Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing


Cory's habits and arts of an educated person are a shared responsibility of teachers and students. They are the foundation for a liberal education and necessary for the exercise of public intellectualism. There are things we ought to be thinking about and doing to ensure that Cory's habits and arts are meaningful parts of university life. This is the third posting in a series that started with Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes, and Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge.

Annoyance with the unavoidable complexities of genuine 
teaching and learning is expressed as insistence that 
educational relationships submit to the scientific 
paradigm, with an increasingly aggressive 
response to any who would question or 
depart from this submission. 

-Stephen Rowe on mangerialism and the art of teaching


As indicated at the end of my last posting Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge, I am not sure that I made many improvements to Cory’s original phrasing of the habits and arts. In fact, with the exception of the habits of discrimination, mental courage, and mental soberness, I am sure that most of them could just stand as they were originally stated. I do think though that the brief description that follows each habit or art will make it easier for teachers to develop approaches that strike at developing capabilities and behaviours that support both liberal and professional learning.

So here goes...


The Habit of Attention.
The habit of applying ones mind to an idea, observable phenomena, or artefact long enough to understand it for the purposes at hand. An educated individual will exercise the habit of paying attention for appropriate durations of time, considering relevant information and disregarding irrelevant information actively as time passes.

The Habit of Engaging in Structured Critical Conversation. (formally "The Habit of Submitting to Censure and Refutation")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of constructing arguments, accepting criticism of their statements and arguments, expecting and preparing for a counter argument, and in turn critiquing the counter argument as appropriate.

The Habit of Considering the Accuracy of Facts, Arguments, and Conclusions. (formally "The Habit of Regarding Minute Points of Accuracy")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of critically and rigorously calling into question the accuracy of the statements of others and those she or he has made or is considering.

The Habit of Planning and Acting in Accordance to what is Possible in a Given Amount of Time. (formally "The Habit of Working Out What is Possible in a Given Time")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of considering, planning, and scheduling activities with full consideration of time dependencies. This extends to factoring the implication of time into ones own arguments and while considering the arguments and suggestions of others.

The Habit of Discerning the Qualities of a Thing or Behaviour and Forming an Opinion Accordingly. (formally "The Habit of Taste")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of discerning the characteristics of things, ideas, and behaviours and assessing their quality appropriately within pluralistic cultures.

The Habit of Identifying Differences and Similarities Among Things or Behaviours, Making Judgments, and Forming Opinions (formally "The Habit of Discrimination")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of articulating the differences among things and behaviours, and when appropriate applying the differences to the choices the individual makes.

The Habit of Consciously and Rationally Behaving in a Manner that May Put Oneself at Risk for a Broader Good or Principle. (formally "The Habit of Mental Courage")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of expressing ideas, engaging in conversation, and knowing acting in ways that may put her or him at risk for an ideal or principle.

The Habit of Disciplined and Responsible Thought and Expression. (formally "The Habit of Mental Soberness")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of applying appropriate levels of discipline and judgment when considering topics and making decisions.


The Art of Changing Ones Mind, Frame of Reference, and Paradigm with Little Notice. (formally "The art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture.")
An educated individual will possess the ability to modify her or his worldview appropriately given their situation and access to previously unknown data or information.

The Art of Applying Intellectual and Emotional Empathy to Another Person’s Thoughts. (formally The art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts")
An educated individual will possess the ability to adopt the intellectual and emotional state of another’s thoughts and quickly assess them from ones own and the other’s perspectives.

The Art of Engaging in Nuanced Understanding and Expression in Argument. (formally "The art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.")
An educated individual will possess the ability to appreciate the nuances of an argument and intentionally respond with appropriate force and intellectual subtlety.


In many ways I am holding the importance and value of Cory's habits and arts to be self-evident. That these are the behaviours and abilities that we want our students to possess at the very least when they graduate from our universities and at the very most when they enter them. I would suggest that they are necessary to engage with others in broader society critically as a public intellectual. As indicated in a recent post titled Liberalising the Corporate University, I believe that open public expression is an obligation for the professoriate within the context of academic freedom. So, exercising the privileges and obligations of academic freedom ought to provide an excellent opportunity for teaching and learning through modelling practice that illustrates the essential nature of Cory's habits and arts and provides fertile ground for learning through practice. Incidentally, it may also reassert the central role of professor and student in university life beyond one that is economic. To nurture this culture as a matter of practice I believe that we need to think about:
Pouring into Cast - CC BY-SA
  • Positing that self-knowledge is an aspirational goal for all affiliated with the university teaching mission, and that Cory's habits and arts are essential to strive for self-knowledge. 
  • Recognising that genuine learning of this nature is inherently personal and value-laden, will look more like mentorship then instruction, and will be more costly than running the university as a foundry.
  • Building opportunities to learn about and practice the habits and arts in each university class.
  • Ensuring that there are opportunities to develop and practice the habits and arts through co-curricular activities at each college and university.
  • Developing and articulating learning objectives in each class that address at least some of the habits and arts.
  • Sharing across academic communities learning activities, learning content, and formative and summative assessments design to grow knowledge and practice of the habits and arts.
  • Map the habits and arts across the curriculum, and at least in Australia include them as part of the generic graduate attributes we expect our graduates to exhibit.
  • Publicly engage with professional societies, accreditors, employers, public funding agencies, policy makers, philanthropic foundations, and others to discuss the nature and importance of public intellectualism, the university, and the fluency of graduates in the habits and arts.

None of these things will happen on their own. University faculty will need to commit to an overriding assumption that the habits and arts are important, as will students. University managers must also understand, support, and allow a culture of open and critical expression take root, in our broader communities, within the University, and essentially within the class and extended learning environment. Building the habits and arts into the curriculum in a manner that promotes prolonged practice with increasing sophistication designed to result in fluency is a good start, but creating an environment in which students and teachers know each other and engage in genuine, critical, and reflective learning and teaching is essential. It is probably obvious that preparing an educated citizenship is more expensive than training a workforce, which means that funding agencies and learners will also need to assess the value that Cory's arts and habits as the foundation of a liberal education provides. For the most part, in many societies our public primary and secondary schools have failed to provide such preparation, are we willing to fund it through higher education?

