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Old 04-29-2009, 09:38 PM   #16
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My personal view on what the university should become, on an academic level, is to have a core curriculum that is well-rounded and encourages critical thinking and a spirit of self-learning that goes beyond graduation. Right now, I can think of very few people who think highly of what they learned in their core curriculum before taking major-related coursework. It should stop being a place for watered down classes that often become little more than politically correct gimmicks for mediocre professors with a political ax to grind.

And, frankly, the major coursework should generally get more down to business, with fewer useless detour courses and more hands-on opportunities, including a stronger emphasis on internships and how to navigate the creative cesspool that is the corporate world.
What kind of core program would you have liked to have had as an undergrad? A traditional 'Great Books'-oriented core; a selection of courses emphasizing interdisciplinary approaches to subjects traditionally considered the domain of one or two fields; a limited set of introductory courses in designated foundational disciplines (science, math, art, philosophy etc.) with a strict emphasis on acquainting all students with basic skills essential to those disciplines; or something else?

There are many reasons why the various types of 'core' programs out there are so often dissatisfactory for students. Two which immediately come to mind as relevant to Taylor's piece are 1) shrinking tenured-faculty tiers mean fewer qualified and dedicated people available to collaborate on planning and monitoring the progress of quality core programs; and 2) the increased emphasis on research and publishing, in tandem with (1), means an increased incidence of Who-Gives-A-Shit attitudes from faculty about students outside their own majors and their own specializations--and from department chairs who can barely manage to keep their major-core sections covered, so the last thing they want is to 'lose' their best teachers to universitywide projects.

More internships for undergraduates is a great idea, and something that certain departments at many colleges are already doing. Again, though, you need enough funding to have dedicated staff for overseeing this process--there's a lot of work involved at the department's end in arranging and monitoring internships and preparing students for them.




I do think that, too often, people blame the departments they majored in for failures to 'save' them from confused or inadequate personal future planning, when said problems were in fact of the type best addressed by at least starting with the career counselors over at campus counseling services. The type of advising individual professors are qualified to do really doesn't extend to the needs of students who plain old don't know what they want to do with their lives, period.
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Old 04-30-2009, 12:28 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
What were some of the other websites where this op-ed was being discussed?


Grad School as the Detroit of Education : EphBlog


Defending Academe


My conflicted response to Mark Taylor's op-ed | Daniel W. Drezner



End the University as We Know It - Readers' Comments - NYTimes.com
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Old 04-30-2009, 01:36 AM   #18
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^ Thanks! The comments on those are a lot more thoughtful than the largely trollish replies to the Chronicle of Higher Education's lackluster column on this, e.g.:

Quote:
...Since the mandarins know the diminutive grad-docs have sold themselves and are “on the hook” invested, they oftentimes feel free to insult them—and even behind their backs. But the grad-docs develop a certain precious asset or condition that warms and brings consolation to their wretched garrets: compensatory hypertrophy of the sense of self-worth, for after all, haven’t they trannied themselves up as bitchin’ epigones of big-cutting-edge-lit-critter with the appropriate spew of “insider” argot-laden theorrhoea? In lit and comp-lit departments a few lucky specialists in post-human transgendered comic books acquire full TT teats, a few get eye-dropper portions as adjuncts, but many of the culls in traditional scholarship areas get a cheap suit, ten bucks, and the bum’s rush. Yes, welcome to the grad school demimonde, dedicated to mandarin pursuit of FTE, conferences far enough away to forgo appearing in classes—with well-stocked top-shelf port-a-bars and a “what-happens-at-conference-stays-at-conference,” conscience—a suitably departmental “it’d-be-a-great-place-to-be-without-all-the-students,” or All-Soul’s team spirit, and a disarming Platonic Marxist “live high, talk low” sense of civic responsibility. While some perverse few might offer the timid rejoinder that this “arrangement” is so vicious and corrupt it’s a waste of time to try to defend it in any way, others might savor mostly delusory prospects of entering the tenured academic arcanum, the Valhalla, the ne plus ultra of tenure in such an esteemed and self-preening pyramid scheme.




ETA: Also, several of the (good) comments make the point that much of what Taylor says is really only applicable to the humanities and to a somewhat lesser degree the social sciences.
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Old 04-30-2009, 05:59 AM   #19
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There is certainly a devaluation of a humanities degree/education (I separate, I think wisely, degree from education) in the marketplace. Somewhat fairly. For many colleges, a humanities program is lackluster and unchallenging and you have to seek out the professors who do challenge you.
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Old 04-30-2009, 10:37 AM   #20
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The college where I work is huge on the "liberal arts core" and most of the students love it or hate it. Some say that's why they picked the school, but I think many more see it as a waste of time. Why are you taking a 100-level American Lit course when you are going into chemical engingeering?

