Today, we held a noontime round table to watch a short video from “Conversations from Penn State” with Sir Ken Robinson on creativity and education. Some of you may have seen his TED talk on education reform, and this video covered similar territory. We had a handful of Schreyer people in attendance, as well as faculty and advisers. A few interesting topics were discussed after the video, one being discovery majors. Our Division of Undergraduate Studies does a fantastic job helping students identify good majors, but we were discussing more the idea of faculty and advisers encouraging students to go outside of a discipline track if they aren’t happy, and try and discover majors on their own. For instance, even within a College, a student might not be encouraged to enroll in courses that are somewhat tangential to her own major. But, by doing so the student might discover she is much more excited and engaged in the tangential subject.
Coincidentally, when I came back to my desk after listening to Sir Ken and talking about education reform, I had a chance to finally read an interview titled “What’s Wrong With the American University System“, an interview with Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, authors of Higher Education? The interview, and likely the book, paint a bleak picture of higher education across America, specifically in the area of undergraduate teaching. The authors specifically address tenure at one point in the interview, claiming that it doesn’t preserve academic freedom, something they claim it was intended to do. From the article:
They [faculty] have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can’t be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We’ve seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don’t change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they’ve been trained to follow.
I do find some interesting and curious aspects of the tenure process here at PSU, but is it as bleak as the authors describe in this quote?