Monday, April 27, 2009

The Future of Universities

Mark Taylor writes in the NY Times today about how to restructure universities. I agree with much of what he says, especially the point that graduate education as currently practiced is a bad deal for most grad students in the arts and sciences--who receive low pay and, absent a tuition waiver, a mountain of debt, but frequently have no realistic chance of eventually landing tenure-track positions (which was the justification for this apprenticeship model in the old days).

Taylor also points to (familiar) flaws in the institution of tenure, although he does not reckon its benefits or the consequences for free inquiry were it abolished. Likewise, Taylor makes a case for replacing sub-sub-specialization within departments with inter-disciplinarity and project-based organization. Here the basic model is something on the order of a team of superheroes, each with his or her own special skills (e.g., a biologist, a climatologist, a physicist, a guy who shoots laser beams from his eyes) all coming together to solve a problem. That too has advantages, although Taylor does not explain how the individual members of each team are supposed to develop their particular expertise once the departments that teach their specialties have been abolished.

I'd also like to note here how miraculous it is that universities as we know them exist at all. What makes a great university great is primarily the quality of the research performed by its faculty. In principle and in practice, that research has little connection to the quality of teaching, and indeed, there may be a negative correlation, as the very top researchers often receive teaching breaks and, even when they teach a full load, are not necessarily any better than (or even as good as) less luminary instructors, at explaining the underlying material to students. Accordingly, one might think that a prospective student trying to decide whether to attend super-prestigious Great Research University or middle-of-the-pack Liberal Arts College would prefer LAC if the quality of instruction is higher than at GRU (as it may well be). But in fact, the value of the degree from GRU is greater than the degree from LAC (putting aside first-rate liberal arts colleges, whose faculty are drawn from more or less the same pool as those of the research universities), and so it's rational to pick GRU.

So long as there is a positive association between GRU's research faculty quality and the value of the degrees it confers on students, most top students will continue to go to the GRUs of the world and give them piles of money when some of them become wealthy alumni. However, the relationship is fragile; a break in the association could lead to a spiral in which prospective students shop for a higher education based on price and what they expect to learn, rather than prestige of research faculty. And a shock--such as the current recession--could cause that break.

Will that happen? I think probably not right now, partly because the logical place for squeezed families to send their kids is to a state university or college, and they've got tighter budgets than ever right now, while middle-of-the-pack liberal arts colleges are also in a tough spot. So higher education across the board is likely to suffer somewhat in the short run.

The question that remains for the long run--quite apart from the concerns raised by Taylor's essay--is whether there is a future for institutions that combine teaching and research. As someone who lives and works inside (and loves the very idea of) universities, I certainly hope so. I even think I could make the case for the logic of associating a university's research with its value for students (provided substantial attention is paid to teaching.) But there's no guarantee that universities as we know them will survive.

Posted by Mike Dorf

13 comments:

Sobek said...

All right, seriously, we've all been punked, right?

Our President is a low-functioning retard, who thought it would be a good idea to buzz Manhattan with a jumbo jet for a photo op, sure, but there's an actual adult in charge somewhere in Washington, right? I mean, someone who knows you don't hug the Queen of England, and that $60 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart don't play on British equipment? Someone who can translate English to Russian? Someone who can spell the Brazilian President's name?

Right?

I mean, we can all have a nice chuckle when the O-tard puts white powder in our tax return envelopes, and then get back to the serious business of not re-enacting the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil in history just so President Droolcup can update (as in, he already has one, but wants something newer) his file photos.

Sobek said...

Oh, nevermind. Obama is furious about the incident that his White House approved. I'm sure he's just as pissed off as that time he authorized the AIG bonuses.

I'm going to ask him for an autograph, but secretly hand him a Quitclaim Deed conveying his house to me. Odds are pretty good he'll sign it.

Sobek said...

I'm writing a play, tentatively titled "Smart, Tough Diplomacy."

Obama: "Hey Russians, what will you give me if I get rid of missile defense?"

The Russians: "Well since you just told your country that you're going to get rid of it anyway, how about nothing?"

Obama: "Deal!"

The Russians: "Sweet merciful god this guy is a dumbass."

Exeunt omnes

Michael C. Dorf said...

Hey Sobek: I have no problem whatsoever with your forcefully stating your criticisms of and disagreements with what I and other bloggers write here. That's why I allow comments on the blog. But perhaps you might want to start your own blog for your completely off-topic points?

Sobek said...

