Let’s make education more like a business

Yahoo executives at a retreat

How would we do that?  Let’s try to learn from those innovators in places like Redmond and Palo Alto, shall we?

If I didn’t know better, I’d almost be tempted to suggest that the culture of Silicon Valley was closely modeled on American academic culture.  But everybody knows that one can hardly be seen as “innovative” or “forward-leaning” if one built a corporate culture around American college and university culture from, like, 1870!  That would be total madness!  No, we in academia must let the techhies think they thought it all up first, and hope that we’re allowed to “learn” from these innovative and forward-leaning corporate titans.

4 thoughts on “Let’s make education more like a business

  1. Yup: that old corporate model they trot out as what we should aspire to has nothing to do with management and everything to do with flogging the proffies. One small worry, though: they would also expect us to do 16 hour days on the cool new campus, starting with those fun Googlie bus rides where you can catch up on email before dawn. Of course, come to think of it, we do that anyhow–but at least we do it at home.


  2. Aren’t most American university already run as businesses? My dean told us several years ago, if your research doesn’t attract enough grants, change your research area. Sell the pickles pregnant women like!

    The current American business model calls for billions for CEOs, millions for VPs and minimum wage for everyone else. Should we expect that?


  3. Good points. I especially like #2, which seems to point toward things, like useful service (e.g. real chances to reflect on and reshape curriculum) and course releases and/or sabbaticals, which are increasingly available to only a small portion of the faculty (not adjuncts, and not many full-time contingents, so we’re looking at a maximum of 30% of faculty, and probably closer to 25%).

    One thing that strikes me is that in some ways teachers are more like managers than the managed workers who benefit from some of the programs mentioned above. A lot of the time, we aren’t producing something directly (except when we’re researching and writing, which may be one reason we find those activities satisfying), but instead guiding others through a process. There are certainly better or worse ways to do that, but, ultimately, we have limited control over what our students do and don’t do, and, therefore, how much they gain, in knowledge and/or skills, by the end of the semester. Sort of like a Google exec who gives hir employees time to play with cool ideas, we can’t always predict how many good results we’ll get, or just how good those results will be. We can provide the tools and the conditions (well, at least some of them; I can’t do much about the fact that too many of my students work too many hours to pay tuition) for productivity, and can keep tweaking both in response to prior results, but that’s about it. When faculty are treated like assembly-line workers creating widgets, education increasingly produces widget-like results: students who can spout some predetermined facts (some better than others), but not ones who will, at least as the result of our efforts, contribute much to making new knowledge and/or coming up with appropriate, imaginative responses to new situations.


  4. The thing about stack ranking is that it allows you to call 20% of your faculty “stars” without actually attracting star faculty.

    After all, even if you drive away some of your best faculty, you will always have 20% whom you can call your “top 20%.”

    It also allows you to dump on 20% of your faculty without needing a real reason. Standards, schmandards.

    But best of all from a certain administrative viewpoint, stack ranking allows you to avoid the dangerous question of whether or not you’ve actually built your faculty’s strength.


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