I don't really know how I feel about it since it hasn't effected me personally one way or the other. I will say that a lot of the liberal arts core I did was similar to and not any more difficult than my high school curriculum. Getting my current job had more to do with my work experience and how I "fit" on this team then my coursework or my degree.
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Old 04-30-2009, 06:32 PM   #21
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For the most part, I really enjoyed the core/university requirements I had to take as an undergrad. At the time I started college, I was thinking in terms of maybe a career in nonprofit management, and I can't imagine I'd have taken courses in e.g. art history or philosophy, both of which I really loved, if I hadn't had arts and humanities requirements to fulfill. I wound up majoring in political science because I took a course in it purely to fill a social science requirement, and the professor turned out to be a specialist in political culture, which really appealed to me; here was a discipline which was 'practical' and structured, yet approaches existed within it that integrated the study of culture and society with the analysis of political institutions and theory. That would never have occurred to me otherwise.

It's true that I never wound up really 'using' much of the knowledge from some of those university requirements--biology for example, though I'd always enjoyed biology, so I didn't mind. And I did usually make a point of choosing courses for those requirements that sounded like they might give me some kind of broad introductory foundation in the discipline; I passed over stuff like 'Images of Redemption in American Popular Culture' or whatever. I still tend to think things like that are best left to upperclassmen who have enough discipline-specific analytical tools and background under their belts to make something fruitful out of it; in the hands of freshmen and sophomores, too often the results are pretty fluff. In general, one thing you do have to be careful for (as a teacher) when doing interdisciplinary work is that you're not watering down the contributions of one or more of the disciplines involved to the point where you're really doing it a disservice. Team-teaching can often be a good solution to that, but it's a lot of extra effort to make it work.
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Old 05-01-2009, 10:08 AM   #22
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For the most part, I really enjoyed the core/university requirements I had to take as an undergrad. At the time I started college, I was thinking in terms of maybe a career in nonprofit management, and I can't imagine I'd have taken courses in e.g. art history or philosophy, both of which I really loved, if I hadn't had arts and humanities requirements to fulfill. I wound up majoring in political science because I took a course in it purely to fill a social science requirement, and the professor turned out to be a specialist in political culture, which really appealed to me; here was a discipline which was 'practical' and structured, yet approaches existed within it that integrated the study of culture and society with the analysis of political institutions and theory. That would never have occurred to me otherwise.
i would be lost today if it weren't for the broad gen. ed. requirements i had fulfill as an undergrad.

yolland - i wonder how the loss of tenure would affect professors at private institutions with little or no collective bargaining rights. it seems to me that at will employment would be disastrous for the learning environment. would it not place a dubious requirement on the faculty to fall in line with the administration in both policy and politics? i think we're all aware that, in practical terms, universities are turning into corporations. how does one speak truth to power under those circumstances without some sort of protection for intellectual freedom?
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Old 05-01-2009, 08:55 PM   #23
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Tenure is already well on the road to being lost, and not just at private universities; less than half of all college/university faculty are in tenured or tenure-track positions now, and part-time adjuncts make up the largest faculty employment category. Tenure rates are overall higher at public institutions, but not by much--generally, the most noticeable difference when comparing stats on the two within a state is that public institutions' tenure rates won't vary from each other by more than about 15%, whereas with private institutions it's all over the map: a minority won't have tenure at all, the largest chunk are usually in the public institutions' range, then another minority will have higher tenure rates than the public schools. The academic unions have been fairly effective at securing modest improvements in raises and benefits (more so for tenured than non-tenured faculty); they haven't been effective at all in preventing the erosion of tenure.

The reason for the increasing reliance on adjuncts is of course to save money, but it also happens to be a great way to divide and demoralize the faculty. You wind up with adjuncts and lecturers who are increasingly bitter and resentful over their grotesquely low wages, poor-to-nonexistent benefits--what good's a PhD when you can make more managing a Taco Bell?--inadequate office space, and lack of time and money to conduct research or attend conferences...and most of their anger winds up directed at the tenured faculty, whom they know mostly as either their immediate bosses (department chairs, writing program directors etc.), or as virtual strangers who presumably spend most of their time snoozing in their nice private offices in between their enviably lesser teaching commitments. Meanwhile, tenured and tenure-track faculty are increasingly overburdened and isolated within the service commitments that adjuncts don't have--search, steering, curriculum and tenure committees, individual and group student advising--and they in turn know the adjuncts mostly as angry, alienated people with little sense of stake in the department's longterm goals who appear to think the tenured profs inherited their positions from their rich uncle or something. That's the worst-case scenario, anyway...and if it doesn't apply, it's because the faculty have taken concerted steps to avoid it; I've never seen a department where these basic tensions aren't there. And when faculty do unionize (I've never personally taught at a unionized school), unfortunately this often takes the form of separate unions for the tenured and tenure-track faculty on the one hand, and non-tenure-track faculty on the other, because their priorities tend to be different: tenured faculty want to focus on opening up more tenured positions; adjuncts want to focus on better wages and benefits for the positions they already have.