As always, I welcome comment and would appreciate any suggestions for improving the rephrased habits and arts.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,

Standing up to Managerialism

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

Cory's habits are the preconditions for being able to effectively engage in the arts of expression, which in turn require a level of self-knowledge.  The structure that Cory provides allows us to reduce the foundations necessary for a liberal education and attainment of many generic graduate attributes to behaviours. This posting is the second part of a three post series. The first articles in the series is titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes


As indicated in my last posting titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes, I intend to dig into Cory’s habits and arts of an educated student and provide my interpretations. Although Cory stated them in text (not bullet points), I have teased them out and presented them as follows...
  • Habits of an educated person...
    • the habit of attention
    • the habit of submitting to censure and refutation
    • the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy
    • the habit of working out what is possible in a given time
    • the habit of taste
    • the habit of discrimination
    • the habit of mental courage
    • the habit of mental soberness.
  • and the following arts of expression...
    • the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture
    • the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts
    • the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.
I would like to spend a little time on each of them first providing my interpretation and then offer an alternative phrasing to perhaps make them a bit more contemporary. Once again, I believe that it is worth while because attaining the objectives of both a liberal eduction and generic graduate attributes in Australia requires a foundation. Without a set of assumed abilities, practices, and skills, it is difficult to meaningfully develop curriculum and pedagogy with appropriate and realistic intent.


First and foremost a habit is a behavioural routine, which may be learned and unlearned. Many habits are unconscious, they have become so much a part of an individual’s normal pattern that they are executed without conscious thought. Unlike bad habits, the habits of an educated person are intentional outcomes of a formal university (or school) education. Others expect them to be evident in practice by an educated person and they help the individual behave in a critical, reflective, adaptable, and thoughtful way to learn and self-actualize. A habit is frequently the result of practice, as is fluency.

The Habit of Attention
We can take attention to be a behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. This is what we generally mean when we instruct somebody to “pay attention” or ask somebody for their “undivided attention.” It is notionally connected to vigilance, which we can think about in terms of sustained concentration. That is, it is the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time. Inherent in the behavioural exercise of attention, is the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time on a physical item or a mental construct, while also selectively admitting (selectively filtering) other ideas into a span of attention for consideration. It would be hard to imagine an educated person being able to grapple with difficult concepts in the act of learning without having the ability to apply appropriate levels of attention for sustained periods to the matter at hand.

The Habit of Submitting to Censure and Refutation
Submission has a number of denotations, I believe though that in this case we ought to think about the notion of submission in terms of consent, which communicates a texture of willingness to submit with the intent of achieving some benefit. That is, consent implies an agreement to submit as an exercise of free will. Censure is a rather strong term that points to disapproval of others, while refutation speaks to an act in response to or in anticipation of censure. In our context we are referring the disagreement or disapproval of an idea expressed as part of an argument. Refutation is a formal element of rhetoric, which is one of the three foundational liberal arts that make up the Trivium.

Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement
CC BY (Click Graphic to Enlarge)
Refutation is the act of countering or disproving an argument or counterargument in a persuasive essay or speech. So, our educated person would be in the habit of making arguments, and consenting willingly to disapproval and then entertaining and anticipating a counter argument, which she or he will then develop a strategy to refute. The person posting the original argument will more effectively anticipate a counterargument and prepare a refutation by placing herself or himself in the position of the other person. These of course are the foundations of engagement in critical dialogue and thinking and reflective learning. And, as we will later read, are enabled through the "Arts of Expression."

Referring briefly to the habit of attention, it becomes obvious how important the "selective filtering" process is during the act of refutation. An effective counterargument is based on focusing attention on non-trivial flaws in an argument and are themselves not flawed in obvious ways. Filtering out distracting and irrelevant information and lines of logic is essential for this type of critical engagement.

The Habit of Regarding Minute Points of Accuracy
Accuracy is important to the educated person because of what it implies. The ability to regard or consider minute points of accuracy requires an understanding of what is being measured and how it is being measured. Successfully assessing accuracy allows the educated person to at least:
  • See through a false impression of correctness based on observable precision in order to detect flaws in logic that impact the correctness of an assessment, outcome, argument, or answer.
  • Determine, for the purposes at hand, an appropriate level of tolerance one should apply to the standard of accuracy.

Regarding, considering, and understanding the accuracy of a truth claim is a critical ability and behaviour. This is true as well for developing arguments based on evidence and considering the reasonableness and robustness of the truth claims that others might make. We expect that an educated person would as a matter of habit consider the accuracy of claims while determining the validity of an argument. Not to do so would almost certainly result in a level of intellectual sloppiness prohibiting rigorous learning, acts of original discovery, and effective practice.

The Habit of Working Out What is Possible in a Given Time
This habit is in part an important and useful application of the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy outlined above. Being able to accurately assess time commitments contributes to a range of other habits and represents a critical point for refutation. That is, being able to refute an argument based on the time related factors allows our educated person to...
See through a false impression of correctness based on observable precision in order to detect flaws in logic that impact the correctness of an assessment, outcome, argument, or answer.
Public Domain (Click Graphic to Enlarge)
 The geologic time spiral—
A path to the past, Public Domain
(Click Graphic to Enlarge)
In addition, and a little aside of the main point here, there are also practical and obvious advantages of having the capacity to reliably be on time for appointments. The educated person who works out how much time it takes to do things will be able to better contribute to a wide range of social activities including participation in collaborative activities and scholarship. Working out the amount of time it will take to accomplish a series of tasks to deliver particulate outputs with particular outcomes, requires at least the ability to:
  • Anticipate a future state and the impact that actions taken in the future will have on the environment.
  • Assess the current condition of the environment and how it will impact on the timely delivery of desired outcomes and outputs.
  • Anticipate the willingness, competencies, and capacities of others who may be enlisted to help achieve desired ends.
  • Prioritize efforts and order events to reach desired ends.
  • Accurately identify and estimate the appropriate characteristics that contribute to a desired end.
  • Anticipate potential modes of failure in a chain of events, assess likelihood, and prepare contingency actions.

