Tag Archives: university

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Kerr needed a rap session with Freire

First, I’ll start with a very terse critique of Kerr’s The Uses of the University turned “multiversity.” I give anyone, including Kerr, credit for engaging in any reasonably thoughtful discussion of the university because higher education discourse often inspires a deer in headlights level of frustration (I would say he pushes, at the very least, to the brink of paralysis).

I felt a palpable sense of angst throughout this reading, despite agreeing with a number of points throughout Kerr’s account. I couldn’t shake a constant sense of distrust towards an individual at the pinnacle of privilege, speaking so clinically, and dispassionately about his own subject – ironic considering his biography. Kerr took the structuralist portrayal of the university slightly too far for me, but considering his time, and position (I am calling the kettle so black right now…) it would seem pretty difficult to avoid. This is not to say that there isn’t tremendous value in revealing the skeleton and arteries of large institutional organisms. I think in part, his methods are an overture to what I believe is a core purpose of the university (see 4th paragraph). But since we live in America, and it’s election season, the myriad problems of bureaucratic systems with gargantuan societal mandates are all too familiar to us. And in national politics as in the university, binarism rises to the top of the discourse most of the time.

My fatigue with partisan, radical discourse in mainstream politics today makes me loathe to broach the “university” and “multiversity” nomenclature. I also didn’t find it particularly riveting. Instead, I want to talk about what I think Kerr’s discussion missed. His account of the two great university traditions, the British undergraduate system, and the German graduate system, is the most he speaks on the role of teaching and learning in the university, besides a brief aside about technology’s potential to supplant instruction, and free up research time. This is a true blunder. If the academy were to put the same level of value on teaching as on scholarship, (and perhaps unsilo the two) I think it would help clear up a lot of discord about the “university,” inside and out.

How to improve teaching and learning? Hire scholars who are good teachers. They exist, and the two practices don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I’m talking about people who care deeply about critical pedagogy. I think critiques on the merit of liberal arts colleges versus community and technical colleges matter a little less when students are equally given the space to develop critical literacies and are empowered to become scholars in their own right, no matter their discipline of interest or level of advancement. Unfortunately, the current system of faculty tenure and promotion fails to make room for teaching, let alone incentivize it. The contingent faculty labor band aid damages the situation more. Yet despite this, many faculty still find opportunities to drive critical pedagogy into their curricula. They’re doing this without fanfare or additional remuneration? There must be something to this teaching thing.

Provocations:

Relate any number of topics to the text: the university’s role in perpetuating the class system, fueling neoliberalism, the corporatization of the university, college as commodity

What can critical pedagogy fix? What can’t it?

Respond to this quote:

“This creates new roles for education; but it is also part of the process of freezing the structure of the occupational pyramid and assuring that the well-behaved do advance, even if the geniuses do not. The university is used as an egg-candling device; and it is, perhaps, a better one than any other that can be devised, but the process takes some of the adventure out of occupational survival, and does for some professions what the closed shop has done for some unions.” p. 83-84 of The Uses of the University by Clark Kerr.