3 feb. 2011


Research 1 universities do research and also educate thousands of students at a time. What is the advantage for a student of going to an R1 university?

In the first place, you can get a very good education there if you try. You must choose a major in a department that is involved in educating students. I know extremely well-educated students who have taken advantage of their presence in a university with faculty with first-rate minds.

One of my friends on the faculty here talks about forming part of a conspiracy to educate the students. The faculty who educate and the students who want to be educated have to find one another. The process is not automatic, because students can choose majors where they can drift along without becoming educated. Alcohol and big-time sports play occupy the center of the campus culture.

My proposal is to eliminate some of the barriers to education by removing the cordon sanitaire between teaching and research.

(Liberal Arts Colleges teach very well. There is no cordon sanitaire because the emphasis falls squarely on teaching. The very smart, publishing scholars I know at such places also have to be good teachers. The ones who don't do research can devote all their resources to instruction. Most of those places lack big-time football programs.)

4 comentarios:

Sarang dijo...

A crass but non-negligible point, at least re the sciences, is that if one is interested in going to grad school it helps to be involved in mainstream research as an undergrad, and to have taken grad-level courses. These are both easier to do at a research university.

My feeling about the situation at large public universities is that the "conspiracy to educate" mostly involves students who enter college highly motivated _and_ educated, and the class politics of this is problematic. It doesn't seem an issue that lots of people don't get educated at college; that was never the point for them; you can lead a horse to water etc.; what matters more is that the conspiracy-of-the-educable is not, in my experience, inclusive. A lot of people come into college as competent writers with AP calculus; if one looks at (say) physics majors anywhere who have really received an education they are almost entirely drawn from this pool. This is not surprising: it is after all discouraging for one to find that many people are _much_ more highly trained than oneself, and -- in a large and diverse community -- people tend to gravitate to areas where they feel at home. The quality of lectures is almost irrelevant to this dynamic; the only thing I have seen affect it is the _availability_ of the professor outside the classroom.

If one approaches the issue from this perspective, the cordon sanitaire seems like a distraction and possibly pernicious, if (as seems possible) it makes professors pitch their classes at a higher level than they would have otherwise and (e.g.) assume background reading and knowledge that is common to the middle-class AP students but not the others. But of course one can find multiple things about the current university system that are imperfect...

Jonathan dijo...

What about just doubling the number of educable students. From, maybe 30 - 60%? Or from 10 to 20%? (Depending on how you define it.) Do what the honors program does for the top 10% and do that for about twice that number. That would change the culture of the university. That's assuming that there is population of good students who might be more engaged but are sucked into the sports/alcohol culture instead of the academic culture. Perhaps without making a conscious choice. The point is to have more students in the educable category, not fewer. It's the present system that's exclusionary, in that it writes off many students.

Clarissa dijo...

I have discovered that students respond very well to the knowledge that their professors are actively engaged in research. Last semester, I shared with students (many of whom were first and second year students) what I was doing research-wise, and they were very excited. "Oh, I had no idea you do research," one of the students said. Then he started coming to my office to share insights into different aspects of literary criticism and ask for advice.

For students in literature (especially at lower levels) it is extremely important to see that what we do is not reduced to classroom discussions.

Now, I share with students on a regular basis what is discussed at conferences I attend. If they hear often enough that conferences are fun (which they really are), this will allow us to engage them in their own research projects, maybe even in collaboration with faculty members.

Thomas dijo...

In my (limited) experience as a teacher, "availability of the professor outside the classroom" is definitely important. In fact, I think if teachers simply converted all their prep time into office hours the result would, ceteris paribus, be improved education. The teacher would then in effect develop the lectures in one-on-one interation with interested students (i.e., those that took advantage of the expanded office hours).