It’s Training, Not Education: U of Toledo’s New Look

Via The Chutry Experiment, New Kid on the Hallway has an interesting post about the ongoing corporatization of the University. It seems that the University of Toledo’s newest strategic plan is to transform the institution from a comprehensive metropolitan university to an institution devoted solely to the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine). Why? Because they are more relevant! New Kid writes:

Jacobs identifies the following (among others) as strategic directions for the undergraduate programs of the university:

* Develop and implement innovative ways to integrate the knowledge and skills of STEM2 (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine, as defined by federal and state legislatures) and related disciplines with liberal arts and broader humanistic traditions.

* Strengthen the general education curriculum to emphasize university-level skill proficiency and a shared core experience. We will also enhance the relevance of the core to professional, science and technology programs (my emphasis).

* Implement innovative ways to integrate science and technology literacy throughout the curriculum as a pathway to full societal participation.

His goals for the graduate programs include:

* Develop policies and align resources to increase the reputation of and enrollment in graduate and professional programs based upon quality and a careful analysis of investment return and market demand.

* Expand existing and add new graduate level programs in STEM_ areas, professional schools and other academic disciplines that demonstrate the ability to grow and be self-sustaining through enrollment and/or external funding.

Read the full post by New Kid here

Reconstituting the university as a STEM isn’t so bad, it’s the manner in which it’s been carried out and the justification of it all. Consulting the faculty senate, why bother? Conflate training with education, who knew there was a difference? The real problem then, as New Kid points out in the comment section, lies in the vision of the university:

The problem at Toledo is not just the content problem that I emphasize above (the shift to emphasizing STEM programs over all other disciplines), but a method problem: the president seems to have an incredibly narrow and counter-productive view of what education is. I didn’t go into his “state of the university” speech in detail, but it focuses on the idea of “mass customization” (which, honestly, sounds like a complete oxymoron), and Margaret Soltan at University Diaries has a wonderfully scathing send-up of the whole, in which she (I think accurately) describes his vision of the university as “a big room with computers in it.” So the issue is not just one of content, but of how students learn. Also, how does one define “weak” programs? Defining education by the job it gets you is NOT the way to go – most history majors do not leave college and get jobs as “historians” – but they DO get jobs, and good ones, because they know how to read, right, and analyze. The skills that the liberal arts impart to students are crucial to success in any job in any field. If you have a purely vocational program – say, nursing – that is not graduating students, or that is not successfully placing students who do graduate, then you might define it as “weak” and evaluate whether the cost of running the program is worth it. But the liberal arts aren’t designed to get students jobs – or I should say, to get students one specific job. How do you decide what’s a “weak” program in that circumstance? If you measure a liberal arts program against a professional/vocational program by the standard of job placement in the field of study, the liberal arts are ALWAYS going to lose – because it’s an inappropriate measure of success for the liberal arts.

8 thoughts on “It’s Training, Not Education: U of Toledo’s New Look

  1. Pingback: The Chutry Experiment » Academic Labor Links

  2. Wow. Very interesting. Of course I’d rather this was not happening. Just on the fly I have a couple of ‘contexty’ thoughts:

    *We’re far, far from the gentlemanly guild structure of the medieval academy already. Administrations are not solely ‘to blame’. Any t.a. or faculty member who thinks they didn’t contribute to the destruction of that legacy by joining a union is missing some historical perspective.

    *Liberal higher education in its mythic form was never designed to be a mass good. Just as students today have little in common with the sons of the elite the curriculum was designed for, so faculty have little in common with the old intelligentsias. We can’t expect this socio-demographic shift to be without consequence. For one thing, it’s just crazy to think that quality will spread that thin.

    *It’s actually almost bizarrely overdue that mid-range tuition-driven colleges and universities would begin to completely jettison the liberal arts ‘education’ mythos and develop more flexible ‘training’ strategies in the credentialing market.

    *Insofar as economic elites tolerate what we think of as ‘critical thinking’ in the academy, this is because it’s not perceived as a serious threat of any kind. Good thing for our paychecks that’s true, but it also raises the question what we’re for, exactly, and why they would keep paying us to do it.

    *The idea that everyone should be abstractly educated is a value, not a fact or a right or whatever. It’s held most strongly by the holders of intellectual capital, surprise surprise. As a practical matter, the economy is not in need of this capital for the bulk of the jobs. For most of our students, a critical consciousness is just a ticket to surplus angst.

    Again, I’d prefer this was not happening.

