Let­ter mis­un­der­stood im­por­tance of univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - LETTERS - Tom Hawco St. John’s

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.

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