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Tertiary Education: three models

4 May 2010

A few years ago, when I was working at the University of South Africa, I went with a colleague to listen to a lecture by a visiting professor or docent (I can’t remember now whether “docent” was his name or his academic title) from the Open University of the Netherlands. I noted in my diary at the time

[He] spoke on management of distance education universities. What he said was both exciting and alarming. He said that there were three types of universities – the professorial, the democratic and the managerial, and he favoured the third, especially for distance education. He advocated a strong top-down management style that was both decisive and flexible. Some of the things he said sounded positively fascist, though when he said the university needed to be more market driven, I tended to agree – too much of what is taught is based more on what the lecturers want to teach rather than what the students want to learn, and to that extent Unisa is “professorial”. But there is a fourth category he seems to have ignored – the bureaucratic university, and Unisa was more bureaucratic than “professorial” in the old days. Management was top-down, and that was precisely the problem.

At that time Unisa (the University of South Africa) was talking a great deal about “transformation”. Unisa as a distance-education university had been shaped entirely within the apartheid era and the apartheid system, and so this lecture was part of the attempt to find a new model.

The visiting professor (or docent) represented a trend that had apparently swept the Western academic world as a result of the Reagan-Thatcher years of the 1980s, when the “free market” was in vogue, and neoliberalism was punted as the solution to every problem. I suspect, however, that his idea of “market-driven” may have been slightly different from mine. I think for him it meant that the university should become a profit-driven institution, and that the main task of the management should be to maximise profits. For me it meant that the “customers” of the university were the students, and that the university should, at least to some extent, enable students to learn what they wanted to learn, rather than simply the pet hobby horses of the professors. I believed that in the 1970s to 1990s Unisa was actually perpetrating fraud in the courses produced by the education faculty (who had a captive market of teachers who wanted to improve their qualifications) and produced absolute rubbish, based on a pseudo-scientific theory called “fundamental pedagogics”. Because it was taught nowhere else in the world, the professors also wrote their own text books, and maximised their profits by making them compulsory and forcing the students to buy them.

I’ve been out of Unisa for a while now, and am not au fait with the current academic politics, but it seems to me that the Dutch professor was speaking of something that was the subject of a world-wide debate, and I was reminded of it when I read about an instance in a small American college that seemed to bring some of these issues into sharper focus. You can tead about it at A Little College Scores a Big Victory

Shimer College, the “Great Books College of Chicago,” has just thwarted a hostile takeover attempt and fired its president.

The small liberal arts school has weathered numerous crises since its founding in 1853, but it has never come as close to destruction as during the last few months, when newly hired president Thomas Lindsay packed the Board of Trustees with 13 additional members who had a different agenda in mind for the college. With the support of his narrow majority on the augmented Board, Lindsay initiated an increasingly dictatorial administration, contemptuously challenging Shimer’s tradition of shared governance and intimating that faculty and staff who did not go along with his program would soon be obliged to seek employment elsewhere. Investigation by concerned students and alums revealed the extreme right-wing background of all the new Board members and of Lindsay himself, as well as the fact that most of them were closely tied to a very wealthy anonymous donor.

It seems that what nearly happened at Shimer College was the kind of thing being advocated by the Dutch professor for Unisa, and possibly other universities as well. It isn’t new; it has been going on for a long time, and in part forms the plot of C.S. Lewis’s novel The hideous strength. So anyone concerned about higher education, or indeed any education, might find that story of Shimer College interesting. Perhaps it is a paradigm case.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard Fairhead permalink
    5 May 2010 8:50 pm

    Steve

    “too much of what is taught is based more on what the lecturers want to teach rather than what the students want to learn”

    I find that an interesting thought. Though agreeing with you in principle (OK, I never went to University, but found this to be true at school) I wonder how the average student knows what they want to or need to learn.

