Long Nite of Higher Ed Policy

Had a great Higher Education seminar class tonite with Lee Fritschler and Art Hauptman. Good discussion on question of access to higher ed and we discussed a fascinating book called Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott.

The book is a pretty interesting read and starts with some fascinating history on modern forestry and agriculture. In the end, it questions central planning and argues that metis (a greek term) or  acquired knowledge or skill (often only available in particular places) is what determines success or failure. He argues that “the indispensable role of practical knowledge, informal processes, and improvisation in the face of unpredictability” is underestimated in modern society’s push for controllable processes and scientific measurement.

This means that centrally planned activities are doomed to failure at a certain point. I am doing a poor job of describing this book, but its use science, nature, economics, and modern policy making confirm one’s suspicion about what to do when the government tells you they are going to help. (This book is useful in thinking about all of the new policies and plans our government is currently putting into place)

We used Scott in our seminar as a theoretical backdrop for a discussion on the policy idea of national testing of college students upon exit in order determine if colleges are doing their job of educating students. But the book is a broad template to be used to test many types of government policys.

When I got home I flipped through the tele and came across a tax hearing of some sort in the MD State Senate. The President of UMBC (Freeman Hrabowski III, I think) was going though his 2010 budget and explaining his school’s successes and plans for the future. All the issues from my higher ed course — the major issues of higher ed — were discussed with all the requisite buzzwords. I will say, President Hrabowski was quite impressive. And I am interested in learning more about UMBC given his role at the helm.

It was interesting to watch Higher Ed leaders interact with Legislators in a time of economic crisis. That being said, it was obvious that Higher Ed (especially public institutions) has a strong relationship with their funders — the state, not the federal government, is the largest funder of higher ed in America.

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