Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Value of a University

Bob Sutton has an amazing post on his blog this week.  He writes about what struck him as he read an article from about a decade ago by the great organizational behavior scholar Karl Weick.  Sutton writes:

Karl started out his 2002 British Journal of Management on "Puzzles in Organizational Learning: An Exercise in Disciplined Imagination" this way: 

It is sometimes possible to explore basic questions in the university that are tough to raise in other settings. John Gardner (1968, p. 90) put it well when he said that the university stands for:
• things that are forgotten in the heat of battle
•values that get pushed aside in the rough and tumble of everyday living
• the goals we ought to be thinking about and never do
• the facts we don’t like to face
• the questions we lack the courage to ask

What an important reminder for us all... The thoughts of John Gardner don't just help a professor like me try to justify the existence (or cost) of universities. These thoughts remind me of what we are obligated to do as faculty members.  Sutton points out one small example, a Stanford study that finds "there is little or no documented health advantage to organic food."  Sutton argues that this study made him uncomfortable.  Frankly, it bums me out too... so much for spending all that money at Whole Foods!  Yet, who will make these types of contributions if not a professor? 

It is our obligation to ask these tough questions.  I would argue that it's also our obligation to train our students to ask these types of tough questions, and to teach them how to explore these questions.   That practice will help them not just in the scholarly arena, but also as leaders in various private enterprises or other organizations.  

No comments: