What’s with the Borg and Quest University?

Remember “Quest University? “Canada’s first independent, not-for-profit, nonsectarian university of the liberal arts and sciences”. Known to most of us as the private university in Squamish, BC, founded by UBC’s former President David Strangway?

Current enrollment: 300 undergraduate students. Tuition cost: $27,000 CAD per year. Room and board ranges from $8,660 to $11,650 per year.

Full disclosure first: Relatives own substantial real estate in the area, hence  will keep my personal opinion to  myself. But hey, its “success story” is making the rounds!

First, you read about “The promise of Quest University” here, but more seriously, you read about it in  a “University Affairs” article by two University Presidents, who are also looking to transform undergraduate education…”quest style”.

Not again!

What’s the kicker? Well, in 2009, Quest University had the highest NSSE scores in North America.

Remember! you first heard about this (and the NSSE) here.

Doesn’t it remind you of how students in prohibitively expensive private schools manage to do well on SAT tests? But before you get seriously depressed, move to the delicious article by Todd Peddigrew, “The Borg are here, we call them presidents”.

A must read, but I can’t wait to spill the ending:

“Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!

People who care about real, humane higher education in this country must fight for it, for it is in grave peril. We can no longer pretend that people who talk like Zundel and Deane are not the enemy. Whether they realize it or not, they are monsters and they will destroy us if we let them. Resistance is not futile. But first you have to resist.”

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One Response to What’s with the Borg and Quest University?

  1. JBW says:

    Luckily, I think this is a tempest in a teapot. (See the PPS for my reasoning.) While it’s worth making a stink about—eternal vigilance is the price of etc. etc.—I’d say that the real issue is power: the academic departments should have more, the administrators less. The Zundel-Deane blather just supports that view. (After all, millenia of experience with all brands of government have shown that the last people we want to follow are our leaders. If things are properly run, they follow *us*. It’s called democracy. I’m just applying this at the university level.)

    Zundel and Deane’s article is interesting, Pettigrew’s demolition of it more so. I liked his analysis. Myself, I’d have just dismissed Z-D as more of the obligatory touchy-feely stuff you expect from deans and presidents.

    This problem isn’t new, tho. One of my early realizations in arriving at UBC was that it was set up for the convenience of administration. You probably noticed the same. The faculty had relatively little to say. The president felt free to tick the fingers of his faculty, for instance, but not of the provincial legislature. Perhaps because the faculty did not pay his salary. (I only had Stanford to compare it with at that point. During my short stay there, there had been a couple of times the administration really needed the faculty’s support. Never happened here.) I conjecture the same is true of other Canadian universities, even such paragons as the University of Sudbury.

    I have a couple of additional remarks. I’ve told you my first pet peeve: universities refuse to explain that they do 100% (percentage rounded off, of course) of the world’s basic research, and they also refuse to explain why basic research is almost as important as teaching business ed to under-qualified undergrads, even when you can’t make money off it. You should make that point in your blog. You could also point out that, while a university definitely should supply a stream of graduates who are at ease with present technology, it should also produce the people whose ideas will make that technology obsolete. And that maybe, just maybe, our obsession with producing students who are open to new ideas is practical, not elitist.

    There is a second point, rather historical. Some time after WW II there was a shift in the relation between industry and universities. Before WW II, college grads were in the minority in most industrial environments. CEOs were often self-made. (Now they’re all from Yale.) The high-school diploma was prized as an entry into the workforce. Then large companies started using the universities as a filter for prospective employees. A university degree became necessary for lots of jobs that didn’t require it. This worked because an ever-larger percentage of high-school grads went to college. It was/is a bit of a vicious circle.

    I presume that the companies figured that just getting a college degree was an indication of character, and made for better employees. Fair enough. But the result on the universities was also clear: a profusion of easy courses (which were necessary in any case for the football teams) and a general inflation of grades. Or rather, a faculty acceptance of grade-inflation.

    Grade inflation did not bother me then, nor does it bother me now. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I noticed, early in my career, that a college degree equaled a job, I couldn’t see why I should stand in the way of someone’s ability to make a living: the companies could look out for themselves. Why give Fs when I could give Ds, Ds when I could give Cs? (And—I’ve been told by experts that I grade low, so others may have been even more strongly influenced.) The result is that industry became dependent on universities for employees, and began to first assume, then demand, that universities provide employees with more and more specialized training. This is understandable: otherwise, industry would have to teach them, and that is expensive. The universities are of course happy to oblige. And why not? I think they take the same attitude I do: I’m happy to teach shop science courses as long as I can also do my research and teach really good science to really good students.

    Which—excepting the last sentence—is where Zundel and Deane come in, bless their tiny little hearts. And that, I think, is how we got where we are today.

    Cheers,
    JBW

    PS. Of course, I have absolutely no figures to back up any of the above, only feelings. But…your blog, your problem.

    PPS. Let me make you a present of two more relevant observations:

    (1) Universities have a *lot* if inertia: they are very slow to change their ways.

    (2) That’s a good thing.

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