Monday, January 28, 2008

Horizontal vs. Vertical Integration: Gordon Gee's Gospel

By Richard Vedder

Gordon Gee is probably the most interesting university president in America. He has been a president for 30 years, at schools such as West Virginia, Colorado, Ohio State, Brown, Vanderbilt and --again --Ohio State. I heard him speak at lunch at my small town Rotary Club today.

Gee uses humor extensively to make his points. But amidst the jokes he occasionally will say something substantive that is worth considering. Today he said he was something of an "academic terrorist," who thinks we organize universities all wrong. We opt for vertical integration, when we should seek horizontal integration.

It was not entirely clear what he meant by that, but he appears to have been decrying the excessive tendency of individual units to do their own thing, not integrating their efforts with sister units to create synergies that could propel learning, promote new research results, and enhance efficiency. Universities are not designed so that the chemists talk to the biologists --even though biochemistry, integrating efforts from both disciplines, is an important and hot field. While individuals occasionally reach across departmental divides to do collaborative work, the university organization typically impedes rather than encourages such endeavors.

Should reorganization go still further? When undergraduate and graduate students are taught at the same institution, many feel the undergraduates get neglected, and spending per student is vastly higher on the graduate students. Is this an argument to separate the teaching functions more? More fundamentally, should more research be conducted at research centers as opposed to universities? Should we revert to the very old system where the professors sell their services directly to the students, and the university merely serves as a coordinating and administrative service body? I don't know the answers to these questions, but Gee is right to question the status quo.

9 comments:

Mad Dog said...
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sciencedoc said...

"Universities are not designed so that the chemists talk to the biologists --even though biochemistry, integrating efforts from both disciplines, is an important and hot field."

Vedder should take a look at the website of the Harvard Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Or the similarly named department at the University of Illinois. Or most other chemistry departments, whether so named or not.

sciencedoc said...

As to whether it's good or not for undergraduates to study at schools with a lot of research -- there's plenty of choice and competition between different schools with different ideas about that. Between private research universities and small liberal arts colleges. Between public universities with and without a major research component. It's not as if nobody has thought of this a thousand times before.

Chris said...

Exactly, Sciencedoc.

For an "alleged" free market conservative, Vedder should be pleased with a free market competition for top students and faculty between research oriented and non or limited research oriented universities.

The only problem is that the non/limited research universities are, with the minor exception of a narrow sliver of elite LACs, getting their asses handed to them in the open competition for top students and the most distinguished faculty members. If research universities are so bad, why do the best and brightest undergraduates clamor to get into them. Why in 2007, did Ohio State enroll more students (27% in a freshman class of 6100) who scored 30+ on the ACT Composite than the other 7 residential public universities in Ohio COMBINED: (Miami of Ohio-15%, Cincinnati-8% Ohio U-7%, Toledo-5%, Bowling Green-5%, Akron-2% and Kent State-2%; who enrolled more than 26,000 freshmen in 2007). Perhaps the market knows something that the "alleged" free-marketeer does not.

Subsequently, out the window go any semblance of ideological or philosophical consistency on Vedder's part and in come the demands for using the levers of government power to "enforce institutional equality."

As for my bringing Ohio U into the argument, it's the result of being familiar enough with the culture in Athens that I can recognize their whiny demands for government enforced "leveling" and "equality" when I hear them. Whatever ideological and philosophical camps that Vedder professes to take residence in, I have little doubt that that several decades in the embittered, jealous culture of Ohio U. have been a far greater influence on his outlook and subsequent policy proposals.

Again, for the Vedder sycophants on this board who have been far more childish and profane in their attacks than anything sciencedoc or I have posted, please step above the fray and reconcile for me how using the levers of government power and tax code to "enforce institutional equality" are consistent in any way with conservative economic or political philosophy and doctrine?

sciencedoc said...

Chris -- Right about where the best of the public university students are chooding, on average, they are choosing the research places. The same holds for the private schools. I wasn't going to be snotty about that and say it. That's not to say that there aren't very many top-notch students at each kind of institution. There's plenty of room for all kinds, as far as I'm concerned, and all kinds is what we have in this fortunate country.

Mad Dog said...
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Cowboy said...
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Mad Dog said...
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Cowboy said...
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