Reforming University Education

A Search for Better University Education – Experiment at Malaspina

Published October 2015, Friesen Press, Victoria, BC

Available as hardcover, softcover or ebook through Friesen Press Bookstore

Gary Bauslaugh has provided us with a remarkably vivid account of what is really going on in our institutions of higher learning.  Vivid both because it is almost entirely a first person narrative – a modern cover of Henry Adams 19th Century classic, The Education of Henry Adams – and also because if is so deeply and richly informed.  As student, professor, and administrator, Bauslaugh seems never to have stopped thinking – both critically and sympathetically, but always insightfully – about what is happening around him, and why.  The takeaway is a qualified indictment of North American post-secondary education along with a powerfully argued case for reform.  

And…..did I mention that it’s a wonderfully fun read?

John Dixon, philosopher, writer and former head of BC Civil Liberties Association

What if an alien force landed on earth, indicated that it was going to give full control over governing our lives to one of their young, and would give us four years to educate that young creature in preparation for becoming absolute ruler here? What sort of educational program would we provide? A BA in psychology or English? A BSc in chemistry or physics? Or would we devise a program designed to provide exposure to the great cultural accomplishments of the human race, and some deep understanding of the ideas and philosophies that animate human life?

Our own young people enter universities in much the same way, as aliens entering the strange land of academia, and then graduating in four years with all the responsibilities of absolute rulers, for they are citizens in a democracy. How should we educate them?

The author remembers his early experiences in post-secondary education, being led into an unenlightening and tedious chemistry program at McGill University, but being too absorbed by it to even think of changing plans. But his eventual ideas about the purpose of university education were being formed. He sought various distractions that proved more personally rewarding than his undergraduate program.

After a quick stint in graduate school and getting his PhD, more because of his writing skills than his research, he became a university lecturer at Bishop’s University at the age of 23. He loved his teaching there but still felt a compulsion to do research, so he left after four years to take a teaching post-doctoral fellowship with a high-powered research group at the University of Western Ontario. There he was astonished by the disregard shown for students. Making his way to the BC College system he became an advocate for reform of undergraduate education.

This change entailed recognition of the pernicious aspects of traditional university culture, with its heavy commitment to research, and trying to find a better alternative. But it also entailed finding a way to make the change, something that proved much more difficult; harder, as the saying goes, than moving a graveyard.

FOREWARD: A Fable: The Alien’s Curriculum, Part 1

The spaceship seemed to come from nowhere; suddenly it was upon us. Resistance was futile. Their technology was far superior and they could easily destroy us, if they so wished. But they had something else in mind. The alien leader emerged to speak to us. She looked remarkably like a human and was dignified and attractive – a bit like Helen Mirren. She was accompanied by a younger figure who looked like an 18 to 20 year-old human girl, something like Natalie Portman. But she was an alien too. The leader spoke: “We are saddened by the mess you have made of this planet.”  …

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CHAPTER 1: Beginnings

What is the purpose of university education? What ought to be its purpose? I have thought about these questions for over 50 years, beginning in a vague and confused way when I first entered McGill University as a naive 16 year old. Such an early start in university was not unusual in Quebec at that time. That was just the way the system worked, with eleven years of school before students went directly to university. Since my birthday is in October it just worked out that there I was, at 16, enrolling in an institution that I knew virtually nothing about but thought, vaguely that it was something I should do. But why? …

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