Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Change the University?

I read this op-ed piece in the NYTimes yesterday.   A religion professor from Columbia proposes completely rethinking the university.  Although much of his focus is on graduate education, he proposes sweeping changes:

1. Change curriculum to make it like the web, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural

2. Abolish permanent departments.  

3. Stop overlap between universities

4. Get rid of dissertations

5.  Change graduate training

6. No tenure and forced retirement

The core of his argument is that universities produced graduates, both undergrad and PhD, that nobody wants.  He thinks that current training and scholarship in the humanities is basically worthless.  For him, it won't be worth anything until it is "relevant."

On top of that, he believes that old faculty are useless.   In his vision, everyone gets tenure and then never changes.  He obviously doesn't think much of younger faculty either, because of their over-specific research agendas. He describes newly minted PhD's as clones of their advisors.

Since we are in the midst of our own discussions about reform, centered around LERT and general education, this article does give us something additional to ponder.

Reform and adaptation are important, but eliminating the entire system?  Expecting everyone to be generalists who change topics every 7 years?  Increasing the pressure on faculty and strengthening the hands of administration?  

The religion professor seems to have gotten business, rather than the other way around! 


Anonymous said...

>>He thinks that current training and scholarship in the humanities is basically worthless.<<

I guess I'd have to agree. What passes for scholarship in non-science departments never ceases to amaze me. Long on opinion with scarcely a fact in sight.

Anonymous said...

I suspect his article will have the same impact as LERT and the general education discussion - a few people talking for some number of months before life goes on as before.

Anonymous said...

Several well articulated rebuttals to Taylor's nonsense:

Anonymous said...

There is a problem in that the people we certify as graduates aren't necessarily well prepared. Most are, and some are greatly qualified for all sorts of jobs, having taken challenging courses from excellent professors. But someone else can have the same grade point average, look the same on paper, and have taken weak professors or ones who have virtually no standards and learned next to nothing.

If only there were a tighter connection between employers and those in the academy this could be solved. If prospective employers seriously checked references and consulted 5-6 professors for someone just out of college, the businesses would have a much better idea of what they were getting.

We too would benefit from this as students would see that it is actually important to try hard and take challenging teachers who might not give easy grades.

Working To Make A Living said...

If I want "a job" I would have gone to the Tech. If I want to memorize stuff, I would have studied the sciences. What i really wanted and received, was the ability to make sense of my world. I learned said art through the lowly study of the humanities at UW Osh. A job I can get anytime, and i hate memorizing shit.

Mike Briley said...

Working To Make A Living,

I'm sorry you feel that way about the sciences, although I understand where it comes from. At least in physics/astronomy, you spend the first couple of semesters "drinking from the fire hose" while we try to give you the background/context needed to move forward. But once you get past that, it starts to become more "why do things work this way?" as opposed to memorization. Math is the same way - there's a reason the area of a circle is 4*Pi*R^2. The trouble is you need a semester or two of calculus before it's obvious. Most people give up on physics/math long before this and walk away thinking science/math is nothing but memorization, which is quite the tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Mike Briley. As a scientist I've ended up doing rather well in a field that was my "hardest" science course... glad I stuck with it long enough to get the foundation content that I could transition to hypothesis, philosophy, and discovery.