Monday, March 11, 2013

Universities may be at the start of another ‘violent revolution’ - The Globe and Mail

I have some more comments on Crandall that I hope to get to this week. This story, however, attracted my attention:

Universities may be at the start of another ‘violent revolution’ - The Globe and Mail:

It is not really a story but a op ed by Julia Christensen Hughes, "dean of the College of Management and Economics" at Guelph. 

What captured my attention about this op ed was ... well ... how bad it was. What is bad about it? A number of things:

1. The title is completely misleading.  Any one expecting to read about actual or potential real violence will be sadly mistaken. The violence, it turns out, is a "paradigm shift" resisted by some people in universities. 

2. It is riddled with clichés and tells us nothing (what exactly does the author mean by a "paradigm shift" in real terms ... if you expect an answer don't bother to read the story. All you'll get is the standard reference to Kuhn's work on this subject). 

3. In place of anything specific, this is the now painfully standard clarion call to change. "We need change in universities." There, I summarized the whole story  for you in five words. What kind of change? What are its goals? What role do universities play in society? What role should they play? Are there any new programmes to be introduced? Old ones to be reformed? OK, I could add one more line. The answer to all these questions is "partnerships." I kid you not. That is it: with whom, to do what, supported by whom? involving whom? No answers. 

4. Evidence also seems to be a problem with the author. Support for her argument that "we need change" comes from the same old and tired discourse. Let me cite it:

"In commenting on the economic challenges we are experiencing today,Arthur Levine of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation described the change as a shift from a “national, analogue, industrial economy” to one that is “global, digital and information-based." 

Hmmm ... did I miss something. Is globalization, the information economy, and digitization ... new? Is this not what we have been listening to and talking about for the better part of ... 20 or 30 years? 

I could go on. Evidence that Canada should change the way it is doing thing in universities is provided by reference to ... the US, as if the US had somehow discovered the secret to effective change and Canadians had not commented on it or studied it. 

But, what is most frustrating for me is that this piece is saying precisely the opposite of what we should be thinking about. I will be so bold as to say that the only way anyone can think globalization is a new reality to which the university needs to respond is either (a) to be new to the university and (b) new to life in 21st century Canada.  For us the issue is not change to adapt to globalization as if it were new but grappling with its reality as an established pattern of economic, political, cultural, and social life. In other words, it is the very "old hat" quality of globalization that needs to be addressed not its newness. 

Surely ... no one is gong to tell us that information technology is new? 

I laud Dean Hughes for writing about post-secondary education. But, with leadership like this ... the only thing universities can do is reinvent the wheel because they are treating the past as if it were the future. 


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