Fantastic reply to an idiotic decision

Gregory Petsko’s letter to George M. Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany is a wonderfully biting critique on much of what is wrong with today’s attitudes toward higher education and universities in the USA. See here, for example.

If college is neither a luxury good nor an investment, what is it?

How about this? A university is a unique human institution participating in the cooperative discovery and preservation of knowledge, not for exploitation for financial gain, but for ameliorating the human condition.

Why do so many people think that university is just a place of teaching?

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Fantastic reply to an idiotic decision

  1. So you think learning a foreign language should still be mandatory to get a PhD? (Not a rhetorical question.)
    Philip also seems to contradict himself. First claims that “the vast majority of humanity cannot handle freedom” (and thus, liberal art class should be mandatory for science and engineering students), and in the next paragraph he criticize the president for being authoritarian.
    Here is an iteresting discussion about the meaning and future of Universities:
    http://bit.ly/mRrasW

    Like

  2. Dear Alejandro,
    Thank you for your comments.
    I don’t think satisfying course requirements has anything to do with earning a PhD. A PhD is about research, not taking X many credits in Y disciplines. Where is it mandatory to learn a foreign language as part of an engineering PhD degree?
    I don’t read that contradiction into Petsko’s letter, and I don’t see Petsko saying humanity cannot handle freedom, and thus … . Petsko says one duty of faculty at a university is as teachers and mentors to people who are naive about the world, and may not see the relevance of, e.g., history, mathematics, science, the arts, etc. Petsko calls out Philip’s unilateral behavior in making a decision that deeply affected the entire university without giving much chance for discussion and debate. There is no contradiction.
    I agree with Lipton’s points (http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/an-educational-extinction-event/). Preservation, research and innovation for humanity, not for profit, is what should be the main purpose of a university; and university certainly has the advantage there over, e.g., businesses that have financial obligations, and that are not for bettering humanity.
    Eckel’s gross caricature of university (or higher education) (http://www.artima.com/weblogs/viewpost.jsp?thread=265829) bears no resemblance to my experience of any university of which I have been a part. He makes every university out to be some grand religious conspiracy, a one-sided game, designed to make as much profit as possible. He throws out the baby with the bath water with such statements as, “Again and again, studies show that lecturing is just about the worst way to transfer information.” First of all, citation needed; second of all, that is not my experience; third of all, the “roadblock of traditional learning” — -whatever “traditional learning” is — probably has more to do with people not willing to put the time into learning something difficult than with the mode of delivery of knowledge. Eckel reminds me of a student claiming, “I didn’t do well on the test because you didn’t make me want to learn the subject.”

    Like

  3. “I don’t think satisfying course requirements has anything to do with earning a PhD. A PhD is about research, not taking X many credits in Y disciplines.”
    But that’s what Petsko propose: to increase the number of students in the liberal arts departments by forcing science and engineering students to take classes there.
    “Where is it mandatory to learn a foreign language as part of an engineering PhD degree?”
    It used to be in the US. Sorry, I don’t have a citation :) The closest I found is this:
    http://bit.ly/mePJzj (see second and third comment)
    “I don’t see Petsko saying humanity cannot handle freedom”
    I think that’s what he is saying on the fourth paragraph. Or at least he explicitly says: “Young people haven’t, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom”
    “Eckel’s gross caricature of university (or higher education) bears no resemblance to my experience”
    Caricature is sometimes a valid rhetorical device. I tend to agree with some of his points. While I find difficult to imagine teaching calculus in an open-space setup, I do think that the eyes-forward format for teaching things like programming is not good.
    Isn’t some of the things that Eckel suggest similar to the the teaching style at Aalborg?
    “Eckel reminds me of a student claiming, “I didn’t do well on the test because you didn’t make me want to learn the subject.””
    This is kind of topic, but that last part remind me of this:
    http://bit.ly/lWPtui

    Like

  4. I don’t see Petsko talking about PhD students, even implicitly since the proportion of undergradute students to PhD students is huge. Anyhow, Petsko is first and foremost advocating a more responsible and inclusive leadership on the part of the management.
    During my master’s degrees and PhD in the US, I was not required to take any courses outside the departments. And once during my PhD I was advised to not take any courses at all — just focus on research.
    Those student classifications (http://bit.ly/lWPtui) are great! I have taught a few “snipers” before. :)

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s