Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning."

End the University as We Know It
Editorial from The New York Times, April 26, 2009


  1. I appreciate the author's critical perspective, and I empathize with his frustration over the current state of affairs in higher education, but I completely disagree with his perspective on the solution.

    In a nutshell, he criticizes the current technocratic scheme of regulation and planning in higher education, and then merely offers an alterative technocratic scheme. His six point solution is really no solution - it would amount to swapping out one set of central controls for another set, which would lead to no real change.

    He can't see a path to real change because he is trapped in his stasist paradigm, which can only envision the future in technocratic terms. In fact, his six points aren't revolutionary at all - mainstream higher education has been working to implement most of that agenda for the past decade or more. Notice that if the author posed any truly new solution it would never be published by a venerable rag like the New York Times. If its in the Times, then you know it is safe enough to be palettable to the mainstream.

    Most aspects of this supposedly new solution are accepted by the administrators here at UWM. If I hear any more politically correct babble in our University meetings about the need for more "cross-disciplinary collaboration" - I'll surely vomit.

    The problems in higher education go much deeper than how we can effectively regulate it. In fact, the very idea that we can regulate teachers and students is a central part of the problem. Communities of learners and even the process of learning itself are complex adaptive systems, and such systems defy regulation. They naturally exhibit emergent behavior, which is inherently dynamic - leading into an open-ended future that cannot be pre-planned and controlled by any bureaucracy. Attempts to control a complex adaptive system inevitably lead to one of two ends: 1) the mere illusion that you are controlling it, or 2) the slow, strangled death of the complex system (i.e., under burden of heavy controls, it will at some point stop producing dynamic, emergent behavior and atrophy). The modern University system is currently suffering from a combination of both fates. University representatives love to pretend that we control so much more than we really do control, and we are instantly stymied when the illusion of control is taken away from us in some specific circumstance. And I'm sure all of you feel, perhaps a bit every day, the weight of University controls on your back, forcing you to bleed time and energy on exercises you know to be pointless, all in the name of fulfilling institutional requirements.

    What would higher education look like freed of the massive bureaucracy that currently seeks in vain to box us in, stopping the open-ended future? How would you study architecture if left free of any preconceived rules imposed on you by the allegedly wise University system?

  2. "How would I study architecture if left free of any preconceived rules imposed on you by the allegedly wise University system?"

    I would build something the wrong way. Learn from its failures. Then build something...


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