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.