STATEMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
January 1st., 1999: GEORGE F. HART, Professor emeritus, Geology & Geophysics, Louisiana State University.
My educational philosophy has more to do with my early upbringing and later experience in a variety of cultures and political systems than it has to do with my teaching and research interests. Nevertheless, an underlying theme of curiosity and logic that springs from the former has manifested itself in the latter. Fundamentally my educational philosophy centers around the concept of meritocracy [ability + effort = reward] tempered by a sensitivity to political and social realities. The prime social realities acting today have switched from simple affirmative action to all aspects of population pressure.
There are a number of specific comments I think any educator must address. These include questions concerning leadership, multiculturalism, changing educational perceptions, population pressures, and, the financial problems facing academia.
For many years, like many in academia, I suffered individual chairmen, deans, and other administrators, whose basic concept of leadership was: what can you do to make me look good? I totally reject this approach and believe strong intellectual leadership asks the question: what can I do to make you look good? Academic leadership should foster scholarship and creativity amongst both students and faculty by providing strong support for teaching, scholarly research, and professional activity.
I prefer a hands-on form of leadership involving regular personal contacts. This requires a sensitivity to other disciplines and viewpoints. It encourages individuals to begin to understand and work with one another to reach common goals. A necessary pre-requisite is open - access whereby university administrators are readily available to professors and students for discussion of mutual problems. This accessibility demands accountability by both parties, and my experience has shown that this is best accomplished by total honesty. Mutual respect can survive even antagonistic encounters if problems are tackled openly. I subscribe to the view that once a decision is made it is necessary to accept the new situation and move forward.
I do not believe that university administrators should outlive their usefulness: in the case of Deans, Directors and similar positions experience tells me that this is 5-8 years - except in very special cases.
Discussion of multi-culturalism within academia has been particularly prominent during the last few decades. The prime reason for such discussion is a belief that the needs of our culturally diverse population are not being adequately addressed. Multi-culturalism has its roots in the relationship between democracy and human rights. Since the end of World War II many regions of the world have been shaken by the revolution of rising expectations. The United States of America, principally through our Constitution and the idea that the exercise of democracy offers people the best existence possible in an admittedly imperfect world, has played a major role in this revolution. Multi-culturalism within academia addresses the problem that democracy cannot exist within a group if certain human rights can be arbitrarily deprived. The problem is that the concept of duty and personal accountability is an integral part of human rights: fundamentally, the exercise of rights must not prevent others from enjoying their rights. The degree to which academia promotes multi-culturalism must be determined by the specific institutional goals. At a general level I do not agree with measures such as quotas and minority privileges that are not based upon meritocracy. Nor do I believe in designating funds for classes, or other activities, that target the enhancement of specific cultural and ethnic beliefs, unless such a focus is either a traditional aspect of a specific institution, or that institution aspires to a new area of specialization in such subjects. I have experienced many cultures and recognize that all have something to offer in the development of the intellect, and I will encourage those aspects of multi-culturalism that aid, assist and improve the basic goals of academia.
Related to multi-culturalism is academic diversity. Past studies by the Academy of Sciences and Academy of Engineering suggested that by the end of last century the majority of professors in science and engineering would be either non-white or white-female. This prediction was incorrect. However, the error was only in timing: it probably will be true by the end of the next decade. Within the non-European group the overwhelming percentage will be Asian or from peninsular India. In order to bring Hispanics, American Indian, and other non-white groups into the mainstream, incentives must be made to persuade academically able students to continue through to the highest level of education. Such incentives should NOT be given to the mediocre. Academia is an elitist body not a representative body. Thus, in academia the over-riding premise for hiring, and for reward, must be one of intellectual ability and achievement: not race, color, religion, gender or creed issues i.e. meritocracy must be the sole basis for hiring, firing, and promotion.
