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“Or the Equivalent” | Inside Higher Ed


 

Nobody trains administrators to handle situations that call for “or the equivalent.”

 

I’ve seen it in several contexts. 

 

In the context of candidates for faculty positions, it’s standard procedure to require a graduate degree in the field or a “closely related” field. 

 

I’ve never seen a master list of closely related fields.

 

Some of them are easy enough. Within political science, for instance, some departments call themselves “political science,” some “politics,” and some “government,” but they’re understood to be different terms for the same content.  “Public policy” is different, but with significant overlap.  From there, though, it gets stickier.  Depending on context, history might be “closely related” or it might not.  The same is true of sociology.  

 

For a position teaching English at the community college level, comparative literature is generally considered close enough.  (“Rhetoric/composition” is often preferred, when available.)  

American Studies is a judgment call.  

 

Sometimes it gets stickier.  Should an MBA in finance suffice to teach Economics?  Is a degree in Math Education sufficient to teach math at the college level?  Can an engineer teach math?  I personally find the boundary between human geography and sociology to be quite subtle.

 

These may sound like variations on asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but they matter; they can affect who gets hired.  With full-time faculty jobs as scarce as they are, anything that affects the size of the eligible applicant pool matters.

 

In the context of concurrent enrollment programs – in which high school teachers are deputized to teach college courses in high school – the most common question is whether the combination of a bachelor’s in the discipline taught plus a master’s in education is enough.  Choosing an answer to that will either expand or contract the possible program offerings.

 

Many administrative positions have degree and/or experience requirements that include an “or the equivalent” qualifier.  What constitutes an equivalent necessarily depends on context.  Does corporate experience count?  K-12?  Military?  

 

I understand why relatively elastic language like this is necessary.  Requirements around experience or degrees serve multiple purposes.  One is to serve as a proxy for competence in a given area.  Another is to winnow the field of applicants in a legally defensible way.  The challenge is that sometimes those two purposes conflict with each other.  Sometimes an outstanding candidate shows up with a background just slightly different from what you would have expected; an elastic clause allows for some discretion while still putting parameters on it.

 

If the Supreme Court bans affirmative action in the US, I could imagine the “or the equivalent” clauses becoming newly embattled.  Bright line requirements may be arbitrary, but they’re easy to defend in court.  If reverse discrimination lawsuits become a lot more viable, I could see many employers hewing more closely to bright line requirements to minimize their exposure.  That’s the kind of subtle change that gradually reduces the caliber of the workforce.  I don’t want to have to reject a great English teacher because the graduate program was called comp lit.

 



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