faculty

Examining the relationship between good teaching and good scholarship (essay)

Read a college guidebook or go on a college tour, and you constantly see pictures of and hear stories about superstar research faculty teaching freshmen at our most illustrious colleges and universities. Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel laureates, National Academy members, all in the undergraduate classroom. Whether that represents reality is one question.  But perhaps more important is whether it should.

Colleges and universities have a variety of output goals. At some institutions, scholarly output is vital, but so is successful teaching at the undergraduate, professional school and graduate levels. So you’d hope that college and university leaders (and ideally state legislators) would know a bit about the production of both top-notch research and top-notch teaching.  In particular, it would be helpful to know whether faculty members who are superstars in the undergraduate classroom pay a price in terms of scholarly achievement.

Unfortunately, the answer to that crucial question has been elusive, mainly due to the difficulty in assembling teaching and research metrics. If we in higher education can’t come up with meaningful measures of each, we have no hope of evaluating the relationship between the two.

In a new study published by the Brookings Institution, the two of us analyze the data of nearly 16,000 Northwestern freshmen and the tenured faculty members who teach them to ask the question: are great teachers poor scholars?  We use two different measures of teaching quality and two different measures of research quality to determine the relationship between teaching and research excellence.

Our biggest challenge on the research side is that scholarly performance is so different across disciplines. How might one recognize stellar scholarship across chemistry and theater, engineering and music, economics and English, mathematics and anthropology? 

We take two approaches. One is holistic: whether a committee of distinguished professors from a wide range of disciplines selects a professor for a university-wide honor. The second is quantitative, reflecting how influential that professor’s work has been relative to others in that person’s field.

It’s harder to measure teaching quality. While teaching evaluations from students are ubiquitous, they often reflect a professor’s grading patterns rather than genuine instructional quality, and they also exhibit gender, racial, and ethnic biases. We therefore instead measure teaching outcomes based on data on future performance and student follow-on course-taking. 

One measure of teaching quality indicates a professor’s contribution to a student’s deep learning, while the other measures the degree to which the professor inspires students. In the first, we examine whether the grade in a second class in the subject is unexpectedly high or low based on what we predict given a student’s standardized test scores, other grades and the like. In the second, we examine the success a faculty member has in inducing students to major in the teacher’s discipline.

One might wonder if those two measures of teaching excellence are correlated. They are not. Faculty members who are most successful in inspiring students to become majors in their subject are not any more distinguished in facilitating “deep learning” than their less charismatic counterparts. And those who are exceptional at conveying course material are no more likely than others at inspiring students to take more courses in the subject area. 

So what did we find about the relationship between research and teaching? Regardless of which measure of teaching and research quality you use, there is no apparent link between the two. In other words, top teachers are no more or less likely to be especially productive scholars than their less-accomplished teaching peers. Our estimates are “precise zeros,” indicating that it is unlikely that mismeasurement for teaching or research quality explains the lack of a relationship. 

That is certainly encouraging for those who fear that great teachers specialize in pedagogy at the expense of research. On the other hand, it is disappointing to observe that weak undergraduate teachers do not make up for their limitations in the classroom with disproportionate research excellence. To phrase it simply, great teachers are not necessarily poor scholars, and great scholars are not necessarily poor teachers.

What does this analysis imply regarding the growing trend of having introductory undergraduate courses taught by non-tenure-line faculty rather than “superstar” researchers? Administrators and policy makers worried about whether research will suffer due to efforts in the classroom, or vice versa, should have their fears at least partially allayed. 

This result seems especially relevant in evaluating the recent move at the University of California to effectively grant tenure to some of their full-time teaching faculty. Our analysis suggests that if one of the motivations for moving undergraduate teaching from faculty members with responsibility for both teaching and research to faculty members whose sole responsibility is teaching is to protect the time of the former group for scholarship, this assumption needs to be questioned. 

