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[Download the PDF version or read the full text below. Updated from previously published version in Organization, May 2001; vol. 8: pp. 403 – 415.]

Abstract. My vision for the future university acknowledges the facts of rapid change in the world. It attempts to conserve the idea of the university as structures and process by centering the university on a study of changes as they are redefining knowledge. As vision, it asks that faculties join in Centers for the Study of the Present Age to discuss, teach and attempt to shape the futures of Science and Technology and their ramifications. Key words. future university; new vision; re-center the university; study of present age

The vision: when I speak and think of the university, I have in mind the largest institution, the greatest number of students at all levels, professional as much as academic; graduate and postgraduate, as well as undergraduate.

The curriculum is at its maximum: some 150 subjects/disciplines in which one can garner a PhD. I have in mind, then, the largest public research universities, especially those which (also) educate their students to serve their states in the traditions of Land Grant: including agriculture and the mechanical arts.

While there are ample reasons to describe a private (research) university of fame or privilege as the descriptor of the university – say, the top of the pyramid of American universities, an Oxbridge or a Berlin – I think it important for our understanding of the present toward the future to consider the university serving the interests of the widest public or publics. In this setting, I intend to focus on the structure-processes of the institution, but particularly on how the idea of a university will intersect with, even help to define, the nature of the future.

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In the June 29 Mpls. Star-Tribune, two extensive editorials debated the notion that many new teachers in our local schools would be sponsored by Teach for America: public schools, charter schools…

The usual routes for teachers trained by Colleges of Education would not be judged by Teach for America, and these new teachers – who primarily have earned very high grades in getting their college or university degrees – would offer much better teaching to our K-12 children. Or they would not – said the other editorial.

his home for 7th grade science, flickr photo by Monkey & Tree

"his home for 7th grade science", flickr photo by Monkey & Tree

What’s going on here? Are our schools failing with the ordinary or usual teachers: how badly or well are they doing – for whom? Who are these new teachers: are they “qualified?” To do what? Will they be better teachers? Or is this so much hype?

Here I’m speaking from the perspective of a Professor at the University of Minnesota, where I have been selected as “Teacher of the Year” in 2001, in the College of Liberal Arts. I also teach a course in Teaching as Dialogue: a book I also wrote. Just this Spring, I’ve been involved in the recently formed “Great Teachers” program.

And during the “money bubble” times we’re currently passing-out-of, there has been a virtual redefinition of students. Like Medicine (capitalized), students and patients have all been “converted” to “Consumers.” There are really no persons in this description which has sold so well during the money-bubble. And so there aren’t really any persons doing the teaching: increasingly removed from teaching…it used to be lectures from “yellowed” ancient lecture notes. Read the rest of this entry »

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(Part 1 on my teachers. Part 2 touches on this line of thought, part of how it stalled, and impact on society. Part 3 is on “languaging”. Part 4 summarizes some lessons learned from my teachers.)

Who am I? A deep and developing question. But I did have several teachers who helped me to formulate my thinking and directions.

Above all, Ray Birdwhistell – the originator of “Kinesics,” the study of the human body-in-interaction. He was an Anthropologist who was the best observer of people I’ve ever met – observer in the sense of seeing people in careful and detailed senses. He was trained as a “classical” dancer, and seemed to see all others as performers in life’s dances. And he didn’t only concentrate on each individual. He also/always noted how they interacted: in groups, in life’s varieties of social contexts from infants to older, the ordinary and the exceptional in every sense; richer and poorer, healthy and injured and “odd” and…; ethnic, linguistic. His ways into the world were always expanding. Life is social, interactive: the individual…?

My Teachers - My Teachers - Ray Birdwhistell, George Trager, Henry L. Smith Jr., Norman McQuown, ...

My Teachers (click image to enlarge)

Ray was a student of the Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction – heirs of the American Pragmatist, George Herbert Mead, and the anthropologists who wandered the entire world. His work wandered from American Indians to the average family dynamics, to the sick – physically and, particularly, mentally. And he directed me to the U. of Chicago, Anthropology, where I continued my studies with linguist Norman McQuown – under whose tutelage I (and family: J, and infant daughter Amy) studied a Mayan Language (Tzotzil) and lived in Chiapas, Mexico for two years deeply immersed in both Indian and Ladino (their term) cultures during this time.

Ray was also a student in the line of thought and active fieldwork (life is fieldwork!) of Franz Boas: Margaret Mead (especially), Gregory Bateson, influenced his thought. Read the rest of this entry »

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