Beki Grinter

Crisis on Campus

In academia, academic management on June 3, 2011 at 9:44 am

I’ve just finished reading Mark C. Taylor’s Crisis on Campus. It’s a book version of his New York Times piece.

The crisis that he is referring to is the need to reform higher education. He sees Universities graduating students, particularly graduate students, who have no jobs available to them. He also is concerned about the costs of higher education borne by the students and the speed at which they have risen. Emphasis on research he argues should be replaced by increased emphasis on teaching. Research should also become more interdisciplinary, spanning departments which he argues are very siloed.He also has some interesting ideas about teaching that involve unbundling the traditional class into modules that are more mix-and-match. And he is passionate about the role that technology can play in teaching. Indeed, one of my criticisms of his book is that I think he is too optimistic about the role that technology can play. He seems to have had some success with technology in the classroom and I agree that there is a place for it. But the HCI researcher in me can’t help thinking that he’s underestimating the social and technical complexities in some of his proposed solutions.

Probably his most controversial argument, well at least for faculty members, is that the system of tenure should end and that mandatory retirement should be put in place also. He cites the 1940 Statement of Academic Freedom and Tenure as follows:

Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability. Freedom and economic security, hence, tenure, are indispensable to the success of an institution in fulfilling its obligations to its students and to society.

The first piece I knew about. The second part I did not. Tenure is partially designed to make this career an attractive option.

He asks why the first part is not a protected right under the first amendment of the Constitution (freedom of speech). In Georgia I think we might have an answer to this. Eugene Talmadge was the Governor of Georgia who, on discovering that a Dean at the University of Georgia was advocating desegregation, ultimately got the Dean fired along with faculty (after restructuring the Board of Regents to make this possible). There’s a nice long article about this in the New Georgia Encyclopedia. At least in Georgia, and at that time, Freedom of Speech was not enough.

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