Never has there been so much confusion about the academic world, its mission and its mechanisms.
The first mission that comes to mind is that universities and colleges have as their primary missions the education of undergraduate and, less so, graduate students. This is, of course true. We educate and guide our students through the maze that are our disciplinary subjects, as they continually evolve.
Universities are also repositories of knowledge, not only in the libraries and data banks, but also in the minds of the faculties. In addition to the mission of research, at universities with PhD programs, there is the mission of transferring the state-of-the arts in all disciplines to the next generation. This is through the graduate student bodies. A faculty member, in a 30-40 year career at a university, will see roughly between 6-8 generations of graduate students who are mentored, plus hundreds of graduate students who are taught in graduate courses. Additionally, there could be between 5000 and 10000 undergraduate students taught.
Societies evolve, grow, and stay healthy by the steady infusion of new knowledge and understanding. In the arts, sciences, and engineering, societies gain sustenance and can thrive.
Thus, the mission of the university, as outlined above, cannot be accomplished without facilities, laboratories, classrooms, and a faculty that is currently the repository of humanity’s knowledge, transferring that knowledge in all its forms to the current and next generations.
Many of these students will transfer that knowledge to their employers – perhaps industry, government, start-ups, and social service organizations – for example. The multiplier effects are beyond impressive. Every year, students who graduate with bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees enter the workforce or create new companies, resulting in new and better products for consumers, services, and the national defense.
This process cannot work with online university models. Of course, a motivated student can learn certain types of subjects online. But these are subjects that are well defined, where there is little experiential material to pass on, the kind that a live experience with a faculty member offers.
So, in summary, the universities and colleges are the foundation of a thriving and growing society. They are the impetus for knowledge evolution and transference between generations. The universities and their faculties are the repositories of all of our knowledge. They are the seeds the link the past to the present and future. Societies that try to remove the human elements from the universities do so at their own perils.
© September 2016 Haym Benaroya. All Rights Reserved.