Friday, April 27, 2007

Guardians of the gate

Just because you can do the job; just because you can prove you excel at what you do, doesn't mean you're qualified according to that vestige of the medieval world: the University system.
You can pass the bar exam, you can ace the Professional Engineer's exam, you can invent the light bulb or the personal computer but you can't wear the robes or even sweep the Temple floors unless you get the blessing of the academic priesthood in their funny hats. I suppose that in some cases it's a safeguard but in others it's an ironic demonstration of how Universities have arrogated power to themselves and guard their power with an almost religious fervor.

Take Marilee Jones, for instance. The Dean of Admissions has been on the staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since 1979 and by all acounts has done an exceptional job, receiving the school's highest awards for administrators. She has been the winner of the MIT Excellence Award for Leading Change and was the 2006 winner of the Gordon Y Billard Award given "for special service of outstanding merit." So why was she forced to resign in tearful disgrace? It's because she hadn't been anointed with the proper holy water at the schools she listed on her resume 28 years ago. I confess that I hope her replacement, correct degrees and all, is no more qualified to do the job than the many newly minted and totally incompetent MBA's I've worked with over the years. An institution that values medals and tokens and certificates more than 28 years of outstanding experience and achievement deserves no less.

Is the true offense that she learned what she learned outside of the Temple of Knowledge and without sacrificing on the proper altar or was it that her experience proves that talent can't be taught and ability can trump pedantry? Perhaps MIT feels it needs to take a stand against misrepresentation without regard to any statute of limitations, but I'm not convinced that this is not another case of defending the turf they've held for a thousand years against the encroachment of an open world where knowledge is accessible to everyone and against an open society where people can prove themselves by proving themselves rather than by serving as altar boys for those who teach.


Crankyboy said...

This is too creepy. I thought the same thing - that she obviously didn't need any degrees to do her job. She never even had a college degree. Shows you that anyone can do any job even without any education. George W. Bush being the exception of course.

Capt. Fogg said...

And she proved she could do it. George can't tie his shoes and his education is a joke.

d.K. said...

This resurrects an old debate I had with myself. I was convinced that if you went to UW-LaCrosse, with an adequate Library, you could receive as good an education as say, at UW-Madison, the flagship in my home state.

The chicken before the egg argument weighed in... did exceptionally bright people happen to go to top tier schools, fulfilling that expectation of educationing the best and brightest? Or did the schools really provide the venue for making that outcome possible? I'm still not sure, but of course, I agree with your premise that if somebody proved their mettle while not having attended these "elite" institutions that "guard the truth" but yet succeeded, and in an exemplary way, but only because she was able to "say" that she had punched those buttons, what is the larger conclusion that we can draw? I think, though this is anecdotal, it probably speaks a greater truth that our academy will fight to disprove to the bitter end... I wonder how many others today (Truman is a good example from the past) could pile on to this? And yes, conversely, Bush II has his certificates from Yale and Harvard and we know what we have from that... 'Nuff said... good post, again!

Capt. Fogg said...

I wonder if books and libraries are less important now that we can see better lectures on DVD and read the books and download the information and discuss the subjects without going near anything covered with ivy.

Maybe we're not there yet, but access to knowledge is becoming a universal right, not to be controlled by people who decide whether you can enter the building and insist that only they can determine if you know enough of the things they consider important for you to leave the building with the right piece of paper.

I can name many instances, from plate tectonics to the deciphering of the Maya glyphs in which where the unassailable power of Universities stifled what is now accepted truth. Sociology departments seek to control what we call things and often in irrational ways. Archaeology departments try to make it illegal for anyone to pick up a fossil from their own property -- where are the checks against this power?

d.K. said...

Your point about technology trumping access to knowledge absent any university is compelling. The argument I had with myself, to which I referred, occurred before the age of accessible information available to anyone, anywhere with a modem. My point is the same but you're right - the fact that we can all listen to lectures by "Einstein" means that even if the argument that the top-tier schools did afford a measurably better education is weakened even more, now. It's really a fascinating argument and I'm surprised I haven't seen it discussed anywhere in the mainstream (but of course, I don't and can't read everything, so maybe it is a hot topic). Too bad for Harvard...