CFHSS responds to Globe and Mail columns on higher education

Monday, October 24, 2011

Friday’s Globe and Mail published a column by Jeffrey Simpson arguing that universities are failing undergraduates. CFHSS president Graham Carr’s letter to the editor responding to the column did not make it to the Globe and Mail’s pages, but it is available here:

At its best, university education is a deeply transformative experience. Transmitting the values and practices of both liberal arts and sciences education is crucial in developing the citizenship of today and tomorrow. Increased university participation rates in recent decades is an important Canadian success story particularly as we are becoming a globally-connected knowledge society.

Yet, the perception that quality is under threat is widely shared.  There is no silver bullet to resolve the complex challenges of revitalizing undergraduate education. On one hand, some traditional forms of classroom instruction are still highly successful. On the other, exciting innovations are taking place in Canadian universities as non-traditional modes of education including start-ups, blended and online learning are being introduced, often in partnership with the private and civil society sectors. Many of these innovations aim to reinforce the essential connection between the research and teaching functions of the university.

Universities need the good will, the resources, the imagination and collaboration from all parties to foster these reforms and to ensure that our collective ambitions for diversity (a better goal than differentiation), accessibility and excellence in both research and in learning become reality.

Another column in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, this time by Margaret Wente, criticizes humanities scholars for using “academese” and argues that students are not getting their money’s worth as a consequence. Letter writer Stephen Slemon, who happens to be on CFHSS’s executive, deftly explains why this is a false argument:

Margaret Wente's column seems to boil down to the following syllogism: (1) Scholars in the humanities sometimes use technical language. (2) I don't understand it. (3) Therefore, they are ripping off both their students and the taxpayers.

Would she commit herself to the same claim about, say, kinesiologists, and their technical language? Mathematicians?


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