students that needs filled.
The administration of a university is held accountable for a variety of metrics including retention, scores on exams, grades, entrance rates, years to graduation, and all of those U.S. News and World Report numbers. At the school and department level industrial advisory boards and accrediting agencies hold different disciplines to another level of accountability for similar metrics.
The faculty however is not motivated in that direction. As faculty we are facilitators of education and leaders in our disciplines. We have a responsibility to be gatekeepers and guardians to our respective disciplines too. At no point are we going to be thanked, or congratulated for failing a student that simply was not prepared to move on. However, our peers and the rest of society will evaluate us harshly if we permit the unprepared to exit from our classrooms.
Is there a generational gap between the students of today and the faculty of today? Absolutely. Not unlike the generation gap between the students of the 1960s and the faculty of the 1960s. How interesting that the high school and college students who participated in “Freedom Summer”, “The British Invasion”, “The Assassination of Kennedy”, “March on Washington”, “Landing of the Man on the Moon”, and “Woodstock” can’t understand another generation doing the same thing.
The same generation that celebrated disco cannot come to grips with goth. Well to be honest neither can I. The generation that generated Green Peace, and celebrated The Sierra Club is left behind when the social/activism has moved to Facebook and MySpace. What are referred to now as “slackers” are nothing more than the same band of “hippies” played at a different tempo by a new generation. The same generation that gave us “The Acid Test” has made almost every form of recreational pharmaceutical a lifetime punitive act. The generation that talked about “Free Love” now preaches abstinence as the only answer.
The students of today can read, they can see, and they can perceive hypocrisy. Our mission as a faculty is to lead and guide and shape our students so they can continue to expand our disciplines. There is a continuing dishonesty between the generations. The children of the 60s perceived it and so will the children of today and tomorrow. The cost of not realizing it is pretty drastic. The dichotomy between administration and faculty is that in reality the “product” of the faculty is the only real measure of success.
If we let the product slip in quality, if our students enter their disciplines unprepared, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves. “No student left behind” for the university is not a fanciful straw man. The politicians want more bang for their buck (sic). Different disciplines have graduation exams like the “professional engineer” exam, or my own discipline wants to add a “information technology discipline” exam. Of course, those types of exams have worked so well in the public school system.
The mature eyes of today do not see the problems in the same way as their younger eyes saw them in the 1960s. Can we as faculty not respect the fact that today’s students are not so much unlike preceding generations of any decade? Whether it be the cause, or music, the MP3 replaced the CD, the CD replaced the cassette tape, the cassette tape replaced the LP, the LP replaced the 45 single, and the 45 single well replaced not much. Things change, society adapts and changes, but there is one constant, and that is the need of the faculty to reach their students