Moreover, our previous work shows that the gap in teaching performance between tenure-line and contingent faculty depends entirely on differential teaching at the low end of the value-added distribution. Very few teaching faculty members demonstrate poor teaching as opposed to the tenure-line faculty, where the bottom fifth or so display extremely weak teaching. Presumably, the contracts of contingent faculty are not renewed if they are similarly ineffective in the classroom. While we certainly see the strong benefit of offering greater job security for teaching-track faculty, giving them de facto tenure would eliminate that important lever for department chairs, deans and provosts. 

What if legislators focus on our finding that while top teachers don’t sacrifice research output, it is also true that top researchers don’t teach exceptionally well? Why have those high-priced scholars in the undergraduate classroom in the first place? Surely it would be more cost-efficient to replace them with lower-paid faculty not on the tenure line. That is what has been happening throughout American higher education for the past several decades. 

We would caution, however, that illustrious research faculty members usually provide a draw for students and faculty members alike. Even if their teaching isn’t remarkable, their presence is. When such faculty members teach freshmen, it sends the important signal to the community that the institution takes undergraduate education seriously -- that research and the production of Ph.D. graduates are not all that matter. 

We must not forget that research universities -- and liberal arts colleges with significant research expectations for their faculty -- are only a modest part of American higher education. Most professors teach heavy loads with little or no research expectations. 

But still, research matters at places that take it seriously. The reason why most of the top-rated higher education institutions in the world are located in the United States is not what goes on in their classrooms; it is the research power of their faculties. The challenge for colleges and universities is to find the right balance of both great teachers and great scholars in order to excel in our dual mission of educating students and creating new knowledge.

David N. Figlio is Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and of Economics and director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.  Morton Schapiro is a professor of economics and president of Northwestern University.

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Proposal would limit credit researchers receive on projects with many co-authors

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Proposal would quantify how much reward authors should receive on projects with multiple authors.

The importance of writing an effective abstract when you submit a journal article (essay)

A bad abstract won’t by itself cause journal editors to reject a scholarly article, but it does incline them toward an initial negative answer, write Faye Halpern and James Phelan.

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The Milo Yiannopoulos scandal reveals the sorry state of campus conservatism (essay)

The Milo Yiannopoulos pedophilia scandal ought to prod some serious soul searching on the part of American conservatives, especially his college Republican hosts. After all, until his ugly and obscene remarks jokingly condoning the sexual abuse of young boys finally discredited him, Yiannopoulos had been given the red carpet treatment by the right. Across America, college Republican groups had eagerly invited him to campus despite -- or maybe because of -- the crude and obscene insults he hurled at students of color, women and transgender students.

The adult right off the campus was no better. The Conservative Political Action Conference had invited Yiannopoulos to speak at the same event as Vice President Pence, only rescinding the invitation after tapes surfaced of Yiannopoulos making light of pedophilia, which caused an uproar.

Prior to the Yiannopoulos scandal, most media criticism had focused not on his rants but on the Left’s disruptions of this alt-right provocateur’s campus tour. That criticism was appropriate since those who would ban Yiannopoulos or violently disrupt his talks are guilty of corroding free speech, which is the lifeblood of the university. But this spotlight on the campus Left was so intense that little was said about how much the Yiannopoulos affair tells us about the sorry state of campus conservatism.

The discourse in Yiannopoulos campus speeches at times descended into obscenity and cruelty. In his speech at West Virginia University, he referred to women as “cunts.”  At the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, he not only used obscenity, but he did so in a vicious  manner to mock a transgender student in the audience, projecting a photo of this student onto a screen in the lecture hall (which was live streamed on the Breitbart website) and saying of her  “the way you know he’s failed is I can still bang him.”  This was apparently done in the service of his transphobia, which led him to say at the University of Delaware: “Never feel bad for mocking a transgender person. It is our job to point out their absurdity, to not make the problem worse by pretending they are normal.”

