Residential and liberal arts colleges as ammunition in ‘The Global War on Taylorism’?

I continue to be surprised, partly via my intense use of Google Alerts for updates on global higher ed issues, how much thought provoking stuff there is out there betwixt and between ample supplies of detritus.

One of my alerts, today, linked through to a fascinating on-line article titled ‘The Global War on Taylorism’.

Taylorism, for those of you who have not heard of it, is a concept named after Frederick W. Taylor, a mechanical engineer who has been deemed the ‘father of scientific management’. He was the author of the Principles of Scientific Management (1911), which outlines an approach for enhancing economic efficiency via more strategic management practices. Taylorism and the associated concept of Fordism (and Post-Fordism), often go hand in hand. While originally associated with the retooling and scaling up of manufacturing processes, Taylorism has been applied to many other sectors and realms of life, for good and for bad.

While this is not the space for an exposition of Taylorism, or any number of associated concepts, as applied to the management of higher education, it is worth linking through to ‘The Global War on Taylorism’ in the Collegiate Way. The Collegiate Way is run by the evolutionary biologist Dr. Robert J. O’Hara.

This article has been highlighted as we at GlobalHigherEd have been noting the increased interest in establishing new residential colleges, and liberal arts colleges, in a variety of countries that are dominated by standardized public mass higher education institutions. An interest in more nurturing and reflective educational spaces is also emerging in societies (see, for example Hong Hong’s Lee Woo Sing College; Singapore’s new residential colleges, and the city-state’s proposed liberal arts college) where there is pressure to quickly cultivate more creative and critically thinking citizen-subjects. Residential and liberal arts colleges contrast, strikingly so, with mass private for-profit education (the Apollo/Phoenix model), and distance education more generally.

As the Collegiate Way frames it:

[r]esidential colleges originated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain, and they have long been a feature of higher education in Commonwealth countries. The first American universities to establish residential colleges were Harvard and Yale in the 1930s, and in recent years they have spread to institutions as varied as Murray State University in Kentucky, the University of Miami in Florida, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University in New Jersey, the University of Central Arkansas, Acadia University in Nova Scotia, the University of the Americas in Mexico, and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

This push could be construed as part of the anti-Taylorist agenda, or (more cynically) as a money making venture, or service differentiation vehicle, to create a new niche in the global higher ed world – analogous to the boutique offerings available 1-2 blocks on either side of Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. In reality there will be many shades of grey, and many complexions, with respect to the motives and effectiveness of new residential and liberal arts colleges around the world.

In any case, as the Collegiate Way puts it, a long-term struggle is underway to distort and destabilize existing practices, either through the creation of new higher ed institutions (e.g., Quest University, in Squamish B.C., Canada, which was favourably profiled this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education), or through the insertion of new learning spaces within existing institutions (e.g., Chadbourne Residential College, University of Wisconsin-Madison).

In the end, perhaps:

[t]he Global War on Taylorism will be a long, generational struggle. But in no theater can it be more righteously fought than in education. And in education it should be righteously fought, because students are not fractional Full-time Equivalents or ethno-economic vectors in Complex Systems Theory. They are individuals. Let us, as individuals, rouse and guide their powers of genius. Let us teach them beauty and truth, art and science, and the unquiet minds that have sought beauty and truth throughout history. Let us teach them to be, not parts but persons, not automatons but agents, not types but worlds.

Kris Olds