Declining – Challenges and Markets

More on Declining by Degrees; I’m going to try and finish this off during the holiday weekend.

The essay in chapter 6 highlights six challenges for the university:

  1. The information glut, and especially the challenge this creates to the liberal arts and the need for generalists
  2. The curricular crisis, especially the increasing dominance of the technical and profession tracks (again in contrast to liberal arts)
  3. The commercialization of research
  4. The part-time faculty challenge, with the limitations of job security and academic freedom that undermine the quality of adjunct teaching
  5. The challenge of mediocrity, especially as it affects schools of education and the preparation of students for college
  6. The challenge of technology

The author’s concern is direct: “I fear that half-baked responses to marketplace pressures and to the other challenges may warp the university beyond recognition….The nation cannot afford to turn the university into an academic superstore, a collection of courses marketed much like sinks and lumber.”

In chapter 7, Howard Gardner (the multiple intelligences guru) writes about the dangers of markets to education. He notes 2 trends that shape education: 1) an increasing tendency of colleges to think of themselves primarily in market terms, and 2) to place the needs and interests of the students as dominant for much of the institution. These two moves are in some ways incompatible and suggest that colleges have lost sight of their principal educational mission. Gardner suggests that American individualism (e.g., ” bowling alone”) is a part of this, and recommends that education needs to provide a set of countermessages – specifically educational goals. This is not to reject market factors entirely, but they would be used for the survival of the institution and its educational goals, not a replacement for them. Here’s a good explanation of his objective:

To begin with, an educational institution must be concerned first and foremost with what it means to be an educated person at the present time. The institution should be explicit about this central mission, and those who represent the institution on a regular basis must be in sympathy with it–just as a physician must honor the Hippocratic Oath…The institution should also be specific about its educational goals….Other benefits of the college–civic engagement, self-knowledge, familiarity with other cultures, ability to get along with otehrs–should be acknowledged but considered externalities or benefits secondary to the scholarly goals.

Or to be it more directly, “the educational ends must come first.”

A very helpful set of chapters!


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