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Xavier as a business

During the next four weeks, Chris Dobbs and Donna Szostak will examine the liberal’s place in the Xa

By Donna Szostak
On November 10, 2011

The earliest liberal arts universities established in the United States were able to thrive because the faculty held three similar beliefs: knowledge should focus on understanding, an educator should help his or her students enter a rich literary culture and the curriculum should reflect these values. However, this consensus

was made possible because higher education was only extended to a small percentage of elite Americans. After the Civil War, due to industrialization and technological advances, more job opportunities developed for the middle class. Consequently, new research universities sprung

up to meet the demands of the middle class, who now had the means to obtain a higher education. Thus, the popularization of the university. These new universities,

priding themselves on their democratic spirits, opened their

doors to a diverse group of students who previously would not have been able to attend college. However, with more students, more diverse ideas entered the conversation about the values of the university. Previously, the small liberal arts schools did not run into this problem because

a majority of Americans were excluded from higher education, but modern universities encouraged and were receptive to new ideas. This posed a big problem for the modern university: "Whose voice should we listen to?"

The modern university needed to find a new way to run the

school. The modern university dealt with this problem by imitating the business model. This meant the creation of distinct departments, each with a specific, understood role, in order for the university to run smoothly. The university, like a business, reorganized itself according to tasks

in order to maximize efficiency – especially in regard to students' desires and expectations. This led to the specialization of the university: the creation of majors

(the concept of a ‘major' did not exist in the old college system), departments, deans and boards of advisors. The evolution of these new departments, managed by an administration, separated the departments from one another to try to isolate conflicting ideologies. The reorganization of the university created an artificial hierarchy within the universities; departments and faculty members were separated from the board room; the emergence of

administrative positions eliminated the possibility of debates about methods and new ideas derailing the mass-educational purpose of the university. The purpose of this division was to create a self-regulating university

and to diminish interdepartmental conflict in order to meet the demands of their students in the most effective way. In this model, if conflicts and challenges to the curriculum were to arise, the conflicts would be absorbed by the departments and smoothed over – there was no avenue for

discussion. The disconnection of the faculty from the administration made it possible for the university to stay

on track without being derailed by internal conflict.

The university's imitation of businesses may work successfully for technical universities, since those students

appreciate the specialization of the curriculum: students can concentrate on their specific major; those universities allow them to get in and out of school and obtain their diplomas without any fuss. For technical universities, the business model and the professionalization of the university are not concerns; in fact, they offer wonderful opportunities for a majority of Americans to receive a specialized education beyond high school. However, the effect of the shift in ideologies is significant for education as a whole, especially at small, liberal arts colleges, like

Xavier. When a liberal arts college mirrors the business

model, it is at the expense of the liberal arts themselves.

What is good for the administration may not be good for

education.


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