Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 27, 2009

NY Times: The End of the University As We Know It

New York Times op-ed:  End the University as We Know It, by Mark C. Taylor:

Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans). ...

The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning. Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings. ...

If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured. The long process to make higher learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative can begin with six major steps:

  1. Restructure the curriculum, beginning with graduate programs and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs. ...
  2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. ...
  3. Increase collaboration among institutions. ...
  4. Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.
  5. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education. ...
  6. Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure.

(Hat Tip: Danny Sokol.)

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I don't understand why Universities "must be rigorously regulated" although I do understand why an outside observer may want them "completely restructured"

Posted by: Kerplunk | Apr 28, 2009 5:58:10 PM

We need more grads in engineering, nursing and accounting, so we have huge programs in English, sociology and law.

Not smart.

We do not need anything this radical, just some common sense and some accountability to the taxpayers.

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Apr 28, 2009 11:01:14 AM