  3. Hi, Carl.

    Yes, ok, you nicely gesture to the contradictions that have historically defined and determined the university. On the one hand, (and excuse my Pollyana liberalism) as an educational institution the university’s role seems to me to lie in empowering individuals—both within the academy and outside—to become critical and knowledgeable citizens capable of self-governance in a democracy. Yet, on the other hand, as an economic institution from the position of the marketplace the unviersity’s role is to produce both trained and subservient workers for employers that are socializing many of the costs necessary to sustain profit accumulation in a capitalist society. Certainaly, you are right and certainly this debate is not completely new to the 21st century!

    For a good deal of time the universities have been albe to hold these two notions in some sort of weird harmony. I think that there have been a number of political-economic forces over the last 30-40 years, whether globalization, conservative political agendas, and along with each, a loss of public financial support for higher ed which have finally upset the “harmony” creating more of a “corporate university.” As such, the university is under lots of pressure to tag along with other participants on the old market and rethink the way in which they operate. Naturally, this means in both governance and structure, and of course, the bottom line, making money. And here is the problem: the new corporate university seeks to sidestep a lot of the “givens” of higher education: tenure, academic freedom, shared governance. These are replaced with a business model of management. Fiscal problems and socio-demographic issues (such as that in Ohio at the U of Toledo) have led to decreased state financial support for colleges and universities, in turn mandating that public schools adopt more market-like behavior. The rise of corporate universities and the view that education is mere training is a product of all of these crises. These have done nothing less than produce structures and policies that more and more are hostile to workers, academic freedom, and maybe, just maybe capital hoarding…

  4. *Insofar as economic elites tolerate what we think of as ‘critical thinking’ in the academy, this is because it’s not perceived as a serious threat of any kind. Good thing for our paychecks that’s true, but it also raises the question what we’re for, exactly, and why they would keep paying us to do it.

    Right. Again, the market-driven system of education I think trickles down to a pedagogy in line with the top-down management of a good many schools which are being more and more run not by academics or educators, but by private sector-inspired people like the president of the institution I teach at who insist that students be treated as customers, faculty as salespeople, and education as nothing more than a commodity. Very depressing–if this is the case, critical thought is tolerated because it probably “ain’t so critical!” as one of my students wierdly noted in a paper about Socrates I just read through. Rather, given such bottom line attitudes it would appear that critical thinking/education is often driven by assessment, which of course is tied to funding. Or, perhaps it’s actually serving the economic interests of the marketplace, or maybe it’s not relevant to begin with under the logic of the market…hence, the angst. Yet, at the same time, even though we are all complicit in this system because well, we continue to work at the Unversity, the relevent question is (allow me to again be dramatic) “what is to be done?” I think stronger unions is the step in the right directions, but Universities have proven themselves to be the biggest and best of the union busters! Maybe it’s best if we just fuck with our students.

  5. “Maybe it’s best if we just fuck with our students.”

    Wow, now I feel like I have to get serious. 😉 I agree with this. And I do it quite openly – I even ‘sell’ it. Guys, I’m going to fuck with you and it won’t help you make more money, it won’t look good on your resume, it will sometimes be uncomfortable and offputting, it may hurt your gpa, but it will be worth it nonetheless. And from their class field journals I see that they frequently agree. Because part of what I do is teach them to expand their understanding of value.

    Over on Rough Theory N. Pepperell is unpacking Lukacs’ reading of Marx, and one of the things she’s working out is how Lukacs (but not Marx) gets a lot of his work done by mythologizing a totalized capitalism with a monolithic logic. If instead we see capitalism as an economic system that proliferates diversities as ‘market niches’, the profit logic may be pretty monolithic but the cultural logic is actually quite complex.

    Accordingly, the commodity we offer may well be interpretable as ‘legitimation’ or ‘hegemony’, as I have myself argued elsewhere. But there’s also room for cultural work to get done that, although bought and paid for, gets its value precisely for its more ethereal qualities; or that at worst works in the interstices of the credentialing process. Blahblah, familiar stuff in cultural studies, I know, but not so frequently decoupled from the kneejerk judgments generated out of mindless dogmatic anticapitalism looking for grievances to grieve.

    Can you tell I’m stalling on reading papers? I’m gonna be late turning in these grades. Yeah, stick it to The Man.

    Now, here’s the think about faculty self-governance and unions. Faculty self-governance is a medieval holdover (with a hickup at the turn of the last century) and even then, faculties had the good sense to appoint administrators to take care of the dirty work of running the institution. I sure as hell don’t wanna do that shit, so I think it’s at best a bit crass to try to drive from the back seat. Insofar as faculty self-governors have come to conceive of themselves as lofty defenders of timeless ideals against the nefarious depradations of dastardly administrations, fuck them and the ignorance they rode in on. These are people I’ve seen in faculty meetings spend half an hour arguing over the placement of a preposition. Which I actually find a little interesting, but unlike these numbskulls I know about myself that I’m not fit to be in charge of anything more complicated than my own life (and maybe not that).

