Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Path from "Running a University Like a Business" Leads Where?

A blog post with some insightful comments about UVA situation ( notes that the folks who pressured the president to resign favor something they call "strategic dynamism."  The blogger notes that it's pretty much all about dynamism and not much about strategy.  That is, it's about action, not planning.

This had me thinking about Karl Mannheim's ideal types of conservative thinking (ranging from bureaucratic conservatism to fascism).  Mannheim characterizes the latter as “active and irrational,” noting that at “the very heart of its theory and its practice lies the apotheosis of direct action, the belief in the decisive deed, in the significance attributed to the initiative of a leading elite.  The essence of politics is to recognize and grapple with the demands of the hour” (Ideology and Utopia 1936 : 134 

Indeed, it's a real danger in higher education when administrators and government boards think that "running a college like a business" means adopting the deference to swashbuckling command and control oriented decisive simplifiers.  The very fact that they cannot see how many different ways there are to be "like a business" is what makes them most dangerous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Know (and be smarter than) Your Enemy

This post is not specifically about assessment, but it relates to the larger conversation of which assessment is but one component : the future of American higher education.  Thanks to tweet from Cedar Reiner for turning me onto it.

You've possibly already seen this D Levy opinion piece in the Washington Post from March (or certainly other examples of the genre) example of what “they” are saying and reading (spoiler: it's the standard “we pay them 100 grand and they only work 15 hours a week” tirade): " Do college professors work hard enough?

It's a tired bit of rhetoric, to be sure, but sung over and over like church hymns, it comes to define reality for a certain set.  That needs to be countered by smart talk widely repeated; smirking won't do.  Here’s one reasoned rebuttal by Swarthmore's Tim Burke that casts the problem in terms of larger arc of private capture of value through de-professionalization: "The Last Enclosures."

The real challenge here is that most representatives of “the other side” (e.g., administrators, trustees, legislators) have not actually thought things through carefully but have bought into a well-crafted rhetoric and catchy simplifications, while “our side” takes a fundamentally conservative approach (same as it ever was) and puts its finger in its ears and goes “la la la la I cannot hear you….”  Higher education has a broken economic model, but too many of us are content to just demonize those with really bad ideas about how to fix it.  I agree with most of Burke's critique, but I think we need to move beyond critique.  There is a romantic valor in identifying the corruption in the current wave of education reform, but it won't be stopped by mere resistance.  Bad new ideas need to be defeated by good new ideas (as can be found in some of Burke's other posts).