Although we recognise that not all educated individuals manage time well, we would expect the individual to have a firm and sophisticated conceptual grasp of time.

The Habit of Taste
This is an interesting habit. In this context it would seem that taste ought to be taken as the habit of discerning the quality of a thing or behavior and forming an opinion accordingly. I assume then that an educated person would have the habit of “good taste.” This is all well and good, but in a pluralistic society or for those who travel and enjoy relationships in a diverse community, the habit of taste, must be accompanied with the ability to assess taste from multiple perspectives depending on the circumstances. This, along with the habit of discrimination of course strikes at the heart of a liberal education.

The Habit of Discrimination
Discrimination is the ability to distinguish between things. The observer might need to discriminate based on physical qualities that are qualitative or quantitative, aesthetics - as in a performance, or morality - such as right and wrong. The habit of discrimination is the act of making such distinctions. Discrimination implies the ability to observe the environment, identify differences between things and across time, make judgments, and to be able to classify things. The term discrimination has taken a rather specific meaning in modern speech, which is the unjust discrimination against others based on an unfair classification, which is not the intended meaning in our context.

The Habit of Mental Courage
Tiananmen Square
Stephen Hott CC-BY
Courage generally refers to the strength or fortitude to act, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Mental courage for our purposes may refer to the courage to think differently, challenging common or dominant thought, engaging in the discussion even at personal or professional risk, and when appropriate doing so publicly with the knowledge that while submitting others to your censure and refutation, you must do the same. The habit of exercising mental courage is a necessary precondition for the growth of knowledge and pursuit of truth. And, as Kant suggests, it is necessary for enlightenment. For those in the academy, it represents the behaviors that academic freedom is intended to protect, and in its exercise represents the responsibly that all thinkers have to the public good.

The Habit of Mental Soberness
I believe that mental soberness in this case needs to be interpreted as an expression of reasoned seriousness and speaks to a level of disciplined thinking. It speaks to the type of thinking that is not impeded in a way that leads to taking an important topic, data, information, or knowledge too lightly or behaving in a glib or superficial manner. It also speaks to the ability to communicate with an appropriate attitude and level of gravity that befits a topic. When engaging in discussion on serious topics that have meaning, particularly if one is in a position of influence, soberness points to a level of fairness and truth. At the end of the day, I believe that acting regularly with mental soberness earns a level of trust.


An art can be thought of in terms of contributing to an overall ability to create an artefact through an act of artistry. It is an expression of abilities or mastery of a particular medium perhaps attained through training or some other educative process. At the center of our use of the term “Art” is the notion of an ability that is applied with something beyond skill, as in a habit, but requiring a level of creative expression that perhaps includes, but extends beyond technique. So, an art may be exercised as a habit, but requires much more nuance in its application. We may also suggest that works of art have the potential for impact that touches something in our humanity. One could argue that the habits outlined above are preconditions for being able to exercise the arts of expression.


Expression is communicating ones thoughts and feelings. Expressions can of course take many forms and make use of many media. The media and expression are intertwined and may effectively be inseparable. The mechanics of expression and their relationships to the media used, the intended message being communicated, and the desired affect and outcome may themselves be part of the expressive act.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure exactly why Cory chose expression as the critical art at the exclusion of others. It is of course through expression that others can observe us. The notions of being technology, information, digital, and media fluent is fundamentally tied to the art of expression. In an age in which the tools for mass communication and the potential of mass influence are readily available, the ability to effectively express oneself and the ability to engage with expressions becomes more critical than ever, pointing to the ever growing need for educated individuals, not just individuals who are well trained and skilled.

The art of Assuming at a Moment's Notice a New Intellectual Posture
The ability to assume a new intellectual posture speaks to more than just changing one’s mind.  It involves a change in attitude, perspective, rationale, and approach to a thing being considered. That is, it is more than shifting one's position on a continuum representing an intellectual construct, it is about modifying or creating a new conceptual model on which to shift.

The Art of Entering Quickly into Another Person's Thoughts
The ability to enter into another’s thoughts, speaks to the ability to place oneself in another’s mental frame both in terms of the logic of their thinking, assessing their motives, perceptions of their environment, the sophistication of their reasoning, critical capabilities, and disposition to reflection, but also having the ability to empathise with another and judge the relationships between logic and emotion. We can quickly see how self-knowledge plays an important role, while assessing the impact we have on ourselves and our interpretation of another’s thoughts as we enter them.

The Art of Indicating Assent or Dissent in Graduated Terms
This is that ability to express agreement and disagreement with an idea, action, artefact, or argument with nuanced variation. The ability reduces the impulse toward taking polar positions, ignoring subtlety in arguments and ideas, and partisanship. The ability to assent and dissent in graduated terms is essential to the idea of civil discourse and meaningful public debate. Without have the ability to do so, we cannot engage in discussions about how things exist in our common experience.

So, Cory is referring here to the arts necessary for effective expression of thoughts and feelings. There is a clear focus on being able to understand, appreciate, and adopt the perspectives of others. Although it is not explicitly stated, a review of the habits listed above indicates to me that they are the habits necessary for effectively and reliably practicing the arts of expression. This leads to the conclusion, that for Cory anyway, an educated young man or woman should be able to express oneself effectively. Which further implies, that the educated person must know what one thinks (in possession of self-knowledge) in order to express it. Which further implies that the education person must know how to think as a matter of habit.

Not entirely surprisingly, this is perhaps the shorthand definition for enlightenment as expressed by Immanuel Kant in “What is Enlightenment”and sits at the very definition of a liberal education.

While in the first posting in this series, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes I outlined why I think Cory;s arts and habits merit consideration, in the final posting of this series, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing,  I will rewrite Cory’s habits and arts to reflect a more contemporary language. I am guessing that I will not make substantive improvements in any but a few of the descriptions, but I do hope to make a contribution by describing them that lends to actually writing and implementing learning and teaching approaches that result in outcomes. That is, framing the foundations in a way that we can build on them, rather then framing our objectives in important and inspirational terms while largely ignoring that most learners need to engage in developmental activities to acquire the necessary arts and habits.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488, 

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing

Harvard College Writing Center: Strategies for Essay Writing

Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes


In 1861 William Johnson Cory presented an argument in Eton Reform that a "great school" will introduce a number of habits and arts that mark an educated person, preparing them for a liberal education. It is my feeling that most university students are not provided with such arts and habits before entering university study and that it is incumbent upon the university to build the foundation for many students. In this, and the following 2 posts, Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge and Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing, I will interpret and re-craft Cory's habits and arts to better suit our current context.  

