Saturday, September 30, 2006

My view of education or is it a business?

Had an interesting comment to an earlier post

That you want to hold our leaders accountable here at SIU is laudable; that you want to commodify education and model this University on your business experience isn't. Education is a not-for-profit enterprise. You can't quantify how much people learn, or how they grow culturally or spiritually. Choose whatever ridiculous metric you want (SIU tries to use lots!), none measure wisdom. Students are not products. Parents and society are not customers. This isn't a factory.

First of all, what I do for a living is hire and manage software engineers. Mostly they are new college graduates and need to be lead toward a goal of becoming senior software engineers (in later years I have had to do more and more marketing and product creation because that is what really senior engineers do). I spend day after day, week after week, month after month, one on one with these kids. If this seems something like being a professor of computer science and running a big lab of graduate students, it is almost exactly the same thing. Please don't give me this self righteous crap about how no one who isn't in academia can understand academia. It is total nonsense. Next thing you know you will be saying that only farmers should study plants, only drug dealers should study crime. As a matter of fact it is easier to understand academia if you aren't having to do major rationalization about how poorly performing your employer is and by easy logic, how poor your own performance is because of the guilt by association (think about that one for a minute).

I guess you can say that SIU isn't a business, but the word business doesn't matter. The reason to use the terms I use isn't because I want to describe a business, it is because those are the terms and ideas of management and leadership.

Your ideas that SIU isn't a factory is just stupid, of course it is a factory. Students choose from a limited number of majors, a limited number of classes, they must follow rules, going down the same assembly line as defined by the place. Are you thinking that when you become a CS major, you aren't on an assembly line? Each student is unique, but not that much different than all the others around them. Can you quantify students? Of course, professors do this all the time. The big quantification of how professors do this is called a diploma.

Quick note on SIU's assembly line, it is defined by the classes the professors choose to make a student take to earn a major. Each step is somewhat defined by teaching standards, books and materials, by the professors. How is this different than building an assembly line for cars again?

Maybe you are saying that I can't quantify students because I'm not part of the professor priesthood? Or maybe you don't understand my language and you don't want to study leadership and management and see if I'm correct? This blog can't be understood by the kids at SIU, I know it is beyond many professors. You will notice the most interesting commenters here include Jon Bean, a person who studies business? He gets it.

Sometimes in this life I just agree to disagree, but in this case I just can't. If you don't think that SIU is producing a product for society you are plain nuts. SIU produces trained students and research for society/State of Illinois. Society owns the buildings and gives money to get these products. If you want more money from society, do a better job. It isn't a for-profit business, but is sure is a not for profit one.

We have seen that countries that experimented in socialism and communism are failures. Maybe it is time for SIU to stop attempting to be a socialist institution and start performing? I guess it is time to stop slamming on the administrators at SIU (who are truly bad) for a while and move on to the professors who are truly clueless? Stay tuned.


sthorne said...

Maybe it's just me being dense, but I don't see where the above post says or even implies you must be an academic to understand academia. It's saying you can't use business methods to run or quanitfy an academic organization, which is wrong as well.

I agree SIUC should adopt more of a business model. Actually, it has if you think about it. It just doesn't realize it. Education is the product and students are the customers. If the product doesn't offer a relative advantage, the customers go away and buy some oher product, which they have been doing for the past decade. SIUC has foucused more on price and less on quality. Whenever you do that, you open the gate to competition from other universities.

Fraydog said...

Peter in Carbondale said...

I know the comment doesn't only academics can understand academia, but it does imply it. As soon as you say you can't analize using business ideas you have excluded everyone who isn't in academia.

SIUC has adopted more of a business model, the problem is the managers are pretty stupid about business and have screwed it up. Wendler decided to change SIUC very fast, with buildings instead of people and hold no one accountable for their performance. He just doesn't get management and how universities work IMHO. The employees don't believe and so no matter what he must fail.

I get a kick out of Fraydog's post in his blog. There is nothing better than a 20 year old commenting on the big picture of school reputation around the state. I think you would have to start with sample size of more than 3 to draw valid data? If the reputation is so good, why is SIUC's enrollment down and everyone else is up? Must be the complete marketing blackout and nothing else? It is a shame he hasn't traveled yet and seen other places, but he is smart and will have his day.