In defending their decision to host Yiannopoulos’s talks, the campus Republicans never mentioned his obscene and defamatory rhetoric. Instead, they spoke abstractly about freedom of speech and presented themselves and Yiannopoulos as the embodiment of that cherished freedom -- standing up for his right to speak despite the dangers from a censorious Left.  At the University of California at Berkeley, in fact, site of the most violent disruption of a Yiannopoulos talk, his host, the Berkeley College Republicans presented themselves as heroic freedom fighters, heirs of Berkeley Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio: “We proceed fearlessly because we know we have the president of the United States and the United States Constitution on our side. The Berkeley College Republicans are the new Free Speech Movement,” wrote members Troy Worden and Pieter Sittler in  Berkeley’s Daily Californian.

But while Free Speech Movement of 1964, of course, defended free speech, it did  not champion obscene, degrading speech. Search as you may you will not find a single obscenity in any of Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio’s speeches (as you would expect of a former altar boy). And neither Savio nor any Free Speech Movement speaker would have even dreamed of using a campus podium -- or any other -- as Yiannopoulos has, to defame or ridicule students on account of their sexuality.

So Yiannopoulos’s Republican campus hosts are at miscast as the Free Speech Movement’s political descendants. If there is any free speech dispute from Berkeley in the 1960s that the Yiannopoulos affair resembles (and even here the resemblance is limited) it is the obscenity controversy that erupted in spring 1965, a semester after the Free Speech Movement. That controversy concerned the right to use the obscene word “Fuck” in public campus discourse.  Some Free Speech Movement veterans supported this right, and others (like Savio) objected to the punishment of obscenity protesters on due process grounds. But most movement veterans and much of the Berkeley student body refused to rally to this cause because they felt that this use of obscenity was irresponsible and distracted from more serious issues facing the civil rights and antiwar movements.

That’s why journalists who labeled this obscenity affair “the Filthy Speech Movement” erred, as it was impossible to build a mass movement at Berkeley in defense of obscene speech, impossible to re-assemble the old Free Speech Movement coalition for such a cause. Most of the Berkeley student body in 1965 was too wedded to the ideal of responsible political discourse to wave the “Fuck” banner. In this sense they were more genuinely conservative than today’s Berkeley College Republicans who not only wink at Yiannopoulos’s obscenity, but also at its use to defame minority students.  

To be clear, Berkeley students in 1965 were not endorsing suppression, but close to 80 percent opposed the use of such “filthy speech” in public, as I note in my book, Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2009). And so, they were unwilling to battle for the cause of obscene speech, a cause they thought irresponsible.

The idea here is that with freedom comes responsibility, and that ought to lead you (especially if you are conservative) to question whether saying “Fuck”  from the podium or  bringing Yiannopoulos’ ugly vitriol on to campus is responsible -- even though you have the right to do so. This is what Mario Savio was referring to in his Free Speech Movement victory rally speech, Dec. 9, 1964, when he said: "We are asking that there be no, no restrictions on the content of speech save those provided by the courts. And that's an enormous amount of freedom. And people can say things in that area of freedom which are not responsible. Now... we've finally gotten into a position where we have to consider being responsible, because we now have the freedom within which to be responsible."

Thinking seriously about free speech involves much more than reciting a simple formula that says “anything goes,” leaving us racing out mindlessly to speak and invite others to speak without considering what is being said, how it is being said, and who those words may be hurting gratuitously. That point was made decades ago in the Woodward Report at Yale University, a classic statement on the “university’s primary obligation to protect free expression,” but which also stressed the “ethical responsibilities assumed by each member of the university community” that are “of great importance. If freedom of expression is to serve its purpose, and thus the purpose of the university, it should seek to enhance understanding. Shock, hurt and anger are not consequences to be weighed lightly. No member of the community with a decent respect for others should use, or encourage others to use, slurs and epithets to discredit another’s race, ethnic group, religion or sex. It may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need for free expression. The values superseded are nevertheless important, and every member of the university community should consider them in exercising the fundamental right to free expression."

