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“McDonaldization” of UConn puts too much focus on standards, favors quantity over quality

Weekly Columnist

Published: Sunday, September 8, 2013

Updated: Sunday, September 8, 2013 22:09

When you think of a Big Mac, the University of Connecticut may not come to mind. It may seem that they have no similar characteristics, but in fact there’s a resemblance between the fast food chain McDonalds and the public university.

Society advances on a key characteristic of rationality, with the end goal of being rational. A rational society is one that is 100% efficient, predictable, calculable and has complete control over uncertainty. This process of rationality, or rationalization, is occurring globally, specifically in American societies. A microcosm of this process of rationality can be seen in the McDonalds business model, also known as McDonaldization.

We go to McDonalds because its of rationality. It is predictable, efficient and calculable. No matter which McDonalds we go to, whether it’s in Storrs or San Francisco, the Big Mac will taste, look and cost the same. The same principle can be applied to the process of learning at a higher educational facility.

McDonaldization favors quantity over quality. The quality of the hamburger is difficult to assess, thus McDonalds creates a number of values that can be quantified to act as surrogate for quality.  Likewise, UConn has done the same.

Students are now numbers, judged by statistics and grades; their educational experience reduced to numbers ranging from grade point averages to SAT scores.

“With less and less contact between professor and student, there is a little real effort to assess the quality of what students know, let alone the quality of their overall abilities,” statesGeorge Ritzer, author of “The McDonaldization of Society.”

In addition, at UConn, the importance of grades is well emphasized. However, little is known on this quantifiable factor that is used to evaluate college professors and the university. Like the Big Mac, teaching ability is very hard to evaluate. Administrators have trouble evaluating the teaching quality and thus substitute quantitative scores. Although each score has a qualitative portion, it is conveniently ignored. Student opinion polls are taken and the scores are summed, averaged, and compared.  The teachers who score well are thus deemed good teachers and the teachers who score poorly are known to be bad.  All these scores are combined and then used to compare and rank UConn to other national universities.

Another aspect of McDonaldization is predictability. When you go to McDonalds and order a Big Mac, you expect a beef hamburger and not a chicken sandwich.  The same applies to the higher education system. The university structure has turned into more or less a “cookie-cutter” system. Student can expect to find the same courses being taught, the same teaching methods being used, the same type of textbooks and the same examination systems. This prevents students from having a unique college experience.

Through rationalization there are enormous gains such as growth and advancements. However, there are consequences to this process, such dire consequences are noted as the “irrationality of rationality” by Ritzer. These consequences are the dehumanization of society, such that students are numbers put through a uniform educational system where they are fed facts and theories. Rationality may seem healthy to society, but in fact it has serious side effects.


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