The Oxford Protocol : Modules

Academy Turned Inside Out

(relates to Dedisciplinarity)

The Academy (“higher” education) became established during the Enlightenment.  It is no longer very enlightened.  We go to school during the winter, hustle home in the spring to plant our crops, and do not return to school until after the harvest.  The Academy skipped the Industrial Age and is still not changing much in the Information Age.  The Academy can be two ages out of date!  What else can it do?  The academy should not continue in its current form.  The evolution to a new form will not be easy, but it is underway willy-nilly

The history of the Academy is full of surprises.   The well-known, medieval “ivory tower” was accompanied by the less well-known studium generale teaching law and medicine.  Residential college students (gown and town were separate for centuries) made “going away to college” an iconic vision of undergraduate education.  Yet by 2005 only 18% U.S. baccalaureate recipients attended a residential institution for even one academic term.  The Academy’s growth has been remarkable: fewer than 3 million baccalaureate degrees were granted in the U.S. in 1900, but by 2000 this had grown to nearly 70 million, while the percentage of the population receiving such degrees grew from around 3% to 25%.  Why such growth, and what are its implications?  Three factors are worth noting.

State power was the first factor.  In 1862 the Morrill Act established the Land Grant colleges, reinforcing the great success of the Humboldtean revolution in Prussia, and adding scientific agriculture, mechanics (engineering) and military science to the traditional Academic core (the liberal arts and sciences).  Education joined with state power in Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Prussian education reforms.  Technology (especially railroads and the telegraph) precipitated victory in the Franco-Prussian war, and Prussian education was credited.  State-support grew quickly as the full import of the Second Industrial Revolution became clear.

College education as a means of social and economic betterment was the second factor.  The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill), intended to avoid the disaster of demobilization after WW I, had much greater consequences.  The service academies at Annapolis (Navy) and West Point (Army) could not supply enough junior officers for the huge mobilization for WW II.  It was decided that any man with a college degree could “pass for a gentleman” – an essential requirement to becoming an officer.  Hundreds of thousands of college-educated men became junior officers by attending Officer Candidate School.  The Act offered the chance to become a gentleman and achieve economic betterment to millions of enlisted men.   The GI Bill caused American higher education to more than double in size.  Much of that growth was in “non-residential” public institutions that accommodated veterans who were working and married with children.

“Knowhow” was the third factor, and linked state power to personal welfare.  WW II engendered great faith in science and technology: rockets in Germany, code breaking in the UK, nuclear weapons in the U.S., etc.  The Manhattan Project had a huge budget and a spectacular ending, despite no proof of concept at the start. Investing in knowhow made sense.  WW II influenced creation of the U.S. National Science Foundation in 1950, and other topics (languages, “area studies”) were deemed essential to national security during the Cold War.  Knowhow also came to be seen as part of the growth of the U.S. economy.  The “research universities” clearly benefited, but so too did teaching-oriented institutions such as the former “normal” schools (for training of school teachers), polytechnics, and community colleges.  Higher education was essential to national security and economic growth.  Everyone should receive a college education!

The end of the Cold War caused the fragile relationship between the welfare of the society writ large and the personal welfare of the recipients of higher education to fray.  Blind willingness to accept things because they are needed for national security declined.  Societal problems did not fit into convenient disciplinary niches inherited from the old Academy, raising the call for “interdisciplinary” study.  Political leaders became less willing to “let the experts decide” matters of scholarship and/or education.  Global competition and other forces changed the economy.  Finally, changing information and communication technologies allowed new access to and participation in learning.

If we could start over, what might the Academy of today look like?    A few thoughts:

Oxford Group, January 2014: Academy Turned Inside Out | Apotheosis | Core Technology | The Dedisciplinary Environment | Explanatory/Descriptive? | Fiction | Good Explanation | Mediation | Platform | Polemic | Portal | Problems | Protocol | Protocol (II) | Search*/Know* | Sciences/Humanities | Stuckness | Threshold Effects | Topology | Touchstones