    I’ll give you two examples from my school career: I hated differentiation in maths and thought it pointless and would have said that I didn’t need to know that. However, I found in my professional life I use the principle of that, but not the detail on a regular basis since its the first order differential of the curve of a graph that is the gamma on a TV camera. Even Adobe Photoshop for picture correction uses the first order differential of the curve for the gamma for correcting photos. I didn’t want to learn this, but I find it useful that I did learn it.

    The second is also from maths (you can tell I hated maths at school) and that is the square root of minus one. Mathematicians attach the letter i to represent the square root of minus one, since it is not a real number. They then do calculations bases upon this number that doesn’t exist in real life. The day they introduced that concept was the day I gave up on Maths (even though I did get an A level in Maths!). I have never needed or ever seen the need for that since I left school.

    So the question remains for me, how does the student know what they do or do not need to know?

    • 6 May 2010 1:08 pm

      Yes, it is true that not everyone goes to school or university knowing what they want to or need to learn, and part of the responsibility of teachers is to show you what there is to learn, and how to learn.

      We once had a lecturer from a teacher training college speak to our church youth group, most of them in high school, aged 13-17. He began by asking them to define intelligence. After they had given him their definitions, he gave his: Intelligence is what you do when you don’t know what to do.

      That was back in the apartheid era, when the syllabus in government schools was designed to make kids into obedient servants of the state and the official ideology. And he then said to the kids: no one can teach you something you don’t want to learn. Yes, the system is bad, and there is plenty wrong with the schools, but you need to set your own educational goals, decide what it is you want or need to learn, and discover how you can exploit the system, bad as it is, to achieve your goals.

      In the theology faculty at the University of South Africa, many students took Biblical Studies. Why? Some were going to be teachers, and in the days when Biblical Studies was a recognised (and compulsory) school subject, it was seen as an easy option. But others were people who wanted to be engaged in some kind of Christian ministry. They wanted to know more about the Bible in order to be able to teach about it. But the university courses were useless to anyone with that objective. They were aimed at a “scientific” study of the Bible, on the assumption that all the students were going to graduate and become biblical critics and teach higher and lower criticism to other university students who couldn’t care less about it.

      One student I knew, who started off all keen and enthusiastic and wanted to major in Old and New Testament, became disillusioned when he was asked, in his first year, to write an essay about the literary genres of Exodus. That wouldn’t help him to preach a sermon on it. As a 3rd-year assignment, maybe OK, for those who might be thinking of going on to post-graduate studies. but it really wasn’t stuff he was desperately eager to know. It was the hobby horse of the lecturers, though. Eventually he switched his majors to Missiology and Church History.

  2. Richard Fairhead permalink
    5 May 2010 9:03 pm

    I guess I should add that ‘The Hideous Strength’ is one of my favourite books and I long to be able to make Lewis’s science fiction trilogy into a very updated Arabic film trilogy.

    I would have said that it is a very minor aspect of the plot of the book.

    The three books, to my mind, form a plot trilogy: God vs Satan in an old world, God vs Satan in a new world and the third one God vs Satan in this world.

    My perception is that in ‘The Hideous Strength’ the plot surrounds a secret society – was Lewis referring to the Masons without mentioning them by name? – and the backdrop is the college, rather than being part of the plot per se. Would be interested to know your thoughts.

    Richard

    • 6 May 2010 1:26 pm

      Remember, though, that Lewis was an academic, and his entire career was spent in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He was well-versed in academic politics, in-fighting, ambition and jockeying for position. That hideous strength reflects that experience, and the experiece of Mark reflects that of many other junior but ambitious academics. You find the same in other fields as well — those who control an organisation and manipulate its members.

      For Lewis, a university was a community of scholars — students and lecturers alike. But in That hideous strength the bad guys want to exploit it for purposes of their own, just was was happening at Shimer College. And, if you want another example, just look at the saga of the SPCK Bookshops in the UK, which were likewise subjected to a hostile take over. Lewis then goes on to show the spirit behind such takeovers. And I very much doubt whether he would approved of the kind of “market-driven” model advocated by the Dutch professor, or those who took over Shimer College, or the SPCK Bookshops.

