College degrees (or should I just say college classes?) are a handy indicator that the person has been exposed and should be granted access. That is, a college education provides exposure and access. Skills are secondary; thinking is optional.
I am taking my inspiration for this post from the Marilee Jones firing from MIT. Apparently the dean of Admissions lied about her education way back, and it was ferreted out. She was fired—as she should be.
The discussion about her, though, quickly moves to the value and role of education. Ms. Jones was an excellent dean by all accounts, so why fire her now? Does the degree mean that much?
First, it wasn’t the lack of degree that was cited as the reason for her getting fired, but that she lied. So, take the lack of degree off of the table. Could she do the job without a degree? Well, she had been doing so for quite a while, so yes.
Then what is a degree for? Access and exposure. Let me explain. First, a few caveats: not all degrees are created equal. A liberal arts degree is all about exposure (although access is to be debated), while a science, engineering, business, etc. degree is, arguably, more about access. It is a sliding scale, with factors of specific degree plans, job positions, etc. But, for discussion purposes, it falls like this:
Sciences/business Liberal arts
Of course, as with any spectrum, there are some middling ground (archeology would be an exposed/access; fine arts an access/exposure).
Pretty much any job is a club of some sort. Entry is only permitted if a person has X, Y and sometimes Z. For a range of jobs, X is a degree in the field (AA, BA, MA, etc.). One needs a law degree and bar exam to practice, doctors need med school and internships, etc. So, access is limited for these fields. I suppose is should be.
Exposure, though, is what people trot out when they speak of higher ed. “The best that is thought or spoken” sort of thing. A college grad will be exposed to various paradigms, cultures, practices, etc. that will expand her mind. At least, that is the argument. In fact, the exposure side exists almost exclusively when higher ed discussions arise. People will get apoplectic about the importance of exposing, or not, young minds to the world of ideas.
That is a load of crap.
Sure, I think that the exposure side should be included. It should be expanded. To assume that a college grad will be exposed (who is the judge for this anyway—is there a standard or measure here) to “enough” by a survey of British literature puts a lot on Donne and the like. And really, I could care less if my surgeon felt the pathos of ball turret gunner. I do care that she was paying attention to her gross anatomy labs. For the skilled professions, exposure helps more at dinner parties than in obtaining a job (see super-important caveat to this below).
What about business? Entry-level is entry-level. The college brand will do more to give a guy access than will the specific courses. Got an MBA from Harvard, then come this way to higher-exec-ville. All others, get at the end of that long line and await your cube assignment.
So, here are the terms of the discussion: access and exposure. My personal interaction with this tomorrow (or so).
Super-important caveat: I don’t think there is enough exposure of the skilled professions to other paradigms. I wish the doctors would open up to non-medical interventionist approaches—that holistic or homeopathic approaches were more explored. But, why I wish to be and what is are world’s apart. So, in a sense the pathos of the ball-turret gunner might show the way to realizing an open-minded approach to medicine. Yet, even typing this I feel as if it is too much to expect, given the noise of job obtainment and advancement (“witch” doctors don’t work at Mayo).
Labels: academic freedom, adjunct, higher education, role of college