So, while it's unquestionably true that tenure gives you more protection to challenge the administration (as well as your own departmental colleagues), unfortunately that doesn't necessarily add up to a better deal for the adjuncts, not least because of disagreements over the best strategy for securing a better deal. But yes, if tenure didn't exist at all, then you'd have a situation where administrators have all the power to chart the course of departments, decide who gets grants and for what, define what constitutes cause for firing and so on. Public university faculty would broadly speaking be better off in the sense of having greater freedom to unionize in response, but unions aren't really going to be able to substantively address concerns like the aforementioned (maybe firings, to a point), and state governments certainly aren't going to intervene in matters like those either. It's not just a question of job security and wages (though those are certainly critical aspects of it) but also of the rights of the people who actually do the teaching and research--which is a public service, not a "product"--to have a say in shaping their departments' and their universities' longterm goals.
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Old 05-01-2009, 10:41 PM   #24
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I feel pretty conflicted after reading this article as well. I'll throw in a bit of my personal experiences in the past two years of my undergrad education...

I am planning on going into academia, for no reason other than I love to research and write and discuss with people. I originally came to my university thinking that I wanted to be a doctor and figured out quickly that I was not a science-oriented person. Then, I defaulted to political science, which was my first love back in high school, but I also realized that there was no way that I wanted to go through the traditional poli sci program either.

Luckily, my first semester here, I took a freshman seminar (classes with 20 people max, and taught by full professors, with the intent of building relationships with faculty) on popular music, which I absolutely loved. And, it turns out that I was good at writing about music, so it combined my love of music with my love of research/writing. The professor who taught me took me under his wing and helped me navigate my academic adventures. He's the one who brought up the possibility of academia to me, which I wrote off for awhile, but eventually came around to. I thought about trying to get into the music program here, but I'm not classically trained and wouldn't pass an audition, so that wasn't an option either. Because of this, my professor is currently working on forming a BA in music that wouldn't require an audition, something that would completely transform the School of Music, and I'm incredibly proud to have been the catalyst for that. Anyway, he also told me about the individualized major at our school, which would allow me to combine courses from several departments, all contributing to my theme, popular music studies.

Now, of course, this is a highly specialized field, and one that I realize I basically can't get a job in outside of academia. And yet, because it's interdisciplinary, I feel like I've picked up an amazing amount of knowledge that I HAVE applied outside of classes, as well as within them.

In regards to the comment in the article about professors advising students with the intent of making carbon copies of themselves, I suppose that's somewhat true in my case. But, while my professor pointed me in the right direction and has continued to help me learn how I work and how I write, because we've figured out that we think and work in similar ways, he pushes me to go beyond what he's done (and facilitates my learning immensely; for example, I'm doing an independent study project with him this semester and taking a doctoral seminar as a junior with him next fall because he wants to intellectually challenge me), which is mostly musicology, and he wants me to take what he can teach me and put it to use in cultural studies and American studies, where popular music scholars usually can't talk about the music itself, only the cultural impact. So, in a way, yes, I'm being groomed for academia by him, but at the same time, I'm being challenged to take it further than it has been in the past.

So, for me, it will be interesting to see if interdisciplinary programs take hold at more universities or not, and if so, what form they take and how they will be implemented.
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Old 05-01-2009, 11:14 PM   #25
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From where I am sitting, part of the problem with the way that undergraduate programs are structured has to do with the North American system insofar as professional programs are concerned.

In Europe, programs like medicine, law, dentistry, etc. are not second-entry. But here, they are. So you end up effectively having a good chunk of the student body (and sadly this basically comprises most of the very top students) who is simply biding time. And while some of those people do enjoy undergrads, a lot of them really just don't care. And when you tack on some interdisciplinary or mandatory general breadth courses, then you can imagine how much less they care about those either, except insofar as they need to get good grades to apply for their second degrees.

It doesn't really inspire you as a student is basically what I'm saying. And to be honest, do I feel that my mandatory courses substantially contributed to my overall education or educational experience? Not really. Some of them were interesting, but there was certainly nothing about them that was instrumental or necessary...
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Old 05-02-2009, 10:06 PM   #26
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I much prefer the US system of being able to do a few liberal courses before settling on a a major.

The European system typically forces students to choose a specialism at much too young an age. In Ireland, while the school leaving certificate examination is reasonably diversified, at 17 or 18 one is forced to choose a course which will effectively direct the trajectory of one's entire career. In the UK, it is even worse, with students at the age of 15 or 16 studying, for example, typically only three or four A-levels of which it is entirely possible - and indeed, frequently is the case - that none may be science subjects or, conversely, no liberal arts subjects at all. Ridiculous.

To me, the questions posed by CP Snow in his landmark 'Twin Cultures' ( The Two Cultures - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) essay remain completely unresolved.

Which brings me back to my grand theory that overspecialisation is the bane of our age.
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Old 05-03-2009, 12:04 PM   #27
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I much prefer the US system of being able to do a few liberal courses before settling on a a major.

The European system typically forces students to choose a specialism at much too young an age.
I agree with you there.

But you have to keep in mind that our degrees here cost an arm and a leg, which is not typically seen in Europe. So for this benefit of having a liberal arts degree before one goes to law school, I know people who rack up $50-100K of debt, and that is a deep, deep hole to dig yourself out of, especially when you're adding more debt to it.
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Old 08-27-2011, 09:47 AM   #28
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Interesting to see Google's Eric Schmidt lambast the UK educational system for its division between science and arts:

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system | Technology | The Guardian
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