Posted by: crudbasher | January 23, 2014

A Radical University Model

I came across an article talking about a college that is going back to basics. Check this out:

H/T Forbes

But just because much of our higher education system is now a poor value for students who really want to study, we shouldn’t think that worthwhile schools have disappeared. In fact, just a few years ago, a new, very small university was created — the University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) – that does just what a college is supposed to do.

Ok I’m sure some will have a problem with that paragraph itself. Value is a fluctuating thing. I think it’s clear that higher education though has a problem of declining public perception of its value.


[T]he man chosen to be the chancellor of the new institution, Stephen Lehmkuhle, insisted on thinking outside the standard higher education box. Lehmkuhle is a psychologist who is interested in how people learn. He had been the top academic administrator at the University of Missouri and saw UMR as a clean slate for developing a college that would maximize student learning.


One of the unique features of UMR is the absence of academic departments. Colleges and universities are almost always an assemblage of numerous departments, each requiring considerable overhead expenses, and often squabbling among themselves for money and prestige. Lehmkuhle saw that UMR could not afford that, so the faculty is all one team rather than a group of jealous departments.

I think he’s exactly right. While there isn’t all out war between departments are universities, they certainly don’t go out of their way to help each other. They defend their piece of the pie.

One more bit.

UMR’s approach to tenure is altogether different. Its tenure criteria reflect Chancellor Lehmkuhle’s focus on student learning. Candidates for tenure must first of all demonstrate excellence in teaching.

Research is important to the advancement of science to be sure, but many students have brilliant teachers who can’t teach worth a darn (and don’t do much of it anyway).

I’m curious about how this coupling of research and teaching came about anyway. I suppose if you want to make sure you are learning the latest stuff then it make sense to keep close to the people doing it but if they can’t teach then the arrangement is ineffective.

Can’t we come up with a way to have researchers and then different people be the teachers? Oh yeah, they are called Teaching Assistants. Of course they REALLY don’t know how to teach, not to mention they are not very interested in doing it.

The article concludes with this:

UMR seems built for survival in the fast-arriving future where educational programs and institutions sink or swim based on their ability to teach students who want an education and not just a degree.

A university that focuses on teaching excellence… What a radical idea. 🙂

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