The Many Moving Parts of the University

What are the different missions that people have imagined for higher education? A place for teaching liberal arts to undergraduate students; a place for graduate students to research; a place to solve the problems of society.

How do professional programs fit within the mission of higher education? In the beginning, the idea was that a doctor or lawyer should also be well-rounded and educated in the liberal arts, which would include humanities, Latin and physics. The mission was to develop civic virtue and literacy, personal character and morality, refinement of judgment, breadth of perspective, “catholicity” of taste and style, and good breeding.

What are successful strategies for leveraging the potential of professional programs and maintaining intellectual standards within the mission of higher education? The best strategy outlined was by Ashby who said the university should perform each of its roles competently rather than trying to choose just one role. I would sum it up this way:

  • One cannot teach practical skills without practice otherwise content becomes outdated;
  • One cannot teach theory without research;
  • One cannot practice without theory otherwise output because thoughtless/superficial;
  • Teaching often teaches the content to the teacher

Peter Eckel, “Mission Diversity and the Tension between Prestige and Effectiveness,” Higher Education Today, 2008:21, 175-192

4,194: The number of colleges and universities in the US
17.3M: the number of students in higher education
60: The number of college and university presidents against participating in US News & World Report rankings

Since the end of WWII “massification” has been one of the nation’s key education policy objectives. There is something for everyone, which has pros and cons. This reading makes me wonder if the US educational system’s reliance on the marketplace is the reason for its decline. Our economy is declining so would it be fair to assume that its education is declining as well? As a comparison, if we look at Europe, higher education is funded by the government and students can’t attend unless they meet specific standards. Moreover, there are a limited number of seats available. However, funds in European universities come from their tax base, hence they are still dependent on the marketplace, and the European economy has been suffering just as much as the American – and yet European quality of education has remained high (which I noticed after attending FAMU in Prague). Perhaps quality has nothing to do with the marketplace, and is more of a cultural issue. The US is based on a culture of money as a number-one concern in all aspects of life. We can’t switch to free health care, for example, because our cultural value system tells us that free=lower quality.

Lucas, Crisis in the Academy: Rethinking Higher Education in America, 57-88

The final main idea of this article is the question of deciding what the university’s aims and priorities out to be seems insoluble because there is little agreement among protagonists.1. Origins of the American University2. Structural Elements & Goals:

College of Arts & Sciences (undergraduate learning of humanites, math, biology/physics for a well-rounded liberal arts education)

Graduate School (research-oriented)

Professional Schools (law, medicine)

3. Regulative University Ideals

  • Newman: The university is a place of instruction
  • Veblen: The university is an agency of disinterested research and scholarship – he expressed contempt for state schools which he believed were installed by politicians looking for popular acclaim.
  • Hutchins: The university is all things to all people, especially in the absence of a defining idea. He challenged state university degree programs for drum majors, beauticians and embalmers, which are all vocational endeavors and not academic. The universities justified these degrees by saying the industry was growing and they should respond to consumer demand. MONEY RULES. I really enjoyed reading Hutchins’ point of view. It makes me want to take more theory courses to complete my graduate film degree than production courses.
  • Kerr: The university is actually a multiversity whose parts follow specific styles:

British: undergraduate
German: graduate
Amerian: public service

4. Reconciling Objectives & Functions

Sykes said university teachers neglect students and use graduate students to oversee classroom duties so they can focus on their own research. And this research he calls “useless pablum…written in inscrutable jargon.” At first I thought this was why tenure-track positions have decreased over time, but Sykes attributes this problem to teachers being “forced” to publish, which is a direct requirement of tenure. If only a quarter of positions being offered now are tenure-track, is it safe to assume the quality of publications by academia would improve? Perhaps the two aren’t even linked.

Ashby said the university can be efficient at all the roles it defines for itself – teaching undergraduates liberal arts, graduate research and public service – so the question is not which roles the university should choose, it’s about competence and balance of all its roles. I would agree most with his assessment because all the roles are dependent on each other.

Brubacher and Rudy, “Professional education,” in Goodchild and Wechsler, The History of Higher Education, 379-393

1. Apprenticeship seems like the most natural, human way for teaching – it’s a classic parent-child relationship, and it is how I became a journalist, whereas I only studied to be a journalist as an undergraduate. Of course it had its problems – the professional was often too busy to provide enough time to apprentice.
2. Early Professional Schools and Upgrading Professional Education
This system competed with the apprenticeship model in the early days. Prestige was low because standards were low. The length of time required by the student was uneven and exams were not standardized. Aspiring doctors could take 7 exams all in one day and if they passed 5, they would get their license to practice. As a result, professional organizations implemented standards:1906 – Law schools required 3-year term minimum for students1915 – American Medical Association began rating medical schools, forcing 20 schools to close on the spot rather than having their bad conditions exposed to the public!Harvard was the first to risk higher tuition and higher standards for admission. Enrollment decreased at first but improved quality eventually increased enrollment again.