I suspect that the failure of campus conservatives to take seriously such questions about responsibility and civility in this Yiannopoulos affair is connected to the influence of Donald Trump. He rose to the presidency through his constant, ugly barrages of ad hominem attacks, and in spite of being caught on tape discussing how he grabs women “by the pussy.” This seems to have given a green light for even the crudest of public oratory.  The right proved itself willing both off campus and on to dispense with notions of civility, so long as the vitriol emanates from someone on their side who succeeded in generating mass appeal -- either at the ballot box (Trump) or in the lecture hall (Yiannopoulos).  It was not the crudeness or cruelty of his campus speeches, but a two-year-old taped interview that caught Yiannopoulos’ amoral ramblings on sexual abuse of minors that finally led CPAC and Breitbart News to drop him.   

This is a tale not merely of moral declension on the right but also conservative  (or pseudo-conservative) intellectual decline. Again there is a parallel between Trump and Yiannopoulos, both of whom go in for hectoring rather than logical discourse and are more concerned with drawing and exciting large crowds with shock jock sloganeering and show biz gloss (Yiannopoulos, who refers to himself as “a star,” and in his campus gigs uses spotlights, Broadway-style lighting and huge photo displays of himself a la Hollywood) than with intellectual gravitas. Yiannopoulos offered College Republicans this spectacle and they lapped it up despite its intellectual vacuity, ad hominem cruelty, and bigotry sugar coated by snarky humor. 

The contrast between, this and the serious, civil Left-right debates the Young Americans for Freedom sponsored in the 1960s -- modeled after those held by their intellectual godfather, William F. Buckley, Jr. on his TV show Firing Line -- could not be more striking. It is as if the student right has forgotten what serious political thought and reasoned oratory look and sound like.  In this sense the right on campus today, has, as Savio once put it, “free speech but nothing left to say.”

Robert Cohen is a professor of history and social studies at NYU Steinhardt whose books include Freedom's Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s; The Essential Mario Savio: Speeches and Writings that Changed America; The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (co-edited by Reginald E. Zelnik)

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Review of Abraham Flexner's 'The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge'

“All eras in a state of decline and dissolution are subjective,” said Goethe in a moment of sagely grumbling about the poets and painters of the younger generation, who, he thought, confused wallowing in emotion for creativity. “Every healthy effort, on the contrary, is directed from the inward to the outward world.”

I didn’t make the connection with Svend Brinkmann’s book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvment Craze until a few days after writing last week’s column about it. One recommendation in particular from the Danish author’s anti-self-help manual seems in accord with Goethe’s admonition. As Brinkmann sees it, the cult of self-improvement fosters a kind of bookkeeping mentality. We end up judging experiences and relationships “by their ability to maximize utility based on personal preferences -- i.e. making the maximum number of our wishes come true.” The world becomes a means to the ego’s narrow ends, which is no way to live.

Besides offering a 21st-century guide to the Stoic ethos of disinvestment in the self, Brinkmann encourages the reader to rediscover the world in all its intrinsic value -- its fundamental indifference to anybody’s mission statement. How? By spending time in museums and forests:

“A museum is a collection of objects from the past (near or distant), e.g. art or artifacts that say something about a particular era or an aspect of the human experience. Obviously, you learn a lot from a museum visit -- but the greatest joy lies in just reveling in the experience with no thought of how to apply the knowledge and information. In other words, the trick is to learn to appreciate things that can’t be ‘used’ for some other function....

Similarly, a walk in the woods gives us a sense of being part of nature and an understanding that it shouldn’t be seen as consisting of resources that exist merely to meet human needs and desires. ... There are aspects of the world that are good, significant, and meaningful in their own right -- even though you derive nothing from them in return.”

Making similar points from a quite different angle is The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by Abraham Flexner (1866-1959), the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study, in an edition from Princeton University Press with a long introduction by the institute’s current director, Robbert Dijkgraaf.