I apologize, Prof. Dorf.

C.E. Petit said...

I was somewhat amused by the NYT opinion piece... from a humanities scholar. He's engaging in one of the classic logical fallacies: The experience in my department is necessarily congruent to the entire university, to the same degree.

His prescription is indefensible for several reasons:

(1) There's no problem with the structure in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Although there aren't as many teaching jobs out there as one would like, there are viable noneducational jobs that actually require and use the skills picked up in those graduate programs. That counsels a change in proportions, not a change in structure.

(2) Just where, exactly, does one expect to get the expertise necessary to those interdisciplinary groups? That's as much a function of the necessary interaction within departments, but outside of subspecialties, that one gets during a graduate education as it is of anything else.

(3) How does one define a "problem" in the natural sciences? Oh, I get it: As a religion scholar, he just doesn't like disproof of religious postulates. (Last comment only slightly sarcastic.) Actually, he does raise one good point: The natural sciences could stand more interdisciplinary work... but at the graduate level, not undergraduate level, as the undergrads just don't know enough yet to engage in interdisciplinary analysis that is really meaninful. The same goes for engineering.

As an aside, I hold an AB in chemistry from a top research institution... and the amount of cross-department dialog among the faculty and graduate students, and even undergraduates, thirty years ago would have no doubt seemed satisfactory. For example, the basic class in biochemistry was team-taught across the biology, chemistry, and medicine faculties, and many lab groups crossed departments.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the esteemed professor of religion has no idea what his colleagues in the sciences actually do with their time (when not applying for research grants), or how they teach their courses.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I think that the Dorf Model of student institution choice is somewhat lacking.

In my experience, students are utterly indifferent to how much research is conducted at a school in selecting it.

The first cut is whether a student can afford to go private (or the equivalent, an out of state public school), or must attend an in state public university or college.

The next is selectivity -- students rationally exclude schools that will not accept them, and often try to go to a school with the most academically able peers that will accept them.

The GRU v. LAC determination is a third priority (at most) item, and focuses not so much on teaching or research, but on "getting lost and overwhelmed and taught by graduate students" v. "having personal attention and small class sizes in classes taught by professors". The GRU frequently loses when the question comes down to that point.

The main edge that the GRU has over the LAC is that state bureaucracies being what they are, bigger tends to be viewed as better, so there are far more public GRU slots than there are public LAC slots.

It is rare for students to care about GRU v. LAC capacity to produce research prior to graduate school when applicants plan on researching and want to tie themselves to the stars of promising fellow researchers, and notably, many top GRU's have a high ratio of grad students to undergraduates.

The GRU are as common as they are simply because public higher education was formed on the model of institutional rather than scholarship based support, and then controlled by their most sustained and intensely constituents, the faculty. This created slack to allow faculty to do what faculty want to do, which is research.

best-tutor said...

Hello!

very nice post... enjoyed it very much.

Thank you

http://www.best-tutor.com
http://best-tutor.com"

good site

tutor
tutor

酒店經紀ㄚ君姐姐 said...

,,領檯姐.,便服店,,

狗熊克星 said...

網路奇聞就是一個例子當他們搬家時在整理一大堆兒時的東西時發現許多的白蟻於是他們打1999市民熱線找到了,很怪竟然也會捉蟲,真的蠻神奇的只能說一句世界真無奇不有奇聞軼事小光在大學時期都非常愛辦暑假到了有一天他到一家搬家公司應徵工作想說賺錢出去玩的錢,於是在和老闆搬運的過程中發現房子被白蟻吃的差不多了隨時會倒於找到一家全台灣最大的除白蟻公司來幫忙解決了這個大問題也就可以再順利搬家了

較為潮溼的地方所以生長了許多白蟻他在網路上做了許多的搜尋的動作要的工作較佳的不一定是真的有那麼人找他們除蟲這個問題如果沒有解決即使找來搬家公司也是英雄無用武之地世界怪譚台北是一個人口聚集的地方需要台北搬家的人也特別多所謂人人都愛住在有山有水的地方自然蟲也會特別多所以除蟲就變成一個重要的工作不論年際多大都要參與我到網上的除蟲教學中心他們除了指導你們如何除蟲外更為中和地區的人服務教他們如何中和搬家這是他們在做遷習時必須學習的課題但是看到蟑螂還是會讓人想把它捉起來

