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.