Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Educational Wisdom (III)

Some interesting resonances here!

John Dewey, reflecting on the growth in the bureaucracy of the university and the way it interferes with teaching and learning:
The university must expand in order to be true to itself, and to expand it must have money. The danger is that means absorb attention and thus possess the value that attaches alone to the ultimate educational end. The public mind gives an importance to the money side of educational institutions which is insensibly modifying the standard of judgment both within and without the college walls. _ The great event in the history of an institution is now likely to be a big gift, rather than a new investigation or the development of a strong and vigorous teacher. Institutions are ranked by their obvious material prosperity, until the atmosphere of money-getting and moneyspending hides from view the interests for the sake of which money alone has a place. The imagination is more or less taken by the thought of this force, vague but potent; the emotions are enkindled by grandiose conceptions of the possibilities latent in money. Unconsciously, without intention, the money argument comes to be an argument out of proportion, out of perspective. It is bound up in so many ways, seen and unseen, with the glory and dignity of the institution that it derives from association an importance to which it has in itself no claim.
This vague potentiality, invading imagination and seducing emotion, checks initiative and limits responsibility. Many an individual who would pursue his straight course of action unhindered by thought of personal harm to himself, is deflected because of fear of injury to the institution to which he belongs. The temptation is attractive just because it does not appeal to the lower and selfish motives of the individual, but comes clothed in the garb of the ideals of an institution. Loyalty to an institution, esprit de corps, is strong in the university, as in the army and navy. A vague apprehension of bringing harm upon the body with which one is connected is kept alive by the tendency of the general public to make no distinction between an individual in his personal and his professional capacity. Whatever he says and does is popularly regarded as an official expression of the institution with which he is connected. All this tends to paralyze independence and drive the individual back into a narrower corner of work. 
Moreover,  new type of college administration has been called into being by the great expansion on the material side. A ponderous machinery has come into existence for carrying on the multiplicity of business and quasi-business matters without which the modern university would come to a standstill. This machinery tends to come between the individual and the region of moral aims in which he should assert himself. Personality counts for less than the apparatus thru which, it sometimes seems, the individual alone can accomplish anything. Moreover, the minutiae, the routine turning of the machinery, absorb time and energy. Many a modern college man is asking himself where he is to get the leisure and strength to devote himself to his ultimate ends, so much, willy-nilly, has to be spent on the intermediate means. The side-tracking of personal energy into the routine of academic machinery is a serious problem. -- "Academic Freedom," 1902.
Harvey Silverglate, commenting on reactions to the NCAA sanctions against Penn State in the Sandusky matter:
But morality, not to mention common sense, plays little part in the functioning of our modern universities. The role of academic administrators these days - and this has been true for much of the past 25 years - is to prevent criticism of the institution. This has resulted in the growth of huge public relations infrastructures that team up with fund-raising ("development") infrastructures. General Counsels have taken charge of much that goes on at the modern university. At their order, universities operate largely on this theory of "risk reduction" - that is to say, things are done not because they are right, nor because they enhance the institution's educational or scholarly missions. Instead, they are done to protect the institution's reputation, to protect the jobs of the administrators (for whom general counsel works), to keep the institution from losing government funds, and to keep the institution from getting sued. Truth, principle, and the education and welfare of young people have little to do with it. … The modern administrative university is a business machine without a soul. It is an administrative fiefdom that operates outside of the sights and controls of its governing boards or its alumni, with the primary goal of avoiding criticism. 

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