Christian Smith, #HigherEd and Bullshit

My colleague Jim Wolfe pointed me to a Christian Smith’s recent op-ed, Higher Education is Drowning in BS; and it morally corrosive to society! Smith, a professor of sociology at Notre Dame, really lays out a laundry list of sins committed by our institutions, their leaders, funders and bureaucrats! From the Chronicle of Higher Education (here are a few of my favorites)

I have had nearly enough bullshit. The manure has piled up so deep in the hallways, classrooms, and administration buildings of American higher education that I am not sure how much longer I can wade through it and retain my sanity and integrity.

Even worse, the accumulated effects of all the academic BS are contributing to this country’s disastrous political condition and, ultimately, putting at risk the very viability and character of decent civilization. What do I mean by BS?

BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.

BS is the farce of what are actually “fragmentversities” claiming to be universities, of hyperspecialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.

BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.

BS is universities hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous “excellence” peddled by recruitment and “advancement” offices in every run-of-the-mill university).

BS is the ideologically infused jargon deployed by various fields to stake out in-group self-importance and insulate them from accountability to those not fluent in such solipsistic language games.

BS is a tenure system that provides guaranteed lifetime employment to faculty who are lousy teachers and inactive scholars, not because they espouse unpopular viewpoints that need the protection of “academic freedom,” but only because years ago they somehow were granted tenure.

BS is the shifting of the “burden” of teaching undergraduate courses from traditional tenure-track faculty to miscellaneous, often-underpaid adjunct faculty and graduate students.

BS is states pounding their chests over their great public universities even while their legislatures cut higher-education budgets year after year after year.

BS is the fantasy that education worthy of the name can be accomplished online through “distance learning.”

BS is the institutional reward system that coerces graduate students and faculty to “get published” as soon and as much as possible, rather than to take the time to mature intellectually and produce scholarship of real importance — leading to a raft of books and articles that contribute little to our knowledge about human concerns that matter.

BS is third-tier universities offering mediocre graduate programs to train second-rate Ph.D. students for jobs that do not exist, whose real function is to provide faculty with graduate RAs and to justify the title of “university.”

There is plenty more in there and well worth reading. So many instances of BS its hard to know which to fix or how to fix it.

A couple of more.

BS is the standard undergraduate student mentality, fostered by our entire culture, that sees college as essentially about credentials and careers (money), on the one hand, and partying oneself into stupefaction on the other.

BS is the failure of leaders in higher education to champion the liberal-arts ideal — that college should challenge, develop, and transform students’ minds and hearts so they can lead good, flourishing, and socially productive lives — and their stampeding into the “practical” enterprise of producing specialized workers to feed The Economy.

Advertisements

Road Ahead for America’s Colleges and Universities

Two economists from William & Mary offer their insights into the challenges and opportunities ahead for higher education in the United States. A question and answer session from Inside Higher Education with Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman, authors of, The Road Ahead for America’s Colleges and Universities.

Archibald and Feldman’s predictions aren’t as sweeping or attention grabbing as Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. In fact, they’re happy to distance themselves from the world’s most aggressive prognosticators, arguing futurists are people who are happy if you don’t read their books in 20 years. They point out that the future is not preordained and can instead be changed by policy choices, economic decisions and other unforeseen events.

Nonetheless, they acknowledge that forces — notably income inequality — are making it increasingly hard for many students to pay for college. Institutions serving underprivileged students are facing some of the greatest threats, they argue. As such, the higher education system’s ability to drive economic opportunity is uncertain going forward.

China Rising as Higher Education Power

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, Keith Burnett, writes in the Times Higher Education that China will take a dominant position in higher education. He appears to be making this statement based on pure size, scale, holding now place for academic practices and campus norms in national systems of higher education. He makes valid points in some cases (china is now the 4th most popular destination for overseas students!).

From Burnett in the Times Higher Education,

If you think of higher education as a global luxury good (as I have heard it described), then you can easily grasp why Chinese families buy a big chunk of the very finest higher education “product”: degrees from UK institutions. And let’s be honest, that demand has been the salvation of many UK universities’ financial bottom lines.

But when you look at the better and fancier options now coming out of China – in everything from next-generation transport to technology – you will see that there are fewer and fewer things they cannot make. This should make us all tremble.

It tells us that our higher education brands will have more and more competition in the years ahead, as China itself sets targets to become a destination for students from across the Belt and Road and beyond.

The UK might have Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Sherlock on our side, but as public investment in research and teaching falls while China’s rises, our edge can’t last for ever. China, for the record, is now the fourth most popular destination for students studying overseas.

Should US higher education leaders be worried? — they, too, have relied on Chinese students — from PhDs to undergrads (a more recent trend!)… Lets not forget, one of the reasons entrepreneurs have succeeded on campus is because higher education itself is a massive marketplace (from food and fun to books, housing and media products!).

Korean University at Consumer Electronics Show

While perusing through the Consumer Electronics Show website I noticed a University Innovations section for exhibitors, from there I found a list of featured innovators — assuming that means they paid extra for marketing dollars. A few of the featured include, Case Western University (with a heavy presence), the University of Nevada Las Vegas (the Shark and Guy Fieri?), and Hanyang University, based in Seoul.  Their listing states they are focused on 5 product categories (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, Gaming, Safety and Security Products, Sensors, and Wearables)..