The essay giving the book its title first appeared in Harper’s magazine in October 1939 -- a few months into the New York World’s Fair (theme: The World of Tomorrow) and just a few weeks into World War II. “I [am] pleading for the abolition of the word ‘use,” Flexner wrote, “and for the freeing of the human spirit.” It must have seemed like one hell of a time for such an exercise. But the essay’s defense of the Ivory Tower was tough-minded and far-sighted, and Dijkgraaf’s introduction makes a case for Flexner as a major figure in the history of the American research university whose contribution should be remembered and revived.  

The germ of The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge was a memorandum Flexner wrote as executive secretary of the General Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1921.The principles it espouses were also expressed in his work bringing Albert Einstein and other European academic refugees to the Institute at Princeton in the early 1930s.The essay defends “the cultivation of beauty ... [and] the extension of knowledge” as “useless form[s] of activity, in which men [and, as he acknowledges a few sentences earlier, women] indulge because they procure for themselves greater satisfactions than are otherwise available.”

But the impact of Flexner’s argument does not derive primarily from the lofty bits. He stresses that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake has in fact shown itself already to be a powerful force in the world -- one that the ordinary person may not be able to recognize while swept up in “the angry currents of daily life.” The prime exhibits come from mathematics (Maxwell’s equations or Gauss’s non-Euclidian geometry took shape decades before practical uses could be found for them), though Flexner also points to the consequential but pure curiosity-driven work of Michael Faraday on electricity and magnetism, as well as Paul Ehrlich’s experiments with staining cellular tissue with dye.

“In the end, utility resulted,” Flexner writes, “but it was never a criterion to which [researchers’] ceaseless experimentation could be subjected.” Hence the need for institutions where pure research can be performed, even at the expense of pursuing ideas that prove invalid or inconsequential. “[W]hat I say is equally true of music and art and of every other expression of the untrammeled human spirit,” he adds, without, alas, pursing the point further.

The untrammeled human spirit requires funding in any case. Although written towards the end of the Great Depression -- and published ten years to the month after the stock market crash -- The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge reads like a manifesto for the huge expansion of higher education and of research budgets in the decades to follow.

Flexner could point to the Institute for Advanced Study with justified pride as an example of money well-spent. He probably corrected the page proofs for his essay around the same time Einstein was writing his letter to President Roosevelt, warning that the Germans might be developing an atomic bomb. And as Robbert Dijkgraaf reminds us in his introduction, another Flexner appointee was the mathematician John von Neumann, who “made Princeton a center for mathematical logic in the 1930s, attracting such luminaries as Kurt Godel and Alan Turing.” That, in turn, led to the invention of an electronic version of something Turing had speculated about in an early paper: a machine that could be programmed to prove mathematical theorems.   

“A healthy and balanced ecosystem would support the full spectrum of scholarship,” Dijkgraaf writes, “nourishing a complex web of interdependencies and feedback loops.” The problem now is that such a healthy and balanced intellectual ecosystem is no less dependent on a robust economy in which considerable amounts of money are directed to basic research -- without any pressing demand for a return on investment. “The time scales can be long,” he says, “much longer than the four-year periods in which governments and corporations nowadays tend to think, let alone the 24-hour news cycle.”

That would require a culture able to distinguish between value and cost. Flexner’s essay, while very much a document from eight decades ago, still has something to say about learning the difference. 

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Reflections on the continuing importance of sabbaticals

A sabbatical is a privilege that everyone should defend and seek out, not something to be eliminated where it still exists, argues Christopher Schaberg.

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Iowa Bill Would Force 'Partisan Balance' in Hiring

It’s only been a month since an Iowa lawmaker proposed ending tenure at the state’s public institutions, and two weeks since state legislators published a bill that would gut collective bargaining for faculty members. Now another legislator wants to enforce what he calls “partisan balance” among Iowa’s faculty members. Iowa Republican Senator Mark Chelgren’s bill would require that no professor or instructor be hired if his or her most recent party affiliation would “cause the percentage of the faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by 10 percent” the percentage of the faculty belonging to the other dominant party. Politically undeclared professors would not be included in the tally.