      I

  3. 5 May 2010 9:51 pm

    From Patrick Henry Moorehead’s 1983 Loyola University of Chicago thesis, THE SHIMER COLLEGE PRESIDENCY: 1930 to 1980, p. 19 – 21:

    …it is important to examine four major models of governance in higher education today as a background for understanding the role of the presidents and board of trustees at Shimer College; the governance practices exercised at Shimer; and the dynamics of decision making at the college.
    The four governance models are each unique and have their own characteristics which set them apart from one another. Yet, in college administration it is seldom the case that a pure form of a particular model is found in operation. The models exist along a cross-continuum with the collegial model at the top of a vertical continuum and the bureacratic model at the bottom (see figure 1.) On the horizontal continuum lies the poliitical model at one extreme and the organized anarchy model at the other extreme. It is possible and highly likely that the models of governance in effect on a college campus will overlap. For example, Baldridge (1971) felt that the political model was more representative of an academic community and is always in existence on a college campus. But the governance of the college can also have either bureaucratic or collegial characteristics depending on the leadership exercised by the chief executive officer. The models are constantly in flux and subject to change depending on the circumstances or eventsconfronting the administration of the academic community. More often than not, a blend of governance models always exists on any particular college campus at any point in time. The chief executive officer establishes the tone and controls and thus keeps the community from slipping into a state of organized anarchy which is characterized by leaderless confusion inpurpose and decision making.

    ………………….COLLEGIAL………………….
    …………………….MODEL…………………….
    ………………………..|………………………..
    ………………………..|………………………..
    ………………………..|…………. ORGANIZED-
    POLITICAL…………|……………. ANARCHY
    _______________|________________……
    MODEL……………….|………………… MODEL
    …………………………|…………………………
    …………………………|…………………………
    …………………………|…………………………
    ……………….BUREAUCRATIC…………………
    …………………….MODEL……………………..

    Figure 1. The models of governance exist along a
    continuum, and the model operating on
    a college campus is a blend of two or
    more models rather than one pure form
    of a model.

  4. 5 May 2010 9:59 pm

    From Patrick Henry Moorehead’s 1983 Loyola University of Chicago thesis, THE SHIMER COLLEGE PRESIDENCY: 1930 to 1980, p. 19 – 21:

    …it is important to examine four major models of governance in higher education today as a background for understanding the role of the presidents and board of trustees at Shimer College; the governance practices exercised at Shimer; and the dynamics of decision making at the college.
    The four governance models are each unique and have their own characteristics which set them apart from one another. Yet, in college administration it is seldom the case that a pure form of a particular model is found in operation. The models exist along a cross-continuum with the collegial model at the top of a vertical continuum and the bureacratic model at the bottom (see figure 1.) On the horizontal continuum lies the poliitical model at one extreme and the organized anarchy model at the other extreme. It is possible and highly likely that the models of governance in effect on a college campus will overlap. For example, Baldridge (1971) felt that the political model was more representative of an academic community and is always in existence on a college campus. But the governance of the college can also have either bureaucratic or collegial characteristics depending on the leadership exercised by the chief executive officer. The models are constantly in flux and subject to change depending on the circumstances or eventsconfronting the administration of the academic community. More often than not, a blend of governance models always exists on any particular college campus at any point in time. The chief executive officer establishes the tone and controls and thus keeps the community from slipping into a state of organized anarchy which is characterized by leaderless confusion inpurpose and decision making.

    ………………COLLEGIAL………………….
    ………………..MODEL………………………
    ……………………|……………………………
    ……………………|………………………..
    ……………………|…………. ORGANIZED-
    POLITICAL……|……………. ANARCHY
    ____________|________________……
    MODEL…………|………………… MODEL
    ……………………|…………………………
    ……………………|…………………………
    ……………………|…………………………
    ……………BUREAUCRATIC…………………
    …………………MODEL……………………..

    Figure 1. The models of governance exist along a
    continuum, and the model operating on
    a college campus is a blend of two or
    more models rather than one pure form
    of a model.

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