Re: [xmca] University & Conformity

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Sat Jun 07 2008 - 10:03:23 PDT


I read with interest Gordon's letter to the UCSD administration. I'm in full
accord with his aims. But I'm skeptical that the final recommendation, to
pay more attention to the quality of undergraduate instruction, can make
much difference, because it doesn't challenge the world view that the
administration is operating with. We've seen over recent years how a concern
with quality translates within the economic cosmovision of the Bush
administration: it immediately becomes an effort to *measure* quality, to
ensure quality control, to hold individuals responsible for 'poor quality'
and so on. It is assimilated into the commercial mode.

We need to challenge this whole way of looking at things, and offer an
alternative. In "Changing Classes" I borrowed Jane Jacobs' notion of two
fundamental systems of survival: guardianship and commerce. I wouldn't say
Jacobs' analysis is the last word on the subject, but it at least provides a
position from which to point out that the student-as-customer model is not
the only way to see the university. The notion that universities are
guardians of knowledge may not be too old fashioned. The model of
guardianship has some characteristics which one might not want to
over-emphasize in the university (be obedient and disciplined; take
vengeance), but there are others which have kept their value. Perhaps some
balance between the two would be optimal (though Jacobs warns of the dangers
of 'moral hybrids'). The moral precepts of the commerce syndrome include 'be
efficient' and 'compete,' but also more promsing ones such as 'be open to
inventiveness and novelty.'



On 5/26/08 8:31 PM, "Gordon Wells" <> wrote:

>> I really doubt that this is a sensitive or delicate issue for participants
>> in XMCA, Eric;
>> it would be sad if you were correct.
> I am sufficiently stung by the suggestion that the state of our
> universities and colleges is too sensitive for university teachers on
> xmca to get involved in the discussion to post a brief reply. I am in
> fact leaving tomorrow morning for a small conference on "Learning in
> Higher Education" and at the forthcoming ISCAR conference I have
> organized a symposium on CHAT and Higher Education, which I hope some
> of you will attend.
> Just over a year ago there was a meeting on the UCSC campus to
> discuss the long-range development plan (DSAP). At that meeting both
> the acting chancellor and the executive vice-chancellor spoke proudly
> about the high quality of our undergraduate program, as demonstrated
> by the high rank of our campus in getting undergraduates into
> postgraduate programs. I took the opportunity to suggest that there
> was equally cause for concern at the high dropout rate and the lack
> of serious interest in really engaging with the ideas presented in
> their courses shown by many students. At the EVC's invitation, I put
> my comments in writing and sent them to him. I received no reply. For
> those who are interested, I am attaching a copy of the letter that I
> sent to the EVC.
> Gordon

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