Times: A university department chairman who wants to dissolve all departments

In his times op-ed, "End the University as We Know It," author MARK C. TAYLOR opines that we need to, "Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs."

When Professor Taylor applied for the position of chairman of his department - he knew that the job description was to manage a unit within the parameters of the status quo of the university. Now it is possible that he will never get another administrative position in any university. Some will argue that it was professionally a bad idea for him to go make a public statement that universities, like the one that he works for, are all screwed up, and for him to call to "End the University as We Know It."

On his main points, the university as we know it - like all institutions - is a compromise between the ideal and the real. There's no evidence cited in his op-ed that any changes that Taylor recommends have the slightest chance of succeeding.

Taylor proposes that all universities, "Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure."

If universities ended tenure, for instance, then sure they would have the ability to make more progressive changes. But replacing your staff is never easy. And the temptation to follow fads could easily lead an institution down dead ends and to big losses instead of any gains. It's also been proven true that by granting tenure universities can pay and retain their most qualified and competent staff at much lower salaries and lock in a stable long term work force.

Taylor calls for us to, "Transform the traditional dissertation."

As far as graduate education goes, a PhD in the humanities was never meant to produce only dissertations that were useful or even interesting. Obtaining a PhD is a rigorous ordeal to determine who is equipped to pursue authentic research in a discipline, who has mastered the literature and the tools of that discipline and who can be trusted with the responsibilities of a professor. Do away with the vetting processes of the graduate school and you may well end up hiring a whole cadre of staff members who just don't get what a sustained academic enterprise is all about.

Of course if we, "Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs" we won't need to teach any disciplinary knowledge. Academic credentials in such a world would be superfluous.

Suffice it to say, for the good reasons we stated and for many more that we have not enumerated, we don't much agree with Professor Taylor's proposals.

Update: Letter writers to the Times clobbered the life out of the essay.

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