But you go to a great school, not for knowledge... 
Above all, you go to a great school for 

- Cory, Eton Reform


Public Domain
Interior of the Lower School at Eton
Public Domain
A few years ago I was referred to an essay titled Eton Reform written by William Johnson Cory defending the curriculum of Eton College.  Cory had prepared a defence of the Etonian system (curriculum) in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins and Sir J.T. Coleridge. At the time the headmaster was addressing allegations that Eton College was teaching its students nothing useful that may lead to a job. That is, Cory was defending the benefits of a liberal education, in effect participating in the same argument that we are now engaging about relative benefits and relationships of education for employment and education for enlightenment.

Cory, in no way dismissed the need for boys to appreciate the need of work, or to be prepared to eventually engage in productive employment, but also felt that the job of a school was to prepare its graduates to think and act in particular ways that speak to being educated. He makes direct reference to the notion of self-knowledge and the need for his boys to develop the capacity for rational thought as the foundation of freedom. Prepared in this way, Eton graduates will have developed the abilities and practices to exercise freedom rather than follow uncritically what they are told.


During his defence of the Eton curriculum, Cory lists a number of habits and arts indicative of an educated person. They struck me as having value, so I have kept them in hand and have occasionally referred to them. I last mentioned them in this blog in a posting titled Is a liberal technical education something more or something else? I have found them useful because in effect, the habits and arts are the preconditions for a liberal education. Without them, it would be very difficult for a student to engage meaningfully, critically, and reflectively in social settings.

Public Domain
William Johnson Cory, Public Domain
It is here that I think Cory distinguishes between education for training and education for self-knowledge and enlightenment.
"At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism.  A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions.   But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness."
And mixed into this quote is the essence of what is needed in preparation for a liberal education. That is, without the habits and arts to which Cory refers, a learner is poorly prepared for engaging in a liberal education. To provide a point of reference in a contemporary context, I will refer to the American Association of Colleges and Universities' (AAC&U) framing of a liberal education as...
... an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Which is frequently articulated in the form of an inter-disciplinary general education curriculum that, when well-crafted promotes awareness about ways of knowing, as well as the acquisition of disciplinary and professional knowledge.  In Australia, we try to capture part of this through the definition and use of Generic Graduate Attributes. One definition of Graduate Attributes points to
...the skills personal attributes and values which should be acquired by all graduates regardless of their discipline or field of study, and representing the central achievements of higher education as a process...  

To illustrate an application of graduate attributes in practice, I have copied below the introduction used to address the nature of Graduate Attributes and Generic skills at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).
Graduate Attributes are central to the design, delivery and assessment of student learning in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Students are encouraged to acquire attributes in scholarship, global citizenship and lifelong learning. In the context of their learning in a range of disciplines and subjects, students will develop key generic skills in:
  • research and inquiry
  • information literacy
  • personal and intellectual autonomy
  • ethical, social and professional understanding
  • communication

To further illustrate the nature of graduate attributes, the following provides a little more context, but if you are interested in more detailed treatment visit the FASS Teaching and Learning site that addresses General Attributes.

  • Research and Inquiry. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to create new knowledge and understanding through the process of research and inquiry.
  • Information Literacy. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to use information effectively in a range of contexts.
  • Personal and Intellectual Autonomy. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will be able to work independently and sustainably, in a way that is informed by openness, curiosity and a desire to meet new challenges.
  • Ethical, Social and Professional Understanding. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will hold personal values and beliefs consistent with their role as responsible members of local, national, international and professional communities.
  • Communication. Graduates of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will recognise and value communication as a tool for negotiating and creating new understanding, interacting with others, and furthering their own learning.
All Australian universities have such attributes, and although they all vary, they principally drive at the same qualities. In addition, the development and presentation of generic or general attributes are mandated at all Australian universities and are meant for all students. 

Once again, I would suggest that Cory's habits and arts provide the necessary foundation for learners to engage in a liberal education and take as part of their lives the general attributes listed above and similar attributes at other universities. And if this is so, what do we do about learners who do not come from "great schools" and have not otherwise acquired the habits and arts to which Cory refers?

Several months ago, while trying to make this point, I was chatting with a group of colleagues and presented the list of “Habits and Arts” of an educated person as part of a paper for discussion. Keeping in mind that Cory composed the list in 1861, it is not surprising that the feedback that I received was that the list seemed sort of quaint and naïve in nature. Conceding that the language is a little dated, I insisted that the actual content remains relevant to university administrators, academics, and to students. I argued as well that their framing as habits (and arts) inherently frame them in terms of behaviours, which is an advantage. I am not necessarily suggesting that the attributes included in Cory’s list have been ignored or are not generally built into university curricula, but I do not feel that they are frequently articulated as clearly and directly as they ought to be. Nor are they generally associated clearly with a higher education purpose that extends beyond, is fundamental to, or complementary of the growing emphasis in many universities on occupational and professional training for employability.

Recognizing that the 1861 language does not resonate very well in 2014 (and I am guessing will no more so in 2015), I have taken a little time to describe what I think Cory was driving at with each of the Habits and Arts he listed, relate them to the qualities that many colleges and universities espouse as valued general graduate attributes, and propose a refreshing of the item under discussion.

For now, here is the list of Arts & Habits.
  • Habits of an educated person...
    • the habit of attention
    • the habit of submitting to censure and refutation
    • the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy
    • the habit of working out what is possible in a given time
    • the habit of taste
    • the habit of discrimination
    • the habit of mental courage
    • the habit of mental soberness.
  • and the following arts of expression...
    • the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture
    • the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts
    • the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.
As this posting is getting a bit long, I will expand on Cory's habits and arts in the next two postings. In the next posting titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge, I take some time to explain my interpretation of each of Cory's habits and arts. In the final positing, titled Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing, I will rewrite Cory’s habits and arts to reflect a more contemporary language. Although I am not entirely confident that my interpretation and re-crafting will be much of an improvement, it will serve as a good reflective exercise for me and perhaps improve my thinking along these lines.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,

Eton College

Graduate Attributes and Generic Skills, University of Sydney, FASS

What is a 21st Century Liberal Education?

