The National Association of Scholars is running a series on visions of the academy, amusingly based on the Dr. Seuss story about re-inventing a zoo.
Dr. Seuss’s protagonist, young Gerald McGrew, suffers none of his sophisticated contemporaries’s deadly contempt for life as it is, or for his social surroundings. His opening words are, “It’s a pretty good zoo, and the fellow who runs it seems proud of it too.” But McGrew imagines he could do better. He would release the current animals and acquire creatures such as a ten-footed lion and a family of Lunks in a bucket from the wilds of Nantucket. He dreams of zookeeper glory, when “the whole world will say, ‘Young McGrews’s made his mark. / He’s built a zoo better than Noah’s whole Ark!’”
McGrew’s bestiary comes from Linneas-knows-not-where, but surely Dr. Seuss has posed a good question. If you ran the zoo, could you outdo McGrew?
It’s a nice conceit, although many of the authors have been grinding various axes with affirmative action, speech codes, or feminism and not really offering much of value. Some of them also offer some good sense alongside the bullshit. Anyway, it’s a fun game without any chance of changing anything, but if I somehow found myself Commissioner of all things post-secondary, well, here’s what I’d do:
If I ran American Higher Education…
…all libraries would allow coffee in spill-proof containers.
…all academic journals would be published on-line and freely available to the public.
…there would be Pell Grants for prisoners and incarcerated students would get quality faculty to teach them.
…there’d be no pro-male affirmative action. Women, who have higher scores and higher grades, would be admitted in numbers proportionate to their qualifications, not rejected to keep classes gender balanced.
…there’d be more, smaller schools rather than massive megaversities.
…charitable donations would not be tax-deductible unless used for scholarships, architecture, or books.
…schools would never pay for computer operating systems: Ubuntu or typewriters are fine, but no proprietary tech, especially if it’s donated to create path dependent consumers. (Computers and software have played a major role in hiking tuition and expending endowments in the last two decades.)
…there’d be no organized athletics.
…no course could count towards a degree unless taught by a Ph.D.
…graduate students would be students, not cheap labor. Grading and research assistance would not be available as a perk for talented researchers, and classes would have to be sized to be gradeable by a single person.
…every “full-time” faculty member would be required to teach at least four courses a year, regardless of endowed chairs or administrative tasks.
…full-time researchers would work for private scientific labs or political think tanks. Basic research would occur at these private labs but be publicly funded and results would be owned by the public. Faculty would be expected to go on sabbatical if they wanted to go work for one of these labs or think tanks, so no double-dipping. (I could go on, here, but the research university has really damaged higher ed in this country, as Eisenhower suggested it would: “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”)
…there’d be fewer administrators, and administrators would always answer to faculty, not vice versa.
…law school would only take two years, not three.
…medical education would proceed from nurse’s training or physician’s assistant training to medical school, and every MD would have to work as an RN or a PA before moving on.
…graduate students in the liberal arts and sciences would be required to teach high school students for a year in their subject area, after receiving a Masters but before going on to finish their Ph.D. (This is similar to the French system, and has the perk of creating a pool of better educated and more enthusiastic high school teachers, while supplying better prepared freshmen and making the last two years of high school worthwhile rather than a waste of everyone’s time.)
Anyway, I offer the challenge to my baker’s dozen of readers: how would you run the zoo if you were its keeper?
[UPDATE: In the interestes of transparency, I’ve been tinkering with some of the suggestions based on reader comments. Most notably, I got rid of a prohibition on fraternities and sororities, and changed a hard student-limit to a soft prescription for smaller schools.]