When publish or perish bumps up against pedagogy – Part II:

Part II: Academia’s other mission: the race to publish or perish

In Part I of this series, I outlined why skyrocketing tuition costs didn’t seem to square with the cost of actually educating students.   The second part of this series deals with “other” mission of academia and how this side of the equation may account in good part for the increased costs.

The bifurcation of the academic mission.

There is, of course, an unspoken truth here. That unspoken truth, too horrible to utter is that much of these escalating costs have nothing to do with pedagogy.  We must never forget that the function of  the university system is bifurcated.

The part that most parents think of when they are sending their children off to college is pedagogy.  They are paying big bucks to get their child the best training that money can buy.  They have a vision of their children occupying lecture halls being taught by some of the greatest minds of the day.  This may have been so “back in the day”. But these days that is rarely the case on the undergraduate level because of academias increased emphasis on their second primary function.

This second function has to do with providing the faculty with the opportunities they need to further their research, to produce publications, to do  things like apply for grants to do research, conduct research,  publish papers and  write books.

Academic research occupies a  pivotal place in American “exceptionalism”.

These activities serve two purposes.  Most importantly they drive R&D with a continuous flow of basic research which could not be done in the for-profit private sector.  This supplies American people with a steady stream of discovery and has been driving the  engine of American “exceptionalism” since the start of the 20th century.  Much of what we take for granted today in the form of technology from the benefits of the human genome project to the origins of the internet had their seed corn planted in basic academic research.  From the institutions standpoint publications and R&D burnish the schools reputation as Mecca for excellence, driving more students to their doors on the undergraduate and graduate levels.


There is, of course, a downside.

This can create a vicious circle of sorts:  The more R&D The  better the school, and the more funding it is likely to get both in the form of tuition and grants.  The cycle requires ever increasing amounts of input and  output creating an engine that must turn faster and faster with each passing year.  No matter how much these universities have, they seem to need more.

Several issues immediately rear their ugly heads:

1.  This can get very, very expensive.  Facilities to attract the few faculty that are high on the pecking order takes big bucks and is probably part and parcel of the increased costs to students.

2.  The “publish or perish” attitude that this instills in faculty wishing to get onto or stay on the tenure track means that their students are going to get short-shrift at best. At the worst they will be ignored or/and exploited.

3.  This engine also contributes to the relentless commoditization of  the student and the lower faculty who do the actual teaching at the undergraduate level.   Adjuncts are being substituted for tenured professors who are highly paid, but rarely step foot inside a classroom.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon the system we have in place altogether.  On the contrary, with R&D at the academic level getting cut to the bone by the public sector, major cutbacks would be disastrous.  This is also but one of many issues afflicting academia.

What I am suggesting is that we have to take an honest look at where the money is going and why.  When we actually do the work we will probably see that a part of the problem is an imbalance between the dual missions of academia and that this imbalance is contributing to the skyrocketing tuition costs along with a lower standard of pedagogy.  By analogy, we might think of it along the lines of the 99% movement.  Where the 99% are the students and teaching faculty facing higher costs and fewer services and the research and publication arm of the system representing the 1% that get the lions share of the resources.

In other words, we  have yet another system that is broken.

© 2013 – RGHicks – http://reinnovatingamerica.com – All rights reserved.

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