To his credit Fraydog has done some good work and has a valid point. Wendler hasn't read "Good to Great" and doesn't understand what a type 5 leader is. Only when Wendler and Poshard can figure out how to become great leaders does the university have a chance. I have hope for Poshard, but none for Wendler.

Anonymous said...

(1) Commenter #1 above is correct. I never said that you can't understand academia if you aren't an academic. There is some truth to that statement, but I never said it.

(2) If you're going to grouse about your expertise, allow me mine. I have taught here, have worked in other areas of the university, and am trying to finish a dissertation and move on. I don't pretend to know how to run a business. Allow that I might know a bit more about university operations than you. [Hint -- hiring and teaching are two completely different things, and require two completely different means of evaluation.]

(3) The fundamental problem in your argument is the metaphor. What happens when we begin to consider our students as products? The university as an 'assembly line?' We get the mass commodification of education that we see today. Students think that they pay their tuition, so they're entitled to an A. They refuse to do the work, but they demand that A. Why not just put the diploma into a vending machine and allow them to skip classes and get the sheepskin? This is the effect of the 'student as product' notion -- students think they're entitled to something that they used to have to earn.

(4) This leads to your final paragraph. You and I agree that the university needs to perform. But I think we disagree on how that is to be. We need to raise standards. We need to stop obsessing over the damned football team. We need to invest in education and demand results from our students. The problem is that these results culminate in wisdom and personal betterment, not job preparation. The turn towards vocationalism betrays the purpose of the university.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Have you not been reading this blog? I haven't called for higher standards and the end to student popularity contests for job reviews? You haven't met my father? You don't think I know more about how SIU is managed than the whole bunch of you? If you are going to bitch, please at least figure out what you are bitching about before you start. Go back to the beginning of this blog and read all the entries, it will help you understand.

You have worked at SIU and taught here? Let me tell you, that and $.75 will buy you a can of coke. Go read "Good to Great" and come back and complain at me with some framework instead of SIU vs. Gameboy that you are currently working. If you are 30 and have never traveled the world and worked at SIU for years you know nothing. I'll say it again, SIU students who have never worked out in the world know nothing about management. This blog isn't aimed at you because you know nothing yet.

You have no clue what is out there in the world, Carbondale doesn't offer much. This is a place to escape from with a sheepskin and a platform of learning to grow with. Have you read the business mags? This is a safe backwater and that is all. People are doing big and great things out in the world.

The biggest sin in your life would be if you didn't greatly improve in the next 20 years. You don't think you are maxed out on knowledge do you? Imagine if you worked harder than everyone else, were more successful than almost everyone else, if you really focused on learning, what could you become?

I can't do angel investing in Southern Illinois and I don't want to be looking at my life in 5 years and wonder why I haven't gotten better or made the world a better place. This is a valid way to help improve my world. People seem to be getting something out of it. As soon as it is a waste of time I'll stop.

Good luck and for goodness sake, stop thing you are anything but untapped potential. There are lots of people like me out in the workforce that are so much better than you are, you can't even understand the divide yet.

Anonymous said...

You sure are angry. Jeez.

Seeing as you don't know who I am, let me assure you that (1) I have worked outside of the academy and (2) I'm certainly not from around here.

Your success in riding the dot com bubble doesn't grant you omniscience. Do you want dialogue that runs in both directions, or do you want to continue your onastic rants?

Anonymous said...

By the way, as I reread comment #1, my point is not that you can't use business methods to 'fix' academia. Obviously, you can, and especially in terms of finances, you should. My concern is that things get very dangerous when we push the metaphor too far.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I'm not angry, I just think you aren't very smart and a waste of my time. I'm blowing you off. :)

You are right, being successful isn't the reason I know more than you. My success was based on luck, but only by being unbelievably good and working very, very hard do you have a chance to be as lucky as I was. "The harder I work the luckier I get," is the phase you should be repeating to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Money doesn't buy class, I suppose. Too bad. As I leave, so does 1/3 of your readership.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Sometimes it is better to actually read the blog posts before commenting. It isn't fair to filter my writings through your issues and claim I'm wrong based on a scrambled view.

I was thinking you were about half of the readership, not 1/3? I guess I'll never make payroll around here now. :)