Letter misunderstood importance of university education
A July 7 letter to the Telegram states that “if MUN wants to be a 21st-century university it needs to become more specialized in areas that meet the labour market of this province and cut programs that don’t in order to find savings.”
Along the way to that conclusion the writer suggests that foreign languages, classics, ancient worlds (history, anthropology, archeology, etc.), gender studies and sociology should face the axe.
I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, that is precisely the course of action that would quickly lead to third-rate university status.
I do, however, understand the point being made.
It stems from a misunderstanding of the role and importance of university education within society and the labour market.
While facilitating labour market development a university has responsibility for a wide range of social, scientific and individual advancement goals beyond its immediate geography and far beyond the scope of simply providing employment.
This is what separates “higher learning” from vocational and technical school pursuits which tend to concentrate more specifically on particular occupations or trades.
MUN is well aware of this and its mission statement appears to steer clear of giving prominence to a direct labour market mandate.
“Memorial University is an inclusive community dedicated to innovation and excellence in teaching and learning, research, scholarship, creative activity, service and public engagement.”
Under “Responsibilities to place” — as close as it gets to labour market development — is the statement that it “addresses needs and opportunities for Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Specific dedication to labour market goals at MUN are already competently met by a host of departments and affiliations such as C-core (engineering), Genesis Centre and P. J. Gardiner Institute (business development), oil and gas affiliations, among many others, not to mention the Marine Institute, Grenfell Campus, Harlow Campus and studies specific to biology and oceanography in Logy Bay and Norris Point.
With regards to the humanities and other non-specific occupational education isn’t how to learn, problem solve and think just as important as what we learn? And do not studies in literature, poetry, philosophy, gender studies, sociology, etc. provide a meaningful and pedagogically rigorous conduit for the development of the analytical, synthesizing, formulating and communication skills necessary for active participation in modern society including the labour market? And would not the creative and intellectual force of a larger perspective propel life-long-learning including the technical components of whatever occupation one chooses? The value of a multidimensional university degree lies in its testament that the holder has run the gauntlet on a range of academic studies and was not found wanting. Usually less than a third of the courses necessary to graduate are within the so called “major” area of study.
Still not convinced?
Here are some current and very successful liberal arts graduates: Howard Schultz, former CEO Starbucks (B.S. Communications); Andrea Jung, former CEO Avon (B.A. English); Michael Eisner, former CEO Walt Disney Corp (B.A English); Ken Chenault, former CEO American Express (B.A. History). Other notables include Oprah Winfrey (Communications), Conan O’brien (History), billionaire George Soros (Philosophy).
Still sceptical? Ross Donnie, director of the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa tracked the average annual earnings of 82,000 people who received undergraduate degrees from there between 1998 and 2010. His findings published in 2014 showed that by 2011, those who graduated with social science degrees were turning nearly $80,000 annually on average. Even humanities grads were making not far off $70,000 a year.
We live in a rapidly changing world whose future labour force requirements and job titles have yet to be identified. Cost savings notwithstanding, a broad curriculum, rather than a more narrowly focused one, is arguably a safer bet for instilling the flexibly required to respond to emerging social, labour market and individual needs.