Teaching Passions in Universities

THE cover, via their website.In a sparkling cover story in this week’s Times Higher Education (cover left), Tom Palaima tells of the passion that drove him to teach Classics and how it is at odds with the “educational shopping mall’ vision of officialdom. His experience has universal relevance, as Irish public policy on state-funded higher education is “learning” from the US practice, rather than recognising it for the mistake it is, as cogently argued by Palaima (article | pdf | html) (extracts, with some added links):

The spark that tingled to my bones

Genuine passion is not only largely missing in higher education nowadays, it is discouraged by institutional and government policies and practices. …

The official core purpose of the University of Texas at Austin, where I have held a tenured position and endowed professorship now for 22 years, is that we “transform lives for the benefit of society”. … One easy way of keeping alive a passion for teaching and learning is to remember daily the core purpose of the university. Yet those faculty, students, administrators and state officials who do take the mission completely to heart are, in my opinion, powerless against those who actually control the processes that lead to decisions about education at our flagship state university and what resources we should receive.

… The total emphasis at the Texas Governor’s summit and in the Secretary of Education’s commission report on the financial and economic rewards of pursuing higher education strike me as symptomatic of larger trends ultimately detrimental to the good of our society. … Worse yet is that matters are so far gone right now that neither the commission report nor the Governor’s summit generated much in the way of critical response. No regent spoke up in defence of faculty or dared to point out the problems that the supposed “breakthrough solutions” would perpetuate or create.

… Sadly, other countries of the world now believe that the failing American model of ever-decreasing public funding for state universities is the one to follow.

Moral: there is blood on the tracks in the US public higher eduction sector; unless we are careful, there will soon be in Ireland too.

Bonus links: lyrics | YouTube