Universities and a Social Contract

It’s frustrating doing graduate work, for many reasons. Right now, the frustration is with the ways the system functions. (Note: I almost used the word “work,” but I reconsidered since it doesn’t always work.)

Higher education places the most importance on sustaining itself. This makes sense, with a clear nod toward evolutionary thinking and strategic planning for one’s perpetuation. But that self-sustaining attitude comes at a cost, and for higher education, that cost deals with who it prepares and how it prepares them.

The “who” of this equation is best discussed in Declining by Degrees, especially focusing on the disservice done to poorer students and adjunct-ing professors. The “how” is more complex. Research gets funding, so of course universities focus their efforts there, and not in teaching. This is a problem, discussed ad nauseum.

The bigger problem, for me, and the source of my current frustration, is in how the university prepares me to go into the academic workforce. I don’t see myself as a major researcher, but more as a teacher. Or, maybe even in an alternate academic career, such as librarianship. These are not the routes that my advisor (or most advisors at a university) took, so the guidance given isn’t as helpful as it might be if I saw academic research as my primary career goal.

If universities want to be self-perpetuating, they need to consider that all aspects of the university are important, and not just the parts that bring in money. Teachers, researchers, and support staff comprise the whole of the institution. When the three parts are given relatively equal importance, and when students are able to work in any one of them, then the social contract of preparing students for work is fulfilled.

About j.d.grunert

Historian, Science and Technology Studier, Librarian, Academish
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