Eric_W's Reviews > The University: An Owner's Manual

The University by Henry Rosovsky
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Dec 14, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: current-affairs

Henry Rosovsky should be read by everyone interested in higher education, but particularly by students. It will provide them with a very practical introduction to the American university. Rosovsky discusses the value of the research university compared to the independent college, graduate students as teachers, and the relative responsibilities of the administrators compared to those of the faculty.

Rosovsky, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, makes an excellent case for the advantage to students of attending a research oriented university as opposed to the more pedagogioally oriented independent colleges. He defines research as "studíous inquiry, usually critical and exhaustive investigation of experimentation having for its aim the revision of accepted conclusions in the light of newly discovered facts." Emphasis on research implies a love of learning and abiding faith in the notion of progress, i.e. a basic optimism about the human condition. He infers from this that research oriented professors will be less likely to be cynical or reactionary and less likely to suffer burnout from basically repetitions teaching. He also proposes that research quality is much easier to measure and define than teaching quality, and therefore one is more likely to find quality in a research oriented institution. (A risky proposition at best.)

Rosovsky delivers an impassioned plea for a liberal education as opposed to merely training for a task. "General education means the whole development of the individual, apart from his occupational training. It includes the civilizing of his life purposes, the refining of his emotional reactions, and the maturing of his understanding about the nature of things according to the best knowledge of our time." This liberal education should be enable the student to:
1. Think and write clearly; to communicate with precision and force.
2. Develop a critical appreciation for the manner in which we gain knowledge. This means teaching historical and quantitative techniques of analysis.
3. View personal experience within a wider, multicultural context.
4. Gain experience ín thinking about ethical and moral dilemmas.
5. Achieve some depth of knowledge in a particular field (i.e. the "major".)

He addresses Bloom’s nostalgic concern for a common body of knowledge and argues that this sentiment for a "better time" does not reflect reality as it existed 30 years ago. Instead it expresses an inadvertent realization of and yearning for the homogeneity of the past, which Rosovsky implies was "a consequence of narrow class privilege." At entry to college the race is uneven, not everyone starts with equal handicaps. Our concern should be for how the race ends. A liberal education can help. Training may be too restrictive. ”Up-to-date information can always be acquired without too much difficulty, human understanding cannot be reduced to asking the computer a few questions."
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message 1: by Eric_W (last edited Mar 05, 2012 06:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric_W Bird Brian wrote: ""...makes an excellent case for the advantage to students of attending a research oriented university as opposed to the more pedagogioally oriented independent colleges."

To be clear, does he thin..."

I'm a big fan of community colleges, actually where some really excellent teaching goes on and I have debated this with my dad who advocated the importance of research for many of the reasons this author advocates. Looking back, I don't think I was well served at the Ivy League university I attended with gen ed classes in the thousands which then broke into sections taught by grad students, some of whom admitted they'd rather be elsewhere (some were good.) Given the incredible cost of private undergraduate education and the huge debts many students leave school with, I don't think the current model of highly paid, esteemed professors who may teach one class and then spend the rest of their time doing research, is sustainable. I just read the other day that at one elite private college in Iowa considered one of the top ten best, more than 80% of the students receive a substantial amount of financial aid and they can sustain that only because they have a huge endowment. Tuition pays only 53% the operating expenses of the college. That's not sustainable. Another problem is that graduate assistants get taken advantage of unmercifully. Students pay huge sums receive the superior wisdom of these famous personalities and researchers, yet grad. assts. do the grading and almost all of the face-to-face work - at least until grad school. What the answer is, I'm not sure.

My kids all got their gen eds out of the way at the local community college where they received excellent instruction and then seamlessly finished up at four year state universities and left well-educated without the crushing debt load. Not only that, but they finished in four years rather than the five it now requires of many students who can't finish their gen eds in two years.

I have become an advocate for two years of community service after (or even before) finishing high school. It could be military or something like the CCC developed in the thirties. It would provide some real world experience seriously lacking in many students today, help build solidarity and infrastructrure.

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