Vocationalism, Academic Freedom and Tenure – NYTimes.com

July 14, 2011 at 8:39 am 5 comments

Fascinating argument!  If I follow it, the book is arguing (and Fish is disagreeing that this is a good thing) that Universities are becoming increasingly focused on real-world, vocational issues.  Academic freedom was invented to allow professors to follow their curiosity, apart from any real-world concerns.  Tenure was invented to protect academic freedom.  If Universities are just about vocational issues, then hire people who know real-world issues to teach them, and dump tenure — it’s a lot cheaper.

Wouldn’t it make more sense, Riley asks, to hire broadly educated persons who made no pretense of “advancing knowledge” to teach most of the courses? “Wouldn’t someone who has spent more time on that broad education and less time trying to find some miniscule niche on which to write a dissertation be the better teacher for most of those classes?”

In other words, let’s get rid of the research professors for whom academic freedom and tenure make some sense, at least historically, and have a teaching corps that understands itself to be performing a specific task (the imparting of basic skills to undergraduates) and can be held to account directly when their superiors determine that their performance is inadequate. In short, we need more instructors who don’t merit tenure, and once we have them Riley’s conclusion is inevitable: “There is no reason why tenure shouldn’t be abolished at the vast majority of the four thousand degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States.” There is no reason because every reason usually given in support of tenure and academic freedom has been shown to undermine itself in the course of this quite clever argument.

via Vocationalism, Academic Freedom and Tenure – NYTimes.com.

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Yale U. Complains That Chinese University Press Plagiarized Free Course Materials Explicit instruction prevents exploration — but will all students explore?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BKM  |  July 14, 2011 at 8:44 am

    This sounds like high school to me. Of course, that might make sense, because the students who are coming to us have failed to get a high school education.

    Reply
  • 2. Alfred Thompson  |  July 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

    As I visit schools around the country and talk to faculty I see no indication that universities are getting more focused on vocational training. Oh for sure many community colleges and for profit colleges have strong vocational focus. But not research universities. In fact atttepts to use “industry does” or “industry needs” arguments attract strong push back in most cases.
    Personally I see a need for balance between theoretical that allows for creating the future and industry skills that allow students to get jobs where they can create the future. That balance seems hard to attain though.

    Reply
  • 3. Kieran Mathieson  |  July 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Unpopular thoughts from a garden-variety prof.

    1. Who pays for research?

    Student tuition pays for much that is published in our journals. Why should they pay for that?

    You might say, “It might be useful someday.” OK, I buy that. And some research is fun to do. Fun is good.

    But what are the opportunity costs? When…

    2. Most faculty don’t learn about teaching.

    Faculty take money to teach, and are trusted by students to do it well. Students put their faith in faculty. Isn’t there are implied contract?

    How many faculty study the psychology of learning? Read a single book about it? Have you?

    How scholarly is your approach to teaching?

    Is this a failure of due diligence?

    Is this a moral failure?

    (Why is steam coming out of your ears? Does being angry make you right? Where is the logical justification for your anger?)

    3. Vocational != Easy

    There are many programmers and other tech people working in industry who are much smarter than I am. They face wicked problems every day. Problems that I can’t solve.

    There is wide variance in what “vocational” things people do. At one end, those things are very, very hard.

    To me, the idea that “vocational is easy stuff that is beneath a true intellectual” is weird. It just doesn’t fit the facts. Maybe it comes from the “gentlemen don’t work” standard of one-time England. I don’t know.

    A question: are you good enough to be an engineer at Google, Microsoft, or Apple? Would they hire you?

    4. Teaching != Easy

    If you study it, you realize how hard good teaching really is. Even working out what “good” means isn’t easy.

    5. Put it all together…

    None of these issues are separate. Why? Opportunity costs. The time I’ve spent typing this comment is time I haven’t spent doing something else.

    Maybe we profs could be more intellectually rigorous. Right now, many of us are scholars in the lab, and sloppy amateurs in the classroom.

    You’re angry at me. I’m thoughtless scum, a tool of the corporations/university administrations/Republicans/Democrats/liberals/conservatives/Cthulhu.

    Some of you are thinking, “This guy couldn’t make it in the journals. He’s trying to justify himself. Thuth.” (That last bit was spitting.)

    Maybe that’s true. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re trying to rationalize a way to ignore this challenge. Hmmm. Would a real scholar think about these things?

    6. The big question

    What will you do tomorrow?

    Kieran

    (OK, I do serve Cthulhu.)

    Reply
    • 4. Mark Miller  |  July 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm

      “Vocational != Easy”

      Well to me that has always gone without saying. My objection to the vocational focus is the priorities, not the difficulty. I don’t know why people in the field frequently have this need to show that they are really working because it’s hard. If you’re not dealing with complex IT organizational issues, or slogging away at hundreds of thousands of lines of C++ code, then you’re not doing real work. This misses the point in my view.

      Secondly, I’ve found that, in practice, schools which deny that they’re vocational schools are fooling themselves somewhat, because they teach many of the same memes that are used in industry, even as they teach the theory. Where they’re out of touch is they still think of computing as only taking place in isolated boxes–the von Neumann architecture and such. The internet has totally thrown them for a loop, it seems, when it comes to realizing what’s there, and they’ve sought refuge in the engineering techniques that have been developed for the web, reducing theory along the way.

      What vocational training teaches, at least my conception of it, is technique and best practices. Even in the schools that teach theory, you see this, though it’s not so obvious. These things are needed for recognizing and working on current engineering projects. You’ll get no argument from me about that. What gets avoided are questions like, “Is this system appropriate to use for this problem,” or, “What are the limitations of this medium, what are the effects of those limitations, and how can those limitations be pushed to the margins to enhance human capabilities to solve problems?” So I don’t mean, “Are we using the right OS, functional vs. OO, closed source vs. open source,” etc. I’m talking about the computing system itself, the architecture; hardware and software. There is still a technological and societal need to question that and try to do better than what exists. Is that generally recognized? From what I gather, no. We call it “computer science,” but in most cases there’s nothing resembling a science to be seen.

      I don’t expect most companies to worry about such things, because they have neither the budget nor the time to do that (though a rare few take a stab at it. You mentioned pretty much all of them). Of all the places where one would think this would be happening, it would be in academia. From what I’ve seen and read, in most cases this isn’t happening there. I think it needs to be, but that’s just my pie-in-the-sky wish. I’ve come to understand a little more about the difficulty in making that a reality in an academic environment, so while I am complaining, I’m hardly in a position to assign blame.

      Reply
      • 5. Kieran Mathieson  |  July 16, 2011 at 8:29 am

        Thnx for the thoughtful reply. There’s good sense in them thar words.

        We often study and teach things that are easy to study and teach. “Easy” in the sense that the topics have clean edges, that fit within the set of skills determined by our Ph.D. training and socialization. The topics are intellectually challenging, of course. They’re difficult. But they’re also intellectually comfortable.

        What is the cost of our comfort?

        Reply

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