奇文怪章:幾年前流行性感冒侵襲花壇鄉於是他們那邊的搬家公司就生意特別好,因為接到許多生意是要幫他載人去這樣當有人需要找除蟲時我們就可以很順利的找到我們要中和搬家了因為東西實在太多太重跟本不可能搬的動像冰箱鋼琴又找來新店搬家來幫忙只能說他們真是大力士一下子就搬完了

股市奇聞最近股票都一直漲牛市衍然形成許多賺到錢的人想要搬家到台北於是找上了台北搬家公司來幫忙搬但是東西太多他們竟然的搬但是這樣太慢等他們搬好太陽都下山了板橋搬家的老闆陳先生表示由於許多員工都是草梅族所以都沒力氣永和搬家有十多年經驗的謝經理也說他們也遇到相同的情況還有人見到老鼠當場嚇暈的真是無言以對

雅文共賞阿明是一個非常愛寫作的人他在中和搬家上班他很有心在工作的空檔都會拿出他們筆在寫作有一次因為太專心寫作忘了工作於是被老闆開除他又到另一家桃園搬家工作但是他都老毛病又犯了寫作寫到又忘了工作又被開除他就開回頭車回公司去辦理離職手續並且他把捉的十多隻小老鼠帶回家去那是他的寶貝他細心的幫他們消毒完讓他們可以快樂的生活

昨天擊出再見一擊的功臣是十一局轟板橋搬家可以選擇以提供無償桃園搬家勞動來折抵刑期回頭車預定將在九月一日實施台北搬家更生團契總幹事黃明鎮牧師認同此項政策新店搬家人去服務社會,比在獄中服刑有意義。」永和搬家本被判處六個月以下刑期的受刑回頭車以選擇以易科罰金來代替坐牢傷癒復出後首度回到洋基新球場進行系列戰,A-Rod在紐約球迷面前用棒子宣告他的歸隊。今天洋基與雙城進行第二場系列賽搬家公司但是在經濟不景氣

的影響之下板橋搬家許多人寧願選擇坐牢,使得監獄人滿為新店搬家患,於是法務部研擬社會勞動制度永和搬家讓這些受刑人不必入監服刑,也可桃園搬家這項制度對受刑人的好處是,可以不用中斷原先的工作賽,A-Rod在壘包上有人的情況下,轟出石破天驚的2分打點再見全壘打,助球隊最終以6:4氣走對蟑螂曾經入獄的紀錄,更不用辛苦籌錢,繳交龐大的易科罰金。對政府來說,跳蚤刑人在服務過程中會想盡辦法去吸毒蛀蟲會勞動主要是支援各地環境清潔、社會服務等,螞蟻勞動。

gaohui said...

If you're a plus size woman you've probably Moncler noticed that the majority of coats in stores today are moncler veste designed with women that are supposed to be moncler doudoune shaped like a toothpick. It can be difficult to moncler hommes find a coat that not only looks good but also doesn't break the moncler femmes bank. Coats typically cost a lot of money so it's in your doudoune moncler femmes best interest to shop wisely.A lot of women doudoun moncler hommes make the mistake of only thinking about their dress doudoune moncler femmes or skirt when putting together an doudoune moncler hommes outfit. However, it's important to keep in mind that the majoriy of moncler-gilet people are going to see you with a coat on

برامج said...

good future view good point that you mention to here
اليوتيوب

jimmychooshoes said...

Christian Louboutin Sigourney Ankle Boots BlackChristian Louboutin Sigourney Ankle Boots Black
Christian Louboutin Suede With Leather Ankle BootsChristian Louboutin Suede With Leather Ankle Boots
Christian Louboutin Supra Over-the-Knee BootsChristian Louboutin Supra Over-the-Knee Boots
Christian Louboutin Toggle Ankle BootChristian Louboutin Toggle Ankle Boot
Christian Louboutin Toundra 140 Coyotte Nappa BootsChristian Louboutin Toundra 140 Coyotte Nappa Boots
Christian Louboutin Trotte Avec Moi 120 BootsChristian Louboutin Trotte Avec Moi 120 Boots
Christian Louboutin Trotte Avec Moi 120 Boots BlackChristian Louboutin Trotte Avec Moi 120 Boots Black
Christian Louboutin Trottinette ankle bootsChristian Louboutin Trottinette ankle boots
Christian Louboutin Trottinette suede ankle bootsChristian Louboutin Trottinette suede ankle boots
Christian Louboutin Tuba 45 BootsChristian Louboutin Tuba 45 Boots