Reboot the university

In today’s NY Times, Mark Taylor of Columbia calls for the end of the university as we know. As I do in What Would Google Do?, he uses the new structure of our post-industrial age to rethink the structure and work of a university.

He argues for the end of departments — that is the end of taxonomy. He argues for collaboration — that is, specialization (do what you do best and link to the rest). He argues for the end of the centuries-old form of the dissertation — that is, taking advantage of the new forms of creation and information sharing we have at hand. And he argues for the end of tenure — that is, building around merit and value rather than protection.

At the same time, see this post from Mike Hamlyn of Staffordshire University trying to apply some of the precepts of WWGD? to his university.

Here is my entire chapter on remaking the university from WWGD?, in which I argue that we need to separate the functions a university now performs — teaching, certification, research, socialization — and use the power of the link to put together networks of learning, teaching, and knowledge sharing that cut across departmental and institutional — not to mention economic — boundaries.

  • Mike Manitoba

    I would also call for the end of paid faculty.

  • A bunch of professors 35 years ago did reboot the University at a place called Thomas Aquinas College and its going great. Instead of a bunch of mind-numbed technorati, it produces students who can adapt to anything because they actually think and argue, rather than just spout what little they learned.

    These “new” ideas of technological universities are not really new, its what the Germans did to the University in the 1900s, and with the results of today. A unified and universal education is the way to restart things in the right direction.

  • On Saturday the New Media Institute within the Grady School of Journalism at UGA hosted a roundtable of business folks, educators, and students.

    While we might hope for high-minded visions, such as “honest storytelling optimized for consumption”, the overall recommendation to the Dean and Trustee’s was to blow up the old, siloed structures.

    As many newspapers and magazines have recently proven, that is easier said than done!

  • First you have to understand the reason for attending college, there are several.
    1. A rite of passage
    2. To get credentials
    3. To get an “education”
    3a. To get your prejudices reconfirmed
    3b. To learn to think for yourself

    Only 3b is considered as a valid “enlightenment” model. It is the one that can be recast into a new form. Actually this is already pretty far along. Schools have lots of distance learning, continuing ed and have eliminated up to half of permanent faculty. They claim that this suits the needs of students more closely and provides the needed education.

    Actually they are really pandering to goal 2 – credentials. For example, look at the K-12 teaching profession. One of the measures of how effective teachers are is to look at credentials which are easy to measure, rather than outcomes which are difficult.

    Credentials are required in lots of fields, but the credentials have nothing to do with the task at hand, they are just a proxy for a belief that the applicant will be apt enough to perform the job.

    GW Bush went to college for reason #1, the credentials were irrelevant and the learning unneeded, but family tradition is that you go the the old alma mater and act like a college boy for four years. This isn’t going to go away for those who can afford it (even if it’s at a state school).

    There is evidence that finishing college is a marker for class rank as well and is used as a sorting mechanism in hiring just as credentials are. Here’s an interesting article which makes this case:

    3a. Is mainly found in religiously-affiliated schools where the aim is to turn out “believers” who specifically don’t question dogma and thus become reliable members of their community. Keeping students away from other influences is a goal and outsourced education is too risky.

    As I said you can’t change things if you don’t understand what is trying to be achieved.

    • PSGInfinity


      Good comment, and I agree with most of what you said – so long as we stipulate that the same principle applies to UC Berkeley, Harvard, Columbia’s Middle-East Dept., and other Utopian religious centers…

  • Pingback: jardenberg kommenterar - 2009-04-28 — jardenberg unedited()

  • It seams that time overrun our society as we know it till today. I think all start with the personal computer and the possiblity of collecting hugh amounts of data. Many people will think why do we need an university when we have Google? I belive that universities can teach young people what Google never will be able – to interact with others on a personal level and this makes us also to humans!

  • Guy Love

    Universities and academia will dogmattically cling to their role of gate keeper for upward mobility in society. They will resist tooth and nail the leveling of the field that WWGD brings to the table. They are the last bastion of stagnation that has managed to overcome the changes we are seeing play out today because of the free flow of information. It will be interesting to see what path they choose based upon what has happened to the media institutions.

  • To really open up universities and learning, the barriers to the academic literature need to be broken. Unless you have a lot of money for subscriptions or pay up for the (short) time you are on an official university course then access is barred to journals. This seems a bastion of ‘unopeness’ and of what google would not do that will not change anytime soon (although we live in hope of iTuneU models)

  • Pingback: Creating the Buzz: our post information age « lauren:z:mitchell()

  • One important reason for tenure is to protect professors’ right to speak freely. For some — many, even — it becomes a way to coast. But for a few truly creative and outspoken, it becomes a protection against retribution for espousing unpopular or even heretical ideas.

  • John Ringer

    Universities have a function at least as important as education, and that is the socialisation of what are generally late teenagers/early adults. Almost anyone who has been to university makes a set of life-long friends, far more durable than those made in earlier education. I suspect part of the reason for this, apart from being the right time of social development, is the hotbed of shared ideas, intense discussions, the sorting out of one’s world view, and of course the dedication to partying and the pursuit of a life partner. And a student gets to meet and interact with peers and others from all over the country, and all over the world. Like exchange programs, this interaction between cultures is one of the key indicators for a shared conflict-free future between nations, as the university educated generally rise faster and further than the lesser educated. So don’t wipe them out just yet until we can find a way of replicating this personal development. Skype certainly can’t do it.

  • Pingback: Academia under fire()

  • Taylor’s idea of networked departments is a good starting point for reconfiguring higher education so that it brings a greater societal benefit. It’s surely worth some time and thought.

    That said, he packages the idea in some really perverse free market ideology, which, in this case, imagines the university as a kind of factory that needs to run more efficiently.

    I wrote an essay response here:

  • Pingback: Disruptive higher education «()

  • Pingback: Disruptive higher education()

  • Pingback: Disruptive higher education – Eriks blogg()