While at Stanford, I've been able to take a number of courses related to my interest in higher education. The following three courses strongly informed my understanding of American higher education as an institution. They also shaped my ideas about leadership, about excellence, and about the place of the humanities in that institution.
The History of Higher Education in the U.S.
Professor David Labaree
It is not an exaggeration to say that Professor Labaree's course fundamentally changed the way that I think about higher education. In particular, it gave me the opportunity think through some ideas I’d had about the humanities in the United States. As a humanist and scholar, I'm deeply concerned about the future of humanities education in the age of MOOCs and online education. The humanities risk being left behind if they refuse to adapt, and that would be, I believe, a profound loss for American higher education and American society more broadly.
Below you can find my final paper for Professor Labaree's course. The paper is titled "The Past, Present, and Future of the Humanities PhD," and it includes a brief history of the humanities in the U.S., as well as a consideration of the future of the doctoral degree in particular. Are there ways to change humanities doctoral education so that it becomes sustainable and useful in the 21st century? I believe there is, and I discuss what that might look like (and what I believe it should look like) in my paper.
Administration and Leadership in Higher Education
Professor Tom Ehrlich
Professor Ehrlich's class was a truly outstanding experience. The hands-on, collaborative nature of the work was both challenging and novel for me as a humanities scholar. For our final project, my group researched and wrote a case study that centered on the merger of several departments at a large research university over a number of years. The primary lessons that we took away from the case-study included the following:
- Decisions should be made collaboratively, so that all stake-holders feel heard.
- Even decisions that come “top-down” should be done in such a way that benefits both the administration and the academic unit in question.
- Consultation and transparency are crucial in decision-making.
- Change often happens at a university only over time. Periods of acculturation are sometimes necessary in order for further changes to eventually take place.
These lessons speak to the ways in which universities are different from other sorts of structures. For good or for bad, universities are unique and operate according to their own rules of logic and their own set of values that cannot be entirely compared to other organizations, such as corporations. Speaking for myself, I find the set of values that universities hold dear (such as intellectual freedom, teaching and learning, the longview rather than the shortview) to be very much in line with my own, which is why I am eager to stay in higher education once I finish my PhD.
The Economics of Higher Education
Professor Eric Bettinger
It had been well over ten years since I'd spent any time thinking seriously about the principles of economics when I took Professor Bettinger's course in my fourth year at Stanford. But I knew that if I wanted to understand how decisions are made within a university, I would have to know more about their finances. We asked such questions as:
- How do students choose to attend college - and which college to attend?
- How do colleges retain students once they have them?
- How do universities manage their endowments?
- What role do faculty play in the economics of a university?
- How can we assess college learning? To what standards should universities be held, and with what consequences?
- Is there a reasonable way to "rank" univerisities that does not simply reproduce our own expectations about which schools are the best?
- What are the special challenges that face community colleges and for-profit schools?
Exploring these questions through class discussion and problem sets was fascinating. However, I did not expect the extent to which Professor Bettinger's class forced me to reflect on my own education. As someone who went straight from high school to a "four-year" institution and graduated in four years, I had always assumed that I was "typical." But I realized through this course that that is simply not the case. Many if not most students in the U.S. are "non-traditional" and that number is rising. Therefore, I believe that one of the greatest challenges facing higher education right now is how to change its image of itself so that it may meet the needs of all its students.