Chelgren wants the state’s commissioner of elections to provide voter registration data to colleges and universities once a year to help enforce his plan. It’s no secret that the bill would likely adversely affect Democrats, since academics tend to swing to the political left. Others have criticized what they call academe's lack of "intellectual" or "ideological" diversity, but Chelgren's proposal takes such concerns to another level. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, including about what he'd do if swaths of professors took advantage of the ‘no party’ loophole. There’s already been some negative reaction to the bill, with the liberal political blog Iowa Starting Line calling it an “ideological litmus test.”

The North Carolina Senate on Monday night tabled a similar amendment regarding the University of North Carolina System, The Charlotte Observer reported. It would have required tenure-track and tenured faculty members to “reflect the ideological balance of the citizens of the state,” so that no campus “shall have a faculty ideological balance of greater or less than 2 percent of the ideological balance” of North Carolinians.

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The questionable entrepreneurship mania on college campuses (essay)

Over the last decade or so, universities around the country have been tripping over one another to see who can slap the word “entrepreneurial” on the most things on their campuses the fastest. Entrepreneurial studies curricula and majors, business incubators, entrepreneurial centers, on and on -- entrepreneurial efforts have sprung up faster than the “innovate and disrupt” start-ups scattered about Silicon Valley whom they seem to desperately want to imitate.

This “Silicon Valleyization” of the university can be seen in places like Florida State University, which recently received a record $100 million to open the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship, or at Rice University, which last year announced the formation of an “entrepreneurial initiative” to transform the university into an “entrepreneurial university.” Other institutions -- such as Emerson College, the University of Hartford and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell -- have also joined the entrepreneurial arms race with their own centers and curricula.

For advocates of the entrepreneurial university, such moves mark a more full alignment of higher education with the needs of the new economy. Universities are finally recognizing the central role that they now must play in spurring “endogenous growth” in the highly competitive global market, where innovation determines national, state and individual winners and losers. They are finally coming down from the ivory tower and lining up their curricula and research to meet that need. For critics, however, such developments represent yet another chapter in the capturing of the university by particular economic interests -- and a further loss of autonomy and intellectual integrity, as institutions mindlessly chase the latest fad and buzz meme.

While the entrepreneur as a particular type of economic actor in the market economy has been around for some time, entrepreneurialism as a full-blown social and cultural movement is much newer. If we situate entrepreneurialism as a historically distinct social phenomenon, or perhaps as a post-Bretton Woods economic model, it contains several assumptions about society, politics and markets that largely go unacknowledged in the frenzy to create the entrepreneurial society and the enterprising university to accompany it.

First is the profound shift from a more organized style of the market economy -- with large corporations, unionized labor, slow growth, steady-state capital and a welfare-oriented state -- to a more disorganized one composed of start-ups, flexible labor, erratic growth, impatient capital and a market-oriented state. In the newer, churning model of the market economy, the entrepreneur -- personified in cultural and political heroes like Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg, rather than the corporate manager or professional -- becomes the central new cultural icon.

One of the things that this unceasing push for entrepreneurial innovation as a driving force of economic growth dismisses or ignores is the actual destructive part of creative disruption. Creative disruption seems fine as long as it is other people whose lives are disrupted rather than your own. This view is often callously unconcerned with the harm that can be generated by disruption for the sake of disruption or the mantra that all innovation is progress. Here, in the mold of the economist Joseph Schumpeter and the Harvard University management gurus Clayton Christensen and Michael Porter, all disruptions are ultimately positive and all innovations are advancements. The market will miraculously, fairly and brutally sort out any lumps in the end. What disrupters yearn for is an always roiling and never resting society generated by people in continuous struggling with one another to provide the next best thing and “strike it rich.”

As Virginia Heffernan recently described it, such innovators compose a “sneakered overclass -- whose signature sport is to disrupt everything, from Ikea furniture to courtship.” They embody the religiously inspired dream of heavenly redemption, the modernist desire of continuous progress and “lotto fever” rolled into one. It is unclear, however, how far such a model can actually extend. How much innovation and disruption does the world need? Or, more important, how much can it actually take?