Some more about Hanyang University from Wikipedia. It appears that its an ‘older’ South Korean private university that focuses on engineering and practical education — ranked 30 in Asia on the QS rankings.

Is attending CES a good idea for a major research university? Clearly the South Korean Government sees university spinouts as good policy and has for nearly 10 years. Will have to watch for Hanyang and other Korean universities to see if this government led policy has worked for society, students and the achievement of university missions.

For my research and understanding of campus innovation ecosystems check out this recent paper on SSRN: The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: The University of Chicago.

Shark Kevin O’Leary Visits Harvard Business School

Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank visits Harvard Business School and offers a few nuggets of truth. Kevin also listens to pitches from some of the student founders. While Kevin recognizes the advantages of launching at Harvard University, he does not realize how much schools like George Mason University, University of Chicago and others are doing to provide real opportunities to experience entrepreneurship and innovation on campus — now.

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 9.59.28 AM

New MA in Music Entrepreneurial Studies

As it becomes clear that students and society want more entrepreneurship and innovation, higher education obliges. Azusa Pacific University, keying on its location near Los Angeles, has announced a new Master of Arts in Music Entrepreneurial Studies. From APU

“Given the immense growth of independent music in all genres and the lack of innovation in traditional record labels, we see a huge opportunity for independent artists to compete directly with major label music acts,” said Henry Alonzo, MBA, director of the Music Entrepreneurial Studies Program and assistant professor in the School of Music. “By exploring independent study and work internships within the music industry and collaborating closely with experienced industry professionals, candidates learn to run their careers in music as a small business, which is invaluable in today’s market.”

An expanding music industry ensures higher employability and profitability rates for music entrepreneurs, and for aspiring music professionals, the Los Angeles area is an optimal location to gain industry experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the L.A. metropolitan area represents the second highest rate of employment for musicians and singers, as well as music directors and composers, and the number one rate of employment and profitability for sound engineers. APU’s close proximity to Los Angeles gains program candidates easy access to the central hub of entertainment innovation in the U.S.

Is Small Biz the Future?

In some discussions with an esteemed entrepreneurship researcher, I wondered what we are missing as analysts, researchers, educators, citizens, economic beings in today’s US? After some reflection, we began to discuss whether the drive to find, support and exploit innovation (the Schumpterian type) we had overlooked/missed the importance of small business? Traditional, local, stable small business? Had our global, consumer, and technological marvels drawn us away the humble, democratic supporting small business operators? (Reminder: I am reading David Potter’s People of Plenty).

I had begun thinking about this during Spring 2017 when I taught an undergraduate course in Small Business. Beyond accounting, finance, marketing — this course included a focus on family business, franchising, legacy (generational time horizons) and some other small business specific issues — topics that innovators, startup weekend participants, hackers, and sharks —  pushing to disrupt the world —  don’t generally talk or think about. Much of it was refreshing and more substantive and tangible when compared to our lean wielding, customer interviewing founders.

The reality is, many of the students we teach in class and work with in our extra and co curricular programs — competitions, accelerators — are building small ventures.

We also see a trend towards students working with their hands — from 3D printing and electronics to sewing and graphic design. These great new opportunities, evidenced by makerspaces and labs of all sorts, dovetail well with my epiphany on the importance and role of small business.

The Christian Science Monitor has a really interesting piece on manual labor being a hot new job for middle class students. My own foray into mechanical typewriters and work with a variety of founders highlights the shortage (and now high cost) in some fields where manual labor is required. Schuyler Velasco offers a fascinating Economy story on manual labor and visits the North Bennet Street School in Boston

Miranda Harter, a 2016 NBSS graduate, worked in retail inventory before enrolling in the school’s jewelry program. She’d be tasked with cataloguing accessories in an online database, mind-numbing work that put what she was missing in her career literally at her fingertips. “I was looking at these beautiful pieces of jewelry come across my desk, and I thought, I want to be making these things,” she remembers.

Ms. Harter now works full-time for a local jeweler in Somerville, and the owner allows her to use the space to make and sell her original pieces. It’s already proven more stable than her old job, which she lost during the Great Recession. “I’m working solid regular hours, I have a weekend, a boss who appreciates me,” she says. “That’s not something I experienced a lot in the retail world. To me, it seems like an honest profession, and more recession-proof. People are always getting married.”

Ms. Fruitman at NBSS says 30 is the average age of the student body, which means an “awful lot” of it is made up of career transitioners like Harter. “They’ve done college or some college, it wasn’t for them, or maybe they’ve even been out there working and realized that whatever it is they’re doing just isn’t satisfying.”

Fruitman is also describing herself. Before becoming a furniture maker, she majored in theater at Emerson College and worked as a photo stylist until the work dried up.

“I was at the point where I really wanted to do something that was tangible,” she says. “I didn’t know you could do this. I went to college because that’s what everybody does. And that’s what I was expected to do.”

Ocejo heard similar stories while profiling barbers, butchers, and high-end cocktail bartenders in Manhattan.

Richard Ocejo, a sociologist and the author of the new “Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy,” is featured in the piece. I am definitely going to download a sample on my Kindle app.