HomeOn Higher EducationThe Problem with the University: A Response –Tim Loreman


The Problem with the University: A Response –Tim Loreman — 1 Comment

  1. Dr. Loreman makes a compelling case to maximize student choice by minimizing requirement-specificity within university degree programs. Without repeating my own posts, I offer the following reiterations, comments, and concessions:

    1) Most university graduates work in careers not requiring detailed knowledge of their undergraduate major.
    2) Exposure to a wide variety of disciplines, on the other hand, is enormously beneficial to individuals and our society:
    a. Their lives are enriched and they acquire a greater breadth of understanding and skills.
    b. They are exposed to a diversity of perspectives.
    c. They are better-prepared for an increasingly diverse and rapidly-changing world.
    d. They are better-prepared for fundamental career-changes which they may choose or may be forced upon them.
    e. They acquire a breadth-of-understanding better-preparing them to function effectively as citizens in the shared (democratic) governance of our society.

    3) ‘Liberal’ education, simpliciter, rather than ‘Liberal Arts’ education is a more accurate term for what I defend; it includes exposure to things outside ‘the Arts:’ biology, physics, mathematics . . .

    4) Such broad education—by exposure to a variety of disciplines—is not optional for Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees; in contrast with ‘Bachelor of [specific discipline]’ degrees, breadth of studies it is part of the very definition of these degrees.

    5) Universities have done a very poor job of articulating the value of such an education.
    6) BA and BSc programs have also done a poorer job than they could at developing and articulating clearly-marketable, job-ready skills.

    7) Many of the most prestigious universities still require substantial and specific general education programs to a) develop students’ general skills and b) develop their breadth of understanding.
    a. Many more students seek admission to these schools than the schools can admit—because the students, and others, know that they will receive an excellent education.
    b. Less prestigious schools do not have this privilege and may have to accommodate greater student choice in order to compete for students.
    c. But how, then, do they build their own reputation for delivering an excellent education?

    8) Smaller institutions cannot offer the breadth-of-choice that larger institutions can, and they lack the faculty and resources to offer great specialization.

    9) Degree programs unavoidably require students to do things they’d rather not—to help them acquire the knowledge, skills, and attributes that are the purpose of the program.
    10) Students are typically often grateful for having been required to do these things—because a) their lives have been enriched, often in unexpected ways, and b) what they have acquired is now invaluable to them.

    11) Professors often seek to minimize general education requirements so that they can maximize the requirements in their own discipline—trading one restriction on student choice for others, and effectively preventing broad education.

    12) Attempting to deliver specific outcomes without specific course requirements can run afoul of one of the great successes and values of universities: subject-matter expertise; the various things taught are taught by experts in those various areas.
    a. E.g., Ethics is a sub-discipline of philosophy. Embedding ethical considerations only within courses taught by professors in other disciplines means these considerations only being led by non-experts, when, in fact, experts are available “down the hall.”

    In conclusion:

    13) Perhaps to effectively compete for students some universities must maximize student choice and minimize specificity of requirements.
    14) These universities nevertheless have an obligation to
    a. articulate the value of a broad education,
    b. make it available to their students and recommend it,
    c. make at least a rudimentary broad-education component part of their first-degree programs—at the very least so that the students will “know what they don’t know,”
    d. not design their programs in such a way that students are effectively prevented (by specialization requirements) from getting a high-quality liberal education should they choose it.

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