Second, entrepreneurialism as an idealized economic model promotes a rather distinct type of asocial, social Darwinist, “go it alone” mentality where the single, self-interested individual is seen as solely responsible for his or her successes. Here, even when philanthropy happens, it is ultimately designed for self-interest, as with Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC.

Even with the rhetoric of Google-style teamwork aside, the entrepreneurial model celebrates the ideal of the lone-wolf innovator who works hard, charts their own course and “defies the odds.” It is the American mythology of rugged individualism recast for the jobless age of the precariat, forever-flexible labor and the post-welfare state.

In doing so, this new economic model passes off social inequality as just the normal and inevitable ebb and flow of winners and losers in a free-flowing economy that is in constant flux -- and one that people need to adapt to rather than try to change. If you work hard enough, innovate and adapt to the market, you are entitled to reap the rewards. Those who cling to the collective protection of unions or change movements, or even the left-behind world of tradition, are but mindless sheep who lack the imagination to think for themselves and adapt. If you fail in your endeavors, you need to readapt and reinnovate in order to make your way again.

As on the TV show Shark Tank, the swirling and hungry accumulated venture capital of those “who have already made it” is there waiting to provide for newbies with the right stuff. Surviving and prospering are strictly by your own fruition. Yet all this ignores not only the highly likelihood of failure in these start-ups (90 percent, according to Forbes magazine) but also the social costs of living in a world composed of a handful of wealthy winners and scores of poor losers chumming up the shark-tank economy.

Third, implicit in the romantic idealization of the entrepreneur is the neoliberal idea of a limited pro-business government. Rather than expecting government to level things out a bit through progressive taxation or some other modest modes of redistribution -- or through various social services such as public education -- the new economic model promotes a government that is entrepreneurial, too. This enterprising government doesn’t protect people from the market as in the social democratic model but rather forces even more marketization onto them.

People must be coerced (or, in the more polite terms of behavioral economics, “nudged”) by government to “have grit and determination,” “manage their own retirements and health care,” “have positive affect” and “be responsible.” They must be calculating, self-interested and self-promotional, even if they don’t want to be. Responsibility will, in the words of former British Prime Minster David Cameron, finally force people “to ask the right questions of themselves.”

What all this means is not that entrepreneurialism is necessarily a bad thing when taken in moderation and seen within the light of a larger political economy. We can certainly acknowledge the important contributions of the loads of small businesses and innovations built on entrepreneurial principles. But an entire society or university based solely or largely on those principles is rather problematic and limiting.

Universities should be leery of aligning their curricula and research just to meet the needs of the entrepreneur. It is one thing for a higher education institution to recognize entrepreneurialism as one particular economic form but quite another to become an entrepreneurial university. Universities are -- or should be -- like the economy and society themselves: too multidimensional to remake themselves into any one particular cause of the moment.

Steven C. Ward is a professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University.

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TV personalities Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary Discuss ‘Shark Tank’ at Build Studio.
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How to teach students about thorny issues without insinuating your own views (essay)

Teaching Today

In today's political environment, how can professors challenge students to make sense of a changing world without imposing their own value-based judgments on classroom discussions? Jo-Ellen Pozner suggests some approaches.

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Brief Suspension Ends for Creighton Law Professor

Kenneth Melilli, a popular tenured faculty member at Creighton University's law school, was suspended from Wednesday through Friday after an argument with an associate dean, The Omaha World-Herald reported. Melilli was suspended after the law dean consulted the human resources department about what he viewed as a threat. Many other faculty members said that there was no reason to suspend the professor and that -- in cases where suspension of faculty members may be warranted -- it is the faculty who should review the circumstances. Faculty members said that only the university's president can make an emergency suspension. Late Friday, Melilli issued a statement Friday indicating that he had been reinstated and that differences had been resolved.

 

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