Monday, June 22, 2009

The Un-iversity

The Un-iversity

Once in a while, my dream of starting an un-iversity comes back to "haunt" me. After over thirty years at a regular university (Tel Aviv University), I am aware of the shortcomings of ordinary academia.

1. The students are degree-oriented. The want to take a course, get a y average, to get a degree in z.

2. Teaching is mostly mediocre. This is because the teachers are paid primarily to do research and don't care that much about giving inspiring lectures. Often they give the same lecture over and over again for decades.

3. The university usually discourages lateral thinking among faculty. This is because universities are arranged according to disciplines, faculties and departments. You become a professor in a specific area (microbiology in my case) and are pigeonholed to teach and research in that field your whole career. Focusing, on the other hand, is highly encouraged.

4. Many of the most intelligent and successful people on the planet never finished university, let alone completed a Ph.D. No matter how motivating, enlightening, and innovative they are, they would never get a research or teaching appointment at a good school.

5. University courses are structured. They have predetermined programs, specific curricula, have course outlines, etc.

6. Universities often prize and teach so-called "knowledge", rather than the paths and processes of mental development.

7. Universities tend to elect officers who believe in routine and resist change

8. Universities tend to accept students who do well in routine examinations under routine conditions.

So, what would an un-iversity be? I am not sure, but we could share a few thoughts.

1. It would prize innovation and lateral thinking.

2. The emphasis would not be on obtaining marks or a degree.

3. The faculty would me more interested in sharing thoughts and enthusiasm than making a salary.

4. Innovation, creativity, curiosity are words that would be commonly used.

5. The students would make a difference.

6. Not all the teachers would be required to have advanced degrees, though some of their students might.

In my next blog:things I would like to learn that no one is teaching.

1 comment:

elis blues said...

I would add one more point regarding the nature of universities - they want the students to believe that they cannot change the system or the status quo. If you are a regular undergrad Biology major who wants to take a Physiology course in the medical school, they will tell you "it can't be done". But if you petition a few professors and the faculties involved long enough, they might be able to make and exception.
The administration does not like exceptions or unusual requests, and therefore, much like the army, they give everyone the impression that nothing can be changed.

When I was at university in Canada, the majority of committees at the university would not allow students to gain 50% or more of the seats on a committee so that they could never present a majority that could make a real change. In addition, most appointed positions at the university were 5 year terms, which is one year longer than the average student spends at the institution, in other words, it's very difficult for a student to follow through to the end on changes that they may have instigated...