CHANGING EDUCATIONAL PERCEPTIONS
Academia started the 1990's with a weakened public image due to a series of reports on academic fraud, financial improprieties, criminal activities and rising costs. Unfortunately, addressing these problems did not remove the public demand for accountability, which has caused a switch of funds from higher education to lower education [K 1-12]. Unfortunately, the switch simply allowed fraudulent activity at a lower level of the educational food chain [as the New Orleans School District has emphasized]. Associated with the change in emphasis from higher to lower education, is a growing perception that remedial and vocational education through two-year community colleges must be strengthened. This has been especially advocated by the corporate-world that needs a good supply of skilled semi-professional workers, who work for lower wages than fully trained professionals.
The long-term effects of both of these developments are of benefit to higher education but in the short-term lead to a further reduction of funding for higher education. To counter this, and persuade both legislators and the general public to provide more funds, there must be a stronger commitment to teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Higher education must align itself with the fundamental movement in education so that it plays a leadership role. A re-assessment of program goals is required which reaffirms the role of academic quality and recognizes the need for academic excellence in both teaching and research, within the framework of the regional educational system. The concept of community service as one requirement for professorial advancement within the university system is archaic. Community service should lie in academia being used as an intellectual resource to aid the political system. University professors are not State workers but are independent workers who are paid by the State: the difference is profound! This difference is extremely important to maintain because academia must stand outside State control if it is to fulfill its role as the 'well' of truth and reason. This does not apply to the lower educational system [K 1-12] where teachers ARE State workers that are required to undertake very specific tasks that should be pre-defined to a detailed level.
The shortages of qualified faculty and excellent students require a strategy of recruitment that emphasizes academic quality both as taught and as practiced and necessitates a strong commitment to student and faculty recruitment and program development.
By passing the increased cost of education onto the student via fee increases there is a trend to make it more difficult for lower - middle class students [of all ethno-cultural groups] to obtain a higher education: effectively the wealthy can provide opportunities to their children that allow them the become wealthy. Education is the key to many problems that our society faces today. There is an increasing demand by the public for more educational opportunities and services and to accomplish this all education should be freely available to all American citizens. By this I mean not only K1-12 but, also a two-year Collegiate Associate Degree program that serves all sectors of society and provides a basis for selection of students for University education. University education itself should be totally free to all who qualify based on meritocracy. If we have too few institutions of higher education BUILD MORE. We must strive to contain the damage that previous attempts have done to our educational system: including the lack of discipline in our K1-12, and the generally appalling lack of academic rigor in the vast majority of schools.
Aspects of the general problem of population pressure that affect universities are concerned with increased environmental deterioration in all aspects. These range from increased urbanization to increased demands for places in institutes of higher education. Universities should be in this arena - which will be one of the most important issues of the next century. They should be concerned with research, teaching and concept development pertaining to population growth and population density. Moreover, state government is primarily [or should be] a regulatory body. How the university interacts with the state and federal agencies in providing the local intelligentsia is an important issue. Academics should be encouraged to work with local government as impartial advisors.
FINANCIAL PROBLEMS FACING ACADEMIA
Because the federal government has shifted much of the responsibility for education to the individual States there is an increasing effort by State legislators to demand input into the educational system. Whereas this tendency must be resisted, it behooves academia to re-assess itself in terms of fiscal responsibility. This can be done by making sure State money is spent according to the conditions for which it is appropriated and by academia having an influence on the appropriation process itself via its advisory role to State government. State government funds should be used primarily for financing the fundamental needs of the system and as a jumping-off point for acquisition of non-state funds.
Principal non-state funds are derived from the federal government, private industry and private donors. All aspects of obtaining external resources must be encouraged. My career experience as an administrator indicates that major federal government funds often are obtained by political means rather than by merit [even though the recipients may be meritorious]. This necessitates establishing and maintaining a relationship between the university administration and the political establishment and having the flexibility to take advantage of new financial sources.
Budget cuts that are forcing larger classes, reduction in faculty and staff, and elimination of whole programs are worldwide and are not simply a problem of the United States of America. These are being offset by improvisation and adaptation of technology. I do not believe it is necessary to adopt the more callous methods, used in the corporate-world, in order for major academic organization to survive during the 21st century. However, I do believe strategic planning, quality management and the concept of business units all can be adapted to academia and cause a positive impact.
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