A few years ago an excellent book by Naomi Schaefer Riley, “The Faculty Lounges: and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For” elicited an apt book review by Stanley Fish. 

 In his New York Times review, Fish described Riley’s book as bringing together “two subjects that are usually treated separately in the literature.”

 The first is the increasing tendency, on the part of students, legislators, administrators and some faculty members, to view higher education in vocational terms and to link questions of curriculum and funding to the realization of career goals. The second is the debate about academic freedom: what is it, who should have it, should anyone have it? What Riley does is take the standard rationale for academic freedom seriously and then argue that the ascendancy of vocationalism, in combination with other factors she names, undermines that rationale and leaves very few college teachers in need of, or deserving of, academic freedom.

 In previous blogs I have decried the decline of a liberal arts curriculum  in far too many of our colleges.  I have quoted liberally from Robert Maynard Hutchins, America’s leading twentieth-century educator and challenged the direction that many of America’s leading universities have recently taken.  Too many have transitioned away from traditional education and toward vocational training, the historical province of our respected community college system.

 The truth is that community colleges and many American corporations do a better job of skills training than most universities will ever master.  Why?  Because most of the instructors in community colleges and corporations have actually “been in the arena” before becoming teachers and trainers.  The typical university faculty member cannot make an equal claim.

 Fish concludes by writing:  What Riley shows is that vocation-oriented teaching, teaching beholden to corporations and politically inflected teaching do not square with the picture of academic labor assumed by the institutions of tenure and academic freedom. She says that, given the direction colleges and universities are going in, faculty members have little claim to the protection of doctrines that were fashioned for an academy that holds itself aloof from real world issues, either political or mercantile.

 “I say, and have been saying for years, that colleges and universities should stop moving in those directions — toward relevance, bottom-line contributions and social justice — and go back to a future in which academic inquiry is its own justification.”

 Have a great Labor Day weekend.  More next Wednesday     

  — Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning
August 29, 2018  (Mondays & Wednesdays)


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