Universities Can't Fulfil the Myth · These are questions for wise men with skinny arms

Universities Can't Fulfil the Myth

Universities come with a mythical mission. But they don’t fulfill it.

This article covers many very common sentiments among my family and friends, and I think the article addresses the problem and the lack of solution very well. I think I’ll just riff on things that I feel are already incredibly obvious to anyone who has been through the system recently.

I’m currently a mentor for a high-school junior, and as his high school pushes him towards applying for university admission, I question his motives to find out if that really helps him with his life goals.

Looking back, it seemed inevitable that I would attend a university. I was interested in computers and engineering, and at that time there was no other place to learn those skills. Even with online courses now, I think high-school students still don’t see an easier way to get a job other than going to the school with the best reputation they can fiscally manage.

I told my mentee that the best reason to get into an Ivy league is to become friends with those students. The high requirements for entry are self fulfilling, by surrounding yourself with other extremely dedicated or well connected people, you have opportunities that no other school can offer. You could fail to learn anything in every single one of your classes and it would be immaterial to the point of attending the prestigious classes in the first place.

I’d venture to say that the classes are the least important part of the university experience, further reducing their role as a trade school. At least at my university (an institute of technology that started out as a dedicated trade school!), the education was omakase. The department decided what courses were required and what electives to offer. They desperately tried to keep the curriculum up to date with employer demands, but they often spread themselves too thin on the most relevant topics. This should be expected given the nature of the committee, professors who have been out of the workforce for 20 years or have never worked outside of academia.

Chris laments the state of adjunct professors, but I think this ‘temp lecturer’ role is actually really important to bringing in new ideas. The adjunct should be a role of high pressure and survivability. When teaching is mostly a battle of motivating students, it helps to have a highly motivated teacher. After taking enough classes, you can generally tell which teachers have tenure (hint: it’s rarely the ones that care). I can safely say that all of my favorite classes, where I felt motivated as well as educated, were with adjunct professors.

Choosing university classes for education comes down to: if you know what you want to do and it doesn’t require a piece of paper from an accredited institution, avoid paying for university classes. Because most aren’t designed to provide the kind of focused topics that will actually land you a job in a field of your choice. Which is what I feel the article avoids saying, but it’s the logical conclusion when considering the state of affairs.