Columbia prof Mark Taylor has a piece in this morning's NY Timesadvocating that it is time to end the university as we know it. Couldn't agree more! I don't buy all his points but his message isright that universities demand a drastic overhaul conceptually and bureaucratically.
Tenure? We gotta keep it---but in the present form? Probably not. Here's the url for Taylor's piece. My one regret is that it is a bitRip Van Winklish in not recognizing that HASTAC and many otherorganizations dedicated to changing institutions of learning have been working on this for decades. Change is happeningeverywhere around him--although, sadly, not so much in the elite humanities departments that he is familiar with. He's hardly the first or the most exciting onthis matter of educational change but his essay is worth reading and so are the hundreds of comments, some of them wise and some just plain angry in all directions: http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2009/04/27/opinion/27taylo...
Incidentally, in a very interesting new book, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, Jeff Howe makes the fascinating argument that one reason crowdsourcing works is because of the worldwide "overeducation of the middle-class." In the U.S., that means 63% of those who graduate from high school go on to post-secondary degrees. He says this is a GREAT thing for the digital world and that crowdsourcing exists because most undergraduates still receive a general liberal arts education, with 50% of courses still being electives nationally, and that makes for the kind of flexible, intellectual curiosity not only needed for the twenty-first century but that is also the lifeline of crowdsourcing. He argues that most people have abundant interests and passions not fed by their jobs and so they are excited to contribute their intellectual labor to crowdsourcing activities that are more nourishing than their jobs. He's all for it, and is a huge advocate for undergraduate education that emphasizes problem solving in the Big Think theoretical, probing, nurturant way.
On the other hand, he is as cynical about professional training as I am, not just in the humanities and arts but all across the sciences, computational sciences, engineering. He makes the fascinating point that it isn't just MFA's in art who find themselves supporting themselves in other ways than by being artists supported by their galleries. There are more Ph.D.'s in astrophysics doing investment banking than astrophysics. And he, again, would say that is a good thing for investment banking and crowdsourcing . . . although probably exactly the wrong thing for astrophysics in the sense that specialized training there can overspecialize one's way of seeing the world, making one replicate a profession rather than trained to make new discoveries that radically expand that profession.
The professionalization of the post-Humboldtian university led to the professionalization and narrowing of disciplines. Howe talks about the 19th century's passion for "botanism" and how, in 1897, when botany becomes an official field, the professional botanists worked to have "nature studies" eliminatd from the curriculum of undergraduates and the whole amateur passion disappeared. He argues that crowdsourcing brings back loving and involved amateurism again, with the result that crowdsourcing projects such as the ornithological project by Cornell or Galazy Zoo by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey are making huge scientific strides that professional scientists can't even see. Professionalization makes one blind to larger issues, insular, and peer review can make one timid. Crowdsourcing makes anyone and everyone who knows something be a peer, subject to review by other peers.
What if we crowdsourced peer review for tenure? How's that for an interesting idea? Or at least an interesting provocation.
David TheoGoldberg and I have a book coming out this fall from MIT Press, The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age... It touches on a number of these ideas, taking much further than Mark Taylor does some of the ideas he proposes in his NY Times op ed: http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2009/04/27/opinion/27taylo....
If you hate this piece, you will really hate the new book David TheoGoldberg and I have coming out this fall from MIT Press, The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.
Here's the url for the research paper (condensed version) of the forthcoming book: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11841