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing

 Creative Commons Licence
Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

If Managerialism is the Condition, is Open and Agile Practice the Cure?

In this post I pick up on Stephen Rowe's logic regarding the nature and negative impact of Managerialism on the university. Highlighting points of divergence with Rowe, while striving for similar outcomes, I propose open and agile practice as an alternative to the reductionist and hierarchical assumptions of traditional strategic planning.
...managerialism is a major factor in struggles 
over the shape and substance of education today,
and one that is not friendly to education as the 
cultivation of the kinds of human beings we so urgently need.


Distributed under Fair Usa
Liberal Education
Summer 2014,
Vol. 100, No. 3 
 Fair Use
I am going to take a few minutes (words) to review a recently published article by Stephen Rowe titled Standing up to Managerialism, which appeared in the most recent issue of Liberal Education (Summer 2014, Vol. 100, No. 3). Basically Rowe provides a framework to help interpret the reasons for the rise of Managerialism in the contemporary university, the negative impacts of Managerialism, and some approaches that might rectify or at least mitigate the negative impact of Managerialism on the university.

Rowe describes an environment that makes it very easy for universities to adopt market rationality as the guiding principle for organisation. He points to the fear and ambiguity generated though reduced public confidence in higher education, economic uncertainty, and reduced funding as fertile ground for managerialism to take root and grow. Furthermore, he couples these factors with the catalysing effect of computing technology, and the progress of neoliberal economic assumptions that have defined public policy for the better part of 4 decades. He touches quickly and succinctly on a number of cultural developments that are well-treated in related literature including the move from a culture of collegiality to codification of norms and practices for decision-making, de-professionalization of teachers and teaching as an art, and the bundle of behaviours, assumptions,  and attitudes that we generally refer to as the corporatization. Rowe chooses to draw his rationale from the notions of a) market rationalization, b) Nihilism, and c) an impulse to “start over” from a ”new beginning” ignoring history and what we can learn from it. I believe that his point is that through these three features we over simplify our approach to university purpose and life, which creates a vacuum in which reflective and critical practice is virtually impossible. It may be worth noting that many of features described by Rowe were observed in the mid-1980 by Giamatti and included in an earlier posting titled Ruminations on University Presidency: The University's Voice.


Before moving on, I would like to make a minor point referring to Rowe's description of corporatization in terms of behaviour without adequate reference to circumstance. Rowe addresses the “corporatization” of the university,... in terms of  ...indicating admiration and adoption of what are taken to be the standards of business in a free market economy. 

Which I think is true enough, but the commercial behaviour to which Rowe refers is better thought of as the result in many universities, particularly public universities, of being subjected to a regime of public policy that in fact formally and intentionally “corporatizes” public organisations through a the process of transforming public assets with social and civic cause into forms that are like corporations. In the case of universities we have seen this happen through reductions in public funding, incentives that are based on a market logic, and deregulation and enabling-legislation that promote “corporate” activities. These trends progress while funders still maintain expectations that the university operate in the public good. This puts the university in an odd position where it perhaps has adopted the worst of both public and private worlds.

It is my belief that well meaning managers as well as academics will strive toward public goals using corporate language and rationale to make an idea culturally acceptable. For example, it is not uncommon for a critical voice to attack “online learning” as a manifestation of a neoliberal impulse toward commercialisation of the curriculum and more broadly the learning experience. It is my experience that many managers have had to rationalise the development of capacity in online learning in terms of financial return on investment, rather than the more compelling arguments around improved access, bridging between formal and informal learning experiences, and opportunities for the thoughtful emersion into a culture of co-creation and cultural expression, which is frequently characterised as “digital.” I believe that by not referring to the actual process of corporatization and just mentioning some of the behavioural outcomes misses an important part of the story.


Distributed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Planning Representation CC BY-SA 2.5
The really powerful notions in Rowe’s article fall under the section titled Managerialism, which I think deserves a few readings and the opportunity to connect the main points to alternative managerial practice. The thrust of the article is that strategic planning as applied in the rational university is not only ineffective, but culturally septic. First, it is formed on the misplaced logic that planning can be effectively framed in terms of hierarchical relationships in which our professional actions are guided by linear relationships in which decisions about actions are the neat distillates of logical reduction. The real problem is that many strategic planning models disregard the relationships between what we learn through our actions and how they might inform our tactics, goals, objectives, missions, and visions. In effect the richness and any possibility of grounding in reality is stripped away at the same time that the complexity of non-linear systems is simplified out of existence. Strategic planning cannot be managed without the simplifying assumptions, yet we recognise that social systems are inherently complex and relationship driven. That is, the strategic planning myth plays itself out in a managerially driven façade of rationale that is too simple to be effective, while turning in upon itself to achieve an indisputable logical that drives all the way to how and what we teach, how we think about the knowledge we create, the purpose of that knowledge, and the ways that we share the information that is part of our discovery and teaching. Furthermore Rowe associates a command and control orientation flowing from strategic planning that reduces human capacity, creativity, and denies the iterative nature of human development, learning, and the essential purpose of a liberal education. The typical practice of strategic planning assumes that theory in practice will align itself with espoused theory, while espoused theory has little to learn from practice in the short-term.

Once again, this is my take away from the article, which may be significantly different from what others read.

Going back to the point I made above about the nature of corporatisation and the university’s lack of control over its environment, Rowe makes the point that a lot of very good things have come from market rationale and Managerilism, the issue is really about the blind adoption and adherence to a dogma that does not apply universally. As an alternative to reductionist organisational logic, Rowe points to more eastern approaches to organisational life and curricular design and intent, citing the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) and the YESplus Program and its “Art of Living” course as viable alternatives to managerialism. I am guessing too that we could turn to some other alternative education colleges and universities for examples.