    I see university administrations doing really incredible balancing acts between really drastically mismatched constituencies of interest and aspiration, and somehow against all reason finding ways to preserve, even in the glorified tech schools we flatter the petty bourgeoisie by calling universities, some shred of a liberal arts ethic. IT IS NOT FACULTIES who are doing this hard work. They’re too busy biting the hands that feed them and whining about how hard their lives are and how nobody listens to them. Insofar as unions allow those faculties to whine more effectively, I’m against them.

    Unions were designed as and are inherently conflictual associations. Their purpose is to take a side in a struggle between exploiting capitalists and exploited workers. The faculty lumpenbourgeoisie are not exploited workers, no matter how lowly their class origins or how much it exalts their vanity to think of themselves as fighters for truth, justice, whatevah. Furthermore, in bad faith faculties have no actual interest in being proletarianized. They like their professional status and want to keep it.

    As you can see I’m a little disappointed in us. We have some work to do on ourselves before we go stomping around demanding other people change stuff for our convenience. To start with, we need to find ways to think together of education as something that we’re all interested in within a larger space of possibilities in which universities exist. The confrontational posture that unions nourish is, in this case, impertinent, anachronistic and counterproductive. It’s a failure of imagination. No wonder administrations, who know perfectly well how to care about education or at least make reasonable space for it among the many other things they have to juggle, get disgusted with such faculties and begin to rule autocratically. (Which, of course, I deplore.)

    Harrumph, I tells ya.

  6. Because I’ve spent all day grading student work I’m more annoyed than normal so I tend to have a flair for the dramatic. What I inteded was more along the lines of perhaps unions can help to rethink or negotiate our way thorugh the bottom line type of university, and not tenured faculty bitching about the administration, their lousy ventilated office space or the lack of truffle oil in the dining hall should subsequently go kvetch about it to their union representative, I’m far more interested in labor unions helping to improve the working conditions for the causalized labor force. We’ll have to disagree about this tack, I think. The tendency of a bottom line driven university, however, also shifts the “shared” governance model with a model more typical in coroporate environments. This means that many decisions, including those affecting curriculum, are determined by a top-down bureacracy/authority. The problem again is that many university adminstrators generally not academics, but are people that have a business/corporate type of background and it is this that has seized a good many of the decisions faculty should make/used to make. Under a more corporate influenced model, the trustees, which at least where I live, are composed of mostly business leaders, overwhelmingly select–with little to no input from faculty–the president. The president- again with little to no faculty input–goes onto select the deans and other admins. Not so great…

    But there’s also room for cultural work to get done that, although bought and paid for, gets its value precisely for its more ethereal qualities; or that at worst works in the interstices of the credentialing process. Blahblah, familiar stuff in cultural studies, I know, but not so frequently decoupled from the kneejerk judgments generated out of mindless dogmatic anticapitalism looking for grievances to grieve.

    Yes, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t still be teaching…fucking with students is always the best of options, I think.

  7. I am now so fucking pissed off I don’t have truffle oil in my dining hall I can’t see straight. Wait, I don’t have a dining hall. Never mind.

    I think we see the situation the same and we’re just coming down on different sides of a set of trade-offs. It’s probably because we’re situated a bit differently. I don’t have trouble with businesspeople being the trustees at my small, private, tuition-driven business/liberal arts college. Our president has played that adroitly. If we want something that costs more than a paperclip we’d better have businessy pockets around, and some kind of bridging discourse that gets them to let us stick our hands in.

    It continuously amazes and baffles me (although I know better) how my colleagues in humanities huff and puff about the business school in general and the professional golf management program in particular. And of course this cluelessness is mutual, but the symbiosis is so damn obvious. Those guys bring us students we would not otherwise be able to fuck with, and pay our salaries. In return, we offer them a credential that says “university” rather than “trade school.”

    It’s true that the golf folks try hard to minimize our impact on the students by attempting to control curriculum, in particular by cutting the core. But there’s a limit to the elasticity of that strategy. They actually know that they need us to prestigificate their product, and if we’re not total assholes about it they’re quite willing to work on compromises that serve both interests pragmatically.

    I am aware that you are discussing cases where the intrusion on the classroom is more pressing and sinister. I tend to think that I can play productively with the edges of any discourse and package it saleably as “thinking outside the box.” But it’s true that’s less than ideal.

    Thanks Shahar for this stimulating conversation! C

  8. Yes, things are a great deal better now that we get complimentary truffle oil in the student union…all thanks to my rousing of the rest of the faculty senate from their unthinking slumber.

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