Episode Information

CMS: "Wannabe U"
Aired:
10/07/2009
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Universities are changing, but is money becoming more imporant than academics?

 

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Episode Audio

49:26 minutes (23.73 MB)
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So I teach one college class a year, at Trinity College. And one the first night, ever year, I tell them that I'm not a real professor and that therefore I am not wedded to the idea that there has to be a course taught by me and that people have to take it. It's not a default setting. 

And I tell them that, every year, what I decide is that there's no point in my teaching a course unless I can make them better citizens and better critical thinkers. Jefferson said the purpose of public education was the make average people better able to safeguard their liberties against the depredations of tyrants. Works for me! And then on the last night of the course, I remind them about the first night. If heads nod, if they understand why they're better citizens, it's a win.

UCONN professor Gaye Tuchman has written a book that explains how grotesquely out of step with modern college realities that whole notion is. Universities make money and train workers. Who knew?


 
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Listener E-mail from Jennifer

I only had a chance to hear bits and pieces of the show today whilst running errands and away from my desk, but I still thought I'd write after-the-fact, in the interest of intellectual inquiry. I did get to hear you say that you need someone on air who is against liberal arts education, and I am decidedly against it! That's not to say I'm against university education, but merely the structure with which the American University system has adopted - and I certainly don't like the stigma that surrounds those of us with degrees that have been achieved sans liberal arts structuring. 
 
I began a liberal arts degree (with a declared major), but by the end of my sophomore year I decided that I was working toward something that I really didn't want to achieve. Following a year of employment, I relocated my education to England and began an undergraduate degree at the University of London, from which I graduated with first-class honours (about as close to Chione graduating 'summa cum awesome' as you can find over there). From there I went on to earn my Master's from the University of Manchester, from which I graduated with Merit (an equally respectable result). While the education at these institutions is not built around a liberal arts structure, I did learn to think about history, philosophy, sociology, etc, all through the lens of Historical Musicology. It was an education that actually educated and encouraged students to grapple with the material and think critically about their arguments, rather than one that prepared us for a particular job market.  Comparing this to my original unfinished American-born liberal arts degree, it was far more useful than the astrology, psychology or fiction classes that I needed to fill a random requirement that was irrelevant to my degree. Is it any wonder 18 year old American students are accused of having such a lackluster attitude toward their education, which only demands of them general requirements until a later date?  It's not that I don't believe in learning about other fields outside an area of specialty, but I don't believe we need to be paying tuition dollars to achieve this. There are plenty of books on the library shelf, and I'm happy to read them in my own time. 
 
That being said, however, I am now a year out of my Master's degree, and I am having a tremendously difficult time finding work in the area that I've been trained for. Perhaps this is partially due to a poor job market, but I also fear that my lack of a specific 'type' of higher education is placing me at a disadvantage.  Employers in this country not only expect and require a liberal arts background, but insist that you have had previous internships and can demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit. There's very little consideration for the fact that a liberal arts education is not the 'end-all be-all' to producing intellectually capable and responsible individuals.  It would appear that although I graduated from two internationally accredited institutions with above-average results, my education doesn't fit the conventional mould for our society, which makes it appear that I lack certain skills and experiences that are expected of university graduates.  
 
 
 
Regards,
Jennifer

Listener E-mail from Jay

http://www.feed-charity.org/user/image/queen2009b.pdf

I was able to listen to only a few minutes of your show today, but the document at the URL above is directly pertinent to your topic. Perhaps you have not seen it; perhaps it was what sparked the theme of your show.
It is a letter to Queen Elizabeth from some economists, saying that the economic meltdown is due in part to economists being merely trained in recent decades, and not educated.

In case you have not seen it, I pass it to you now.

-Jay

Listener E-mail from Karl

Colin,
 
Speaking of "teaching to the test", I hope my favorite "adequately bright" host has been reading Washington Monthly's annual articles about how the USNews (&WR) College Rankings are skewed and how the schools included play with certain policies in order to look better numerically.
 
I don't care, directly. No kids. But, in another way, when belt-tightening is the proclaimed order of the day (since, about, ever), such efforts from colls and univs take time, money, and don't change anything for the better.
 
Your guest was written about here:
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/blog/wannabe_u_and_the_fu...
ure_of_hi.php.
 
One might think about this academic ranking the way your Sports A Trois cohosts would discuss football rankings: Lew Perkins made the conscious decision to get the Huskies into Div 1-A football in a big, 40k-seat stadium manner. But does any public U get to opt out of playing the ranking game without looking like they're trying and failing?
 
Sincerely,
Karl in Bloomfield

PS Anything you want to say about the deterioration in California's higher-ed system, which ~40 years ago was the envy of the country and kept the kids there and made them middle class, I'd like to hear.