This is the place where I would take a divergent path from Rowe's, which more directly embraces the challenges that large and complex organisations pose organisational actors. In addition to looking at our assumptions about curriculum in the ways that Rowe does, I would suggest that universities adopt a posture much more connected with open and agile culture and the associated processes that actively acknowledge the iterative nature of planning and doing and the relationships between teachers, students, and researchers and the culture of university life, governance, and management. 

The agility movement has developed in large measure due to the inherent shortcomings of the logic underlying both strategic planning and front-loaded project management, while the openness movement has been a response to the proprietarization of pubic knowledge for the purposes of commercial gain. Assumed or real, the sequestering and closing of rightfully public information reduces the intellectual, creative, and cultural capacity of our organisations and collective commonwealth. Which, by any reasonable interpretation, does significant violence to the purpose of universities in general, but certainly public universities. As it turns out, one could argue that openness is a necessary, but not sufficient precondition for agility. Adoption of open governance, commitment to open educational practice, and use of agile methods embedded in a principled organisation, can reduce the negative impact of managerialism and the cultish adherence to reductionist and hierarchical strategic planning. 

As it seems unlikely that we will be able to unwind the corportisation of public assets, institutions, and culture in most developed economies, we need to think about how we can adapt our approaches to "managing" the enterprise. We naturally adopted the tools associated with a market rationale perhaps best suited for the manufacture of tangible goods produced through mechanical and easily reduced processes. We in the university have a different set of circumstances and purpose. Of course we must remain economically viable, pay our staff, pay our bills, and operate with a net positive cash flow, we must also operate within the law, observe critical compliance, and be accountable to those who depend on us, but we cannot confuse these givens for our purpose. 

The iterative nature of agile methods when coupled with the assumptions of simplicity and emergence is catalysed by open access, because openness reduces costs of creating new knowledge, exchanging information, building ideas, and teaching. The university should serve as a place where the habit of drawing on practice and theory to promote reflective and critical community norms is in fact expected, practiced, taught, and lived. And open educational practice achieved through agile management is a viable alternative to managerialism and strategic planning. Ultimately it is these types of alternative power relationships that will allow university educators along with its students the freedom to cultivate the kinds of human beings we so urgently need. Open and agile practice can happen in small steps allowing for the evolutionary nature of authentic culture development. Although it will take courage, active participation, and humility, under the current conditions in which universities operate, open and agile practice might be the most practical and effective means of standing up to managerialism in ways that respect and reclaim some of the traditional values of the academy.


Standing up to Managerialism

Liberal Education              

Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education

YESplus Program

Creative Commons Licence
If Managerialism is the Condition, is Open and Agile Practice the Cure? by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Liberalizing the Corporate University

This posting is an edited text of the Residential Colleges Professorial Lecture I delivered at the University of Southern Queensland on August 6, 2014. For which, I was flattered to be asked. The lecture was intend to describe the nature of the corporatized university and the impact on traditional university values including the rights and responsibilities conferred through academic freedom. The central point of the lecture was that openness is perhaps the best means of recapturing the liberal nature of university values in part because the openness agenda has developed within the context of neoliberal economics as a counter-balance to the self-censorship adopted and imposed by many universities and scholars.

My apologies for the length of this posting, but it did not seem to make sense to break it into smaller separate postings.  I would like to thank and acknowledge all of those in the Residential Colleges who provided me the opportunity to deliver this lecture. This includes the significant number of students who patiently listened in full academic regalia, and who subsequently asked a number of excellent, insightful, and challenging questions.

The following is the edited text included in the lecture...

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Members of the University Council, members of the vice chancellor’s committee, distinguished guests, good colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, and perhaps most importantly USQ teachers and students. I am very pleased to be here this evening to deliver the 2014 Residential Colleges Professorial Lecture.

During the next 40 to 50 minutes I will take some time to talk about the nature and changing nature of the university, its purposes, what it is, has been, and is becoming.  Hopefully creating some interest in discussing these topics.

You may expect, based on the title of this lecture, I will talk a bit about higher education. Although some of the references used in this lecture are from the US and Canada, the trends discussed are common to higher education in liberal and distributive democracies with mature market economies. In addition, there is currently a lot of discussion and questioning about public education policy reform in Australia that may lead our higher education down a path taken in the US and Canada three decades ago.

This path has led us to the corporatization of university culture. 


Image of Dean Corrigan, Texas A&M Photo Archive, Fair Use
I am going to start by taking a few minutes to tell a short story to illustrate a point. While engaged in doctoral work at Texas A&M University, I had the very good fortune to work closely with Professor Dean Corrigan. Dean, which incidentally is Professor Corrigan’s first name, had served as dean of three colleges of education including those at the University of Vermont, the University of Maryland, and Texas A&M University, where I met him. 

He was in many ways an exceptional personality, well liked and effective, in a challenging role that has historically bridged representing the interests of academics in the disciplines with those of university administration. 

I am telling this story because it might sound very quaint and naive now - in fact it almost sounds out of place and irrelevant given the current state and focus of many universities. In retrospect though, it represents a fundamental statement about the nature of the university – its purpose and what it was. 

What follows this story is about what the university has become, why this is so, and how I think that we can restore some balance. 

I had worked as a research associate in a small research centre at Texas A&M University named "Commitment to Education," which Dean founded and led after passing on his role as dean and returning to the faculty. 

One day, while Dean and I were working through a stack of papers he stopped and referred to the seal of the Texas A&M College of Education, and started describing the conversation that ensued as the college faculty designed the seal. 

The seal was fundamentally two hands positioned around a flame. Apparently, as Dean explained it, the seal was the subject of considerable debate while it was being designed, which continued long after the seal was adopted. 

The questions that it raised were whether, education, as represented by the outstretched hands was protecting the flames or whether the hands were being warmed by the flames, which represented truth. 

Dean confided that he always maintain that it was both and this symbolism and interpretation strikes at the civilising role of education and the purpose of the university. 

No place else, was truth more central to an organisation and in no other organisation was the preservation and pursuit of truth more central to purpose. 

