Reinventing Higher Education

A month ago, I printed out an article from The New York Times, determined to write about it here. Well, it’s a month later, which says something about how busy I’ve been, but I’m still determined to share this, so here we go.

The article is titled End the University as We Know It, and it was written by Mark C. Taylor, who is the Chairman of the Religion Department at Columbia University. Mr. Taylor’s article is so inspiring and, I believe, so true.

He writes about how graduate degree programs in their current form are outdated and almost meaningless, since they translate into so few jobs and so many never-read dissertations.

What he proposes is what makes me love him. He envisions a university with programs in areas such as Water, Media, and Law. He imagines students with different B.A. and B.S. degrees working together to solve such problems as where water will come from in the 21st century.

He asks why International Relations programs do not address the religious beliefs of the nations being discussed. Why didn’t I ever think of that? Perhaps an entire war could have been avoided.

With great respect, I will end this post with a quote from Mr. Taylor:

My hope is that colleges and universities will be shaken out of their complacency and will open academia to a future we cannot conceive.

Maybe someday my daughter will be in the Mind program, helping humans reach their full mental potential. Maybe someday your son will be in the Money program, figuring out how a truly fair global economy can work.

It’s a whole new world out there. Or, it can be.

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Karen said,

    So, so cool!

  2. 2

    Some of this NYT article was intriguing, and I think universities are already developing more ways for students to study a topic across a range of disciplines. He’s also absolutely right about the exploitation of graduate students. But this article leaves no room for teaching and learning about things that don’t have relevance to current problems. What can medieval or eighteenth-century literature contribute to a problem-solving group on Water or Media? Probably, nothing. Does that mean the university should not support scholars and students of medieval literature?

    The letters the Times received in response to this article were also very interesting:
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B06E1D7113BF930A35756C0A96F9C8B63&sec=&spon=&&scp=2&sq=Mark%20c%20taylor&st=cse

  3. 3

    Thanks for this comment. I was thinking about whether you would have an opinion on this, knowing your background. I agree that there should still be opportunities for students to study areas not related to current problems. If I had not studied 17th century poetry and Victorian novels, my life would be a much poorer one.

    The replies to the article are very interesting! I took the proposition as a slightly fanciful one, presented to point up problems but not really to offer a clearly laid out solution.Obviously, many others took the article more seriously, as I would have if I were in their position.

    Thanks again for bringing your points to the discussion.

    • 4

      I agree with you that the op-ed was maybe meant less seriously than I and the letter-writers in the Times thought. And I definitely think that there are lots of things to improve in college/university education; I enjoyed the provocation of the piece. Anyway, if you are interested, a really good book on improving higher education is Derek Bok’s “Our Underacheiving Colleges.” It lays out the history of college reform in the US, suggests solutions, and it might be helpful for thinking about one wants from college as a student as well.

  4. 5

    Phyllis said,

    I remember reading the Times piece and also feeling that it didn’t go far enough. I just re-watched the above TED lecture by Ken Robinson the other night. (I hope the link works.) It is wonderful. He makes a moving plea for an educational system that nurtures rather than undermines creativity. This is such a big reason that we home school. Hi Susan!


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