Tag Archives: universities

The university as an organization: collegial or hierarchical?

Graphic: Organizational chart for a manufacturing corporation, 1896 (from J. Slater Lewis, Commercial Organization of Factories) via wikimedia.org

critique of universitiesThoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In this series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but there’s no substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).

The university as an organization: collegial or hierarchical?

My first posts in this series dealt with Páll Skúlason’s thoughts (and my own) about what a university is for, and about what a university is.  Today, some thoughts about that that means for how a university is organized – and for our cherished notion of collegial governance.

Until I became accidentally entangled in university administration, I was remarkably uninterested in the university as an organization. I had an office and a lab and some classrooms in which I went about my business of research and teaching, and if I noticed the organizational infrastructure supporting this, it was mostly to grouse about how idiotic it all was. Continue reading

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The globalization and provincialization of universities

Thoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). Here’s Part 1. The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In this series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but there’s no substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).

The globalization and provincialization of universities

My first post in this series dealt with Páll Skúlason’s thoughts (and my own) about what a university is for. Today, some thoughts inspired by Skúlason’s thoughts about what a university is.

Skúlason suggests that a university is best understood as

a conversation, a place where people who are trying to understand the world and their own existence within the context of a common pursuit for knowledge and learning come together to converse and exchange ideas (p. 13).

While “a conversation” might sound a bit new-agey, in fact this is an important observation that goes back to the revolution in European science in the 1600s. Continue reading

Three things a university might be for

Thoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). Skúlason was a philosopher who served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and for 8 years as Rector, of the University of Iceland. A Critique of Universities (his last English-language book*) collects some essays and thoughts on the nature, aims, and organization of universities. The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In the series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but these in no way substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).

Three things a university might be for

Universities are odd places. Despite the fact that an increasing large fraction of the public has spent at least some time attending one, I’d guess that very few people could enunciate concisely what they’re for – and among those who could enunciate something, there would be little agreement. Perhaps more surprisingly, I’d have the same problem. Continue reading

The paradox of university governance

How is a university run? I’ve been part of universities for many years, I’ve been a departmental Chair and a Dean, and I don’t know. What I do know is that academics spend a lot of time talking and arguing about how a university is run, and how it should be run, and (usually) about the supposedly large gap between those two things.

The reason academics argue about university governance is that there’s a paradox at the heart of the modern university. Continue reading