And no place else in a society that values truth is there a more important role than that of the university and its commitment to liberal education.

The debate that Dean described had been echoed a thousand times in thousands of universities for hundreds of decades. And through these conversations, influenced by the ascendance of reason and enlightenment, the rise of the nation state, liberal and distributive democracy, industrialization, civil society, and the knowledge economy, the contemporary university has taken shape.

The University carved out its role in society as purveyor of truth, in part as archivist, and transmitter, but perhaps most importantly by preparing at first men and later women to discover the truth, to develop it as knowledge, and to promote it, which has not always been a welcome, popular, or safe role.  

These conversations in universities and the roles that universities have taken, has led to a tension between the need for the university to both remove itself from society for some measure of objectivity, and to embrace its role within society and ensure its relevance.

Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps, 1966
Author Unknown, CC-BY-SA 3.0
And it is through the purpose of the university and the tensions it creates that its odd structures and its formal governance has developed, but perhaps most importantly, it is through its most serious work, that the notion of academic freedom has taken shape. 


As inferred above, the university is a special place. Although many think about universities as centres of radical politics, this reputation was earned by a handful of politically active scholars during the 30s and 40s and by student activists during a relatively short period of time in the 1960s and 1970s. It is probably more accurately thought of as a place that harbours radical or free thinkers.

Photo by Cindy Laine
Ken Udas in Regalia, Cindy Laine, Fair Use
Take a look at what I am wearing, and think about the procession that you were part of earlier this evening. It is part of a culture that speaks to just how profoundly conservative
universities are as institutions. They are meant to transmit the past and they are built to remember, they are meant to pursue truth and to do so responsibly no matter how unpopular or inconvenient that truth is. 

Part of that responsibility adds to the conservative and deliberative nature of discovery and teaching, which is highly ordered, but by some standards outside of the University, and now perhaps inside the university as well, profoundly inefficient and too patient.


Fundamentally, the university is a place, and perhaps the only place, where by design the questions we ask are more important than the answers we create. We might suggest that this is true for all types of education and perhaps for life more generally, and that I believe would be true.

But we can see that universities have a special love for the questions that is not evident in any other type of organisation. 

For example, we can see this play out in the differences between the structures and rationale for corporate organisations and educational organisations. Although asking questions is an important activity in some corporations, the delivery of answers is generally speaking much more important and, more specifically, the delivery of commercializable answers is paramount. 

After all, it is not questions that directly increase the wealth of equity holders, it is answers with market value that most corporate officers, owners, and governments are after. 

The corporate rationale leads to a rather focused set of questions that are allowed to be asked and a particular approach of getting to them, which tends to be guided by ensuring that the monetary value of new knowledge is maximised. This frequently results in closed discovery processes with limited participation and a relatively narrow field of inquiry filtered by ROI. 

And, I would argue that this is how it should be in corporations. For-profit corporations, operating within the letter and spirit of the law and exercising reasonable ethical discretion, should focus on value generation measured in return on investment to equity holders. 

Like most here, I have a variety of individual and pooled investments in which I expect a reasonable financial return. I also expect these companies to pay taxes on their profits to the government, that reinvests in many things, including public higher education. 

I will note that none of my financial investments are in universities - that is not the purpose of a university, which might be why we intuitively see a conflict in the very notion of a for-profit university, but not in a for-profit training centre delivering for example Microsoft certification, physical training, or auto driving lessons. We think of these types of education as fundamental commercial in nature.

You see, the university, on the other hand historically has a role in which the growth of knowledge and the pursuit of truth, as opposed to profit, are the principal objectives of the questions, the ways that we seek answers, the ways that we disseminate our questions and answers, and how we structure our organisations. 

I depend on universities to ask questions in pursuit of truth, add value through preparing students to engage in the vibrant and critical discussions necessary for a deliberative and liberal democracy, and engage the disciplines and society. For this, I do not turn to Rio Tinto, IBM, Westpac, Apple, Woolworths, Google, or Telstra. 

To further illustrate the differences, think for a moment about the differences between the purposes and ways that for-profit companies engage in executive training and preparation and the purposes and ways that universities prepare professors to teach and research. Think of the values that are promoted, the enculturation into organisational life, and the means through which one is prepared for practice.


If asking questions is an essential value, then we must assume that so is conversation, because asking provocative and important questions is an important part of stimulating engagement and thinking, and conversation is a principal form of engagement. 

I am currently reviewing a collection of writings by Bartlett Giamatti, produced while he served as president of Yale University. For Giamatti the university is conversation. 

It is important to note that he does not choose to define the university as an institution in which conversations happen, or as a place friendly to conversations, or that it is a place that incites conversation – although it clearly has these qualities. Instead, he defines the university as a conversation.

Political Discussion, Emile Friant, Public Domain
This conversation happens over time, between students and teachers, among academics, and between academics and the public. For the conversation to flourish, for scholars to engage, they must be free to behave as academics with rights, and with those rights observance of responsibilities.

Academic inquiry requires the right to pursue lines of inquiry in pursuit of truth and the right to express questions, and disseminate findings under prevailing standards of scholarship. 

Acting always with integrity and occasionally with courage, the academic scholar should never fear loss of employment or discrimination due to asking important and perhaps unpopular questions and disseminating their knowledge. 

This is why the rights and responsibilities associated with academic freedom tend to be tied to tenure. I mention this simply because most members of the public do not understand the nature of tenure and the reasons it exists, while many in popular media are willing to comment negatively while cloaked in their own ignorance.


Academic freedom is an essential construct at the contemporary university that allows the university to pursue truth and remain an embedded part of society. Briefly, academic freedom as expressed through peak professional associations of the “professoriate” in Canada, the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and New Zealand are aligned on a few important points.
  • Members of the professoriate have rights of free inquiry and expression. There are reciprocal responsibilities one of which is that inquiry and expression rise to the scholarly standards within their disciplines.
  • Professors have the right to free private expression, but if speaking outside of their field of expertise, they need to make that clear and to not misuse the authority of their discipline or the university.
  • The pursuit of truth, and the dissemination of their knowledge, ought to be made in ways that are open and maximise the public good.  And the exercise of these responsibilities should not be curtailed by personal, organizational, or commercial considerations.
Although specific points about academic freedom are further developed in formal statements, it is these points that help ensure that professors are acting within the norms of the discipline and university ensuring that they earn and deserve the trust of their peers and the public.