3. The Higher Study of Higher EducationDean Max McConn of Lehigh was the idiot who said, “He who can, goes from college into life as a go-getter or reformer; he who can’t goes to graduate school to become a teacher.” This stupid quote is everywhere and has tainted Western perception of teaching, whereas many other cultures regard teachers as the highest members of society, as they are responsible for shaping the minds of the next generation.
4. Professional Education and the Higher LearningOverall, the university is a system of many moving parts which all are dependent on each other to function well.

Mary Godwyn, “Can the Liberal Arts and Entrepreneurship Work Together?” Academe jan-Feb, 2009, pp. 36-38

The first phrase that piqued my interest in this article was “entrepreneurs are not merely business owners.” I originally incorporated a business in 2005 so that a long-time client could continue paying me legally, and then the business became something that made me feel ownership of the work I created as a writer.

“In Marxist terms, entrepreneurship can be seen as the reverse of alienated labor, when workers do not own what they produce,” Godwyn writes.

Over seven years, my “business” never became a business as defined by investors and business schools. It just provided the infrastructure for my very random life as a freelance journalist, so I understand what Godwyn means by “academic entrepreneurship” and “cultural entrepreneurship,” two terms that would not make sense without having the experience of living it. Therefore, I would have liked the article to describe an example of combining entrepreneurship teaching with the liberal arts. Perhaps this is something I could teach. Now I have my idea for a syllabus.

I do not agree with defenders of the liberal arts, who argue that “liberal arts disciplines teach the critical-thinking skills leaders need to make sound decisions, and in our complex democracy, each citizen is a leader, choosing for herself or himself who will govern and by what policies.” I learned my critical thinking skills from being an entrepreneur and web site programmer; and I noticed other entrepreneurs, especially ones who did not have a classical liberal arts education, were often better at critically thinking and at governing him/herself than friends who attended traditional universities. Some people are “born” entrepreneurs – they are natural seekers and if they want to learn something they investigate on their own. Those who are not born this way have no choice but to go to universities to be “programmed” by a set formula so they can then be told by a boss what to do so they can earn their living.

Lee Bollinger, The Value and Responsibilities of Academic Freedom,

Bollinger reaffirms four principles that have guided universities over the past 100 years, and which should guide them forward into the 21st century:

  1. Fidelity to the unique responsibilities of the academic profession, ie, “the pursuit of truth.” This is the same as the journalist’s oath, and after reading about the history of universities in America, I can see this oath is compromised in a marketplace driven by consumer attitudes and needs. The second part of this guideline is also similar to a journalist’s – “setting aside one’s pre-existing beliefs, to hold simultaneously in one’s mind multiple angles of seeing things, to allow yourself to believe another view as you consider it.” It’s essentially maintaining an objective point of view, however, this is also compromised in the marketplace. I also wonder if professors regularly remind themselves (because I know journalists don’t) to “resist the allure of certitude, the temptation to use the podium as an ideological platform.” It’s human nature to want to pass down one’s values to the next generation, so I don’t know if this guideline, as well-intentioned as it seems – is realistic.
  2. The autonomy of professors is not necessarily the highest value and there should be review, checks and balances. Bollinger writes that academia must determine HOW to deal with lapses.
  3. Separation of university and state
  4. Self-government.

Bollinger states at the end of the article that scholarly temperament at Columbia University is “alive and well.” Should he have left this opinion off the article published in “The Chronicle” in order to maintain objectivity and to allow the publication’s audience of academics to make their own opinion? For me, this single statement converts the article into a PR piece, which violates the first principle. After reading about the 60 university presidents who do not participate in US News and World Reports’ famous rankings of colleges and universities in America, I checked them to see if Columbia is included. And indeed it is – ranked 4th, after Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Does this mean he is violating the fourth guiding rule of self-government? “All of us, but universities in particular, must stand firm in insisting that, when there are lines to be drawn in the academy, we must and will be the ones to do it. Not outside actors. Not politicians, not pressure groups, not the media.” The way media is today, it always influences and shapes the decisions of every institution in modern society, so I don’t buy Bollinger’s assertion.

In short, just as ideals and actions were difficult to connect in the 19th century, as asserted in “The History of Higher Education” in the “Early Professional Schools and Upgrading Professional Education” section, these guiding principles outlined for the 21st century are not going to change anything in academia.