OK, enough of the navel-gazing woe-is-me I-have-the-sniffles foolishness already. I’m supposed to be doing work here.
Derek Bok (interesting link on race, admissions, and SATs) cites Veblen’s remark that “the ideals of scholarship are yielding ground, in an uncertain and varying degree before the pressure of businesslike exigencies” (Veblen 139, qtd. in Bok 18), pointing me once again back towards someone who I probably really ought to read. He then contrasts the supposed efficiency of the corporation to the “anarchy” of academe, but notes that despite the apparent administrative weaknesses common to “American research universities”, “they are the best in the world at what they do” (21), and details many of the non-market motivations that drive professors. The difficulty I have here with Bok’s reasoning is that he still predicates everything upon the rational and competitive actions of individual actors, whether those actors be professors or students. Is rational and individualistic competition really the only thing that makes universities good? Bok himself notes that “the ethos of the university keeps [administrators] from earning sums remotely comparable to those of top business leaders” (24): so apparently, university administrators are not the rational profit-maximizing beings familiar to us from neoclassical economics. While I don’t disagree with Bok that universities could benefit from more efficient governance, and even that they might learn some things from corporations about efficiency, it strikes me as odd that he seems to miss his own point that universities, unlike corporations, do not hold as their primary mission the wholesale pursuit of ever-increasing efficiency. In universities, there are things more important than efficiency.
Interestingly, Bok uses his thoughts on efficiency to arrive at the conclusion that “very few universities make a serious, systematic effort to study their own teaching, let alone try to assess how much their students learn or to experiment with new methods of instruction” (26). I’ll point out here that, to the best of my knowledge, composition is a rare discipline in the amount of devotion it gives to pedagogy. From personal experience, I know the lit side of English doesn’t do half the thinking about teaching that composition does. Classics doesn’t devote much disciplinary thought to pedagogy; neither, to judge by the journals I’ve waded through this semester, does economics. (Check out Brad DeLong’s wonderful post on math problems, and note what he has to say about reading and writing. Is there a pedagogical connection here?) What about other disciplines? And, finally: are better ways of teaching always necessarily more efficient — or are there better ways to characterize them?