Stanley Fish on the Future of Universities

The debate on the “future” of the university is a debate, seemingly endless, between those who believe the university should be about vocational training and those who think its purpose is to develop intellectual capacity, critical thinking, judgement, wisdom, etc., via the liberal arts.

Excerpt: “The tension between a market model and a Socratic model was nicely
captured by two statements Spar made in succession. The first warmed my
heart: “We want to teach students things they don’t want to know.” That
is, rather than regarding students as consumers (all the rage these days
in places like England and Texas), we should regard them as
yet-to-be-formed intellects who are often best served by saying no to
their desires — as we have traditionally. But then Spar immediately
added, “Yet, we can’t be too removed from the marketplace.”

This tension in Spar’s thinking between practicality and idealism may seem somewhat schizophrenic, but it is not unhealthy. In fact, it captures precisely what labor researcher Phil Gardner at Michigan State University claims the labor market is looking for (and will increasingly be looking for in the future): either technically trained liberal arts majors or liberally trained majors of technical disciplines. In other words, it’s not one or the other that is required for long-term success, it is both.

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