12 October 2009

Another business failure, part 2.

I thought I might follow up my post on the bankruptcy of the business model as applied to education with a little more bankruptcy of the business model as applied to education. After all, I was only able to address the overuse of adjunct labor as a cost-savings measure -- that is, the increasing casualization of the faculty. From a business model perspective, the faculty are more or less obstacles to the university, because they demand things like sabbaticals, travel and research grants, and are always trying to get the library to order things like books and journals. All of which, in the administration's opinion, are not terribly related to packing 35 students into survey courses that only exist because of some quaint notion that universities are supposed to produce well-rounded individuals, which by the way is my second point.

The business model hates the core curriculum, which is not to say that the business model doesn't find a use for the core curriculum.

The core curriculum -- that nebulous thing that goes under the name of general education requirements and in my long ago days of undergraduate triumph and tragedy, baccalaureate degree requirements -- is one of the things that keeps humanities departments in business in the corporate university. Since there are far fewer English and history and philosophy majors than there used to be (percentage-wise), the core is one of the only times the bulk of undergraduates come into contact with these "useless" disciplines that don't seem to have any relation to their ability to figure up spreadsheets or create colorful pie graphs for business meetings. In other words, these core courses lie outside the job-training major classes that the students, thinking that they'll forever be doing some static job in one field, crave. It therefore provides these humanities and hard sciences departments (although research dollars often save hard sciences the scrutiny and disdain afforded the humanities) with influence and faculty numbers that administrators find altogether disproportional to their importance in making the university money.

To the business model, the core is a somewhat necessary evil, because it's the most visible vestige of the fact that the school is more of a college and not simply a trade school. In other words, the core is a useful image improving tool, a marketable commodity in that it makes the degree a bit more prestigious than one from DeVry or most schools with "technical" in their name (with of course notable exceptions).

The core's other main use for the administration is to divide and conquer. By monkeying around with the core -- and what by the way could be further from the administration's purview than core education -- the administration generally maintains a constant state of infighting and distrust among departments, all of whom are scared they'll lose their slice of core pie and therefore are more concerned with protecting turf than getting together to demand a bigger pie.

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