Library Gazette

NY Times op-ed on higher education

Monday, April 27, 2009 9:55 am

Right in time for spring graduation, Mark Taylor wrote an op-ed piece for the NYT Sunday edition called End the University as we know it in which he calls for major restructuring of the higher education system. On first glance it is an interesting read in which Taylor calls for more collaboration and interdisciplinary work (two things that libraries are pretty good at). I was struck by his discussion of the role of educational technology in higher education and the impact of technology on student work particularly in light of the increased call for educational technology support that we have seen over the past few semesters.

Granted, along with these ideas, he suggests some pretty controversial changes to higher education including mandatory retirement(!) and a move away from traditional departments. He also comments that universities are training people for jobs that don’t exist or are already filled to capacity. These are some weighty suggestions so read at your own risk :)

5 Responses to “NY Times op-ed on higher education”

  1. I have a number of problems with the solutions that Taylor suggests (problem-focused programs that are renewed or dissolved every 7-years. Really? Who’s going to do the review? Peers? Won’t favors be traded (i.e., you vote to keep my program going, I’ll vote to keep your program going), and the next thing you know you’ve got a bunch of low-use programs around), but my biggest problem is that he’s entirely focused on the humanities. He doesn’t say anything about how effective the current system might be in the hard sciences. Intense specialization may actually be necessary for progress to be made in the sciences, especially when you consider the massive bodies of knowledge and data that have to be mastered.

  2. Both good points. I wonder what the feeling on these concepts are in the ‘hard’ sciences where the knowledge tends to be more structured? Then again in the field of computer science, which includes a lot of structured knowledge, having a firm understanding of how to write code and design programs does not necessarily give you the aesthetic skills to design a good one.

  3. It certainly isn’t an advertisement for the benefit of pursuing post-graduate degrees, is it? I was struck with this quote: “…research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems.” Steve makes a legitimate point for the hard sciences, perhaps, but what about the rest of the disciplines? Say, information science PhDs?

  4. No doubt, the argument that graduate level education misses the mark by training students for which there are few jobs is not missed by a certain PhD student in Information Science. It seems that the MLIS/MILS is an exception in this area as our graduate degrees do lead to a job in a fairly open market (but then again academic librarians typically do not have tenure). I did think that his comment took a very negative view of the academic tenure model. “After all, once tenure has been granted, there is no leverage to encourage a professor to continue to develop professionally or to require him or her to assume responsibilities like administration and student advising.” I would think that many faculty would question the accuracy of this perspective.

  5. “GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning:”

    That is just a cheap shot gratuitous comment and I resent it. Do we have to say “Detroit” for every failed initiative in America?


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