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.

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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.

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FT Rankings – Sneak Peak at Entrepreneurship

The Financial Times will release its 2018 MBA programme rankings at the end of January; they’ve provided a tease on entrepreneurship education (which Stanford University has dominated since this sub ranking began in 2015). From the FT.

Stanford Graduate School of Business has topped the table since 2015. Latest data show that slightly more than a third (36 per cent) of its alumni started a company during orPlease use the sharing tools found via the email icon at the top of articles.

Alumni from Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College (ranked third for entrepreneurship) had the highest proportion — with 52 per cent of its graduates setting up a company.

But overall, appetite for start-up creation seems to have peaked in 2015 when it reached 21 per cent. This was up from 18 per cent in 2013 and 2014. It fell back to 19 per cent in 2016 and 2017. Are start-ups on a downward trend or will they bounce back in 2018?after graduation.

7 Trends for Higher Education in 2018

Lisa M. Rudgers and Julie A. Peterson offer their list of 7 trends that will impact higher education in 2017. Some of the usual suspects in here; from the generic (eroding support for higher education) and expected (reckoning with racist pasts) to the retro (Presidents as intellectual leaders – even a shout out for my President – Angel Cabrera of George Mason)…

From Rudgers and Peterson at Inside Higher Education

Many of us look back fondly on the days of towering public intellectuals like Robert Maynard Hutchins, Father Theodore Hesburgh, Vartan Gregorian, Derek Bok, Chuck Vest and others. In the last decade or more, higher education leaders have appeared reluctant to speak out on issues, perhaps out of concern for angering important stakeholders. But here’s one upside of the turbulence in the past 18 months: the environment has unleashed a new set of highly visible college leaders who know how to use the bully pulpit, and their voices, to advance their principles and institutions.

Some who came from the political arena, such as Janet NapolitanoMitch Daniels and Margaret Spellings, are savvy about the power of a well-placed op-ed. Others — including Ángel CabreraRonald J. DanielsL. Rafael Reif and Robert Zimmer — have tackled an important issue, sometimes enriched by their personal stories. And a growing number of college leaders know how to leverage the power of social media.

What’s ahead: The number of topics important to higher education and worthy of thoughtful commentary will only grow. Fortunately, an explosion of digital media channels will provide leaders with many good avenues to express their ideas. Social media further extends the reach of worthy and interesting commentary.

What to do: Identify topics that are compelling and advance the priorities and mission of the institution. Assemble key ideas, data and examples — and when a moment of news makes the topic relevant, act quickly to provide relevant commentary. Colleges and universities have an obligation — and an opportunity — to foster informed debate and model what civil discourse looks like in 2018. Presidents can avoid political land mines if they stay closely connected to mission, avoid partisan rhetoric and pretest draft language with key alumni, board members and other trusted advisers.

Universities are our Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Everyone is looking for them. We have them already… They function pretty well. My recent paper: The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. From the abstract:

One question that immediately comes to mind when studying ecosystem performance is what the proper unit of analysis is: the country, the state, the city, the region, or something smaller, like an incubator or accelerator? This paper suggests that the open, innovative American frontier that closed at the end of the 20th century has reemerged in the entrepreneurial economy on the U.S. campus. The contemporary campus entrepreneurial ecosystem offers the characteristics of Turner’s frontier: available assets, liberty and diversity while creating opportunity, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. A case study of the University of Chicago explores governance of the campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem and the output produced by that campus ecosystem.