Career Training vs. University Education

New article in New York Times deals with issues of the current changes in our educational system, but ultimately fails to address the most essential question: are we in the business of career training or are we trying to provide comprehensive education?

Students don’t want to major in philosophy or classics, therefore those majors must be eliminated. Students want to study business, therefore more business courses must be introduced. This is the basic logic. Consumers are investing money, they want definite returns, therefore university must be run like a business and administrators are its corporate managers. Students don’t like math, but they need it for business courses, therefore we are keeping math requirements. But what if students didn’t want to take Calculus or English or History or Sociology or Psychology? Why not just send them to a career training college where they will learn only about their speciality? Well, that’s not cool – we must keep up the pretense of liberal education and so on.

“We want to teach them how to make an argument, how to defend an argument, to make a choice.” These are the skills that liberal arts colleges in particular have prided themselves on teaching. But these colleges also say they have the hardest time explaining the link between what they teach and the kind of job and salary a student can expect on the other end. Continue reading

Corporate University Is Now

Reading Wannabe U and slowly growing more and more depressed. Here’s a quote from David Harvey’s recent essay that describes my present state of mind:

The current populations of academicians, intellectuals and experts in the social sciences and humanities are by and large ill-equipped to undertake the collective task of revolutionizing our knowledge structures. They have, in fact, been deeply implicated in the construction of the new systems of neoliberal governmentality that evade questions of legitimacy and democracy and foster a technocratic authoritarian politics.  Few seem predisposed to engage in self-critical reflection.  Universities continue to promote the same useless courses on neo classical economic or rational choice political theory as if nothing has happened and the vaunted business schools simply add a course or two on business ethics or how to make money out of other people’s bankruptcies. After all, the crisis arose out of human greed and there is nothing that can be done about that!

The current knowledge structure is clearly dysfunctional and equally clearly illegitimate. The only hope is that a new generation of perceptive students (in the broad sense of all those who seek to know the world) will clearly see it so and insist upon changing it.  This happened in the 1960s. At various other critical points in history student inspired movements, recognizing the disjunction between what is happening in the world and what they are being taught and fed by the media, were prepared to do something about it. There are signs, from Tehran to Athens and onto many European university campuses of such a movement. How the new generation of students in China will act must surely be of deep concern in the corridors of political power in Beijing.

A student-led and youthful revolutionary movement, with all of its evident uncertainties and problems, is a necessary but not sufficient condition to produce that revolution in mental conceptions that can lead us to a more rational solution to the current problems of endless growth.

I feel that the action is elsewhere, that my students don’t really give a shit, that I’m somewhere I will hate to be more and more in the next decade or so.

Don’t Criticize Me, You’re Making Me Uncomfortable, I’ll Sue You.

Here‘s an interesting story: an undergraduate at Bulter University blogged about administration and their (according to him, evil) ways, and is now being sued by the University for defamation and making people feel unsafe because he was mean to them.  If you read the whole article, you get a sense that there was really nothing libelous or defamatory in his comments, but that university has an army of attorneys on its payroll and they wanted to punish the kid (who blogged anonymously, but since revealed his real name) and his parents (both of whom happen to be faculty at Butler). Continue reading