The notion of what the university is, is also worth talking about, because once again, it is not as clear cut as it is in corporations. 

Ernst Kantorowicz, Public Domain

Courtesy of Frankfort am Main City Library
While making this point, let me tell you a little story and in doing so quote Ernst Kantorowicz, who
in the early 1950's was at the centre of a loyalty oath controversy at the University of California where he served as a full professor. Through this story we can see how the University is perhaps something different from many other organisations. 

Dr. Kantorowicz refused to sign a loyalty oath for at least two general reasons. First, but not foremost, oaths have an insidious way of restraining inquiry and speech. 

Second, although Kantorowicz acknowledged that the State of California had the authority to demand oath signing of its employees, including those in the university, it did not have the authority to ask it of the professoriate. To this second point Kantorowicz asserts that...
There are three professions which are entitled to wear a gown: the judge, the priest, the scholar. This garment stands for its bearer's maturity of mind, his independence of judgment, and his direct responsibility to his conscience and to his God. It signifies the inner sovereignty of those three interrelated professions: they should be the very last to allow themselves to act under duress and yield to pressure.  
It is a shameful and undignified action, it is an affront and a violation of both human sovereignty and professional dignity that the Regents of this University have dared to bully the bearer of this gown into a situation in which--under the pressure of a bewildering economic coercion- he is compelled to give up either his tenure or, together with his freedom of judgment, his human dignity and his responsible sovereignty as a scholar. 
Why is it so absurd to visualize the Supreme Court justices picketing their court, bishops picketing their churches, and professors picketing their university? 
The answer is very simple: because the judges are the Court, the ministers together with the faithful are the Church, and the professors together with the students are the University. Unlike ushers, sextons, and beadles, the judges, ministers, and professors are not Court employees, Church employees, and University employees. They are those institutions themselves, and therefore they have certain prerogative rights to and within their institutions which ushers, sextons, and beadles or janitors do not have.
The point here is that in the university professors and students are fundamentally different from employees working for and contributing to the university, they are the thing itself. They stand outside of the employer-employee relationship, and ultimately it is the thing that must regulate itself. At least at some level, this is to help ensure the objectivity to pursue the truth.


So, now that we have taken a little time to identify some of the special characteristics of universities, we might ask what is the purpose of a university. 

Although Universities need some separation from government, industry, and popular culture to engage in their unique role, the university is part of greater society and must accommodate the changing nature of the society in which it exists. 

There are historic ideals and contemporary realities. It is worth noting that universities rarely lived up to the historic ideals that they aspired to, but the important thing is that they are ideals worth considering and pursuing. 

At the same time, it is equally important to note that most universities are not entirely comfortable with the realities that they are currently facing.  

University of Chicago Theological Seminary
CC-BY-SA 2.0

Growth of Knowledge
The purpose of the university is an elusive topic. It will depend on who you ask and frankly when it is
being considered. In my opinion, the motto of the University of Chicago is a convenient starting point.
Let knowledge grow from more to more, and thus be human life enriched.
Which I think provides a great starting place. First we note that there is a clearly stated objective with only one qualification. The purpose of a university is to grow knowledge and through its growth the university helps to enrich human life. 

I am also left the opportunity to define knowledge, and I would do so quite broadly.  

Knowledge is what we know. As such, it is dynamic, personal, and value laden. It informs our attitudes and includes the ways that we interpret knowledge, information, and data. 

It is through what we know that we develop values, identify with morality, and interpret and make
decisions about our world. In effect, it is through our knowledge that we experience self-knowledge, opening the potential for enlightenment. 

So, in some regard, knowledge cannot be directly transmitted, it can only be discovered, which ties together teaching and research in ways that are fundamental. Research, as we commonly think of it is a set of activities designed to discover new things that can then be known. It is through these discoveries that research results in the growth of knowledge. 

Teaching shares a common ambition to research, but it is not focused externally. Instead the teaching activities are intended to support personal discovery of knowledge that is already known by some, perhaps the teacher. During teaching-acts information may be transmitted and data may be represented, but it is not the knowledge that is transmitted. It is through study that knowledge is developed and the mind renewed. 

In any case, whether through research, teaching, practice, or integration, knowledge can be grown, and from its growth, human life enriched.

And it is here that the notion that a university must participate in both research and teaching becomes obvious. It is the "new discoveries" that keep the public stockpile of knowledge viable and allow for teaching to take place and it is through teaching that new ideas are challenged and evolved through the creativity of learners and teachers.

A new discovery may be made in a laboratory or it may be made in the mind of a solitary scholar reading a book. The fallacy is that research and teaching can be separate activities. That education is the transmission and cataloguing of information. And that the principal purpose of the university is anything other than the pursuit of true. 


Contemporary perspectives of the purposes of a higher education are shifting and have been doing so rather substantively since the 1980s in the US, and perhaps more notably more recently here in Australia.

There has been a clear trend expressed in public higher education policy, public opinion, and the opinion of students, that higher education is more of a private good than a public good and its value is measured by income upon graduation. 

If this is the purpose of the university then our outcomes are maximized personal wealth for our graduates, dollars generated through commercialisation of research discoveries, growth in revenue and profit generated from student enrolments, GDP for the nation, and revenues for the public taxation office. The university is defined and assessed like any other contributor to the national financial wealth value chain.

The discussion, even at a high level, is not about the growth of knowledge for the sake of enriching human life, but to ensure national competitiveness, by providing employability skills, and commercialising our research discoveries.

I am in no way being critical, these are normal responses to current political and environmental conditions, and they do lead us to adopting a posture less like a community of scholars and more like a for-profit company or a government agency. A condition that will be difficult to unwind.


Environment / Conditions
Corporatisation has been a trend with impact much broader than higher education and is part of much broader societal conditions. 

It may be argued that corporatisation of public functions is desirable and that the university's response has generally been acceptable - at least reasonable and expected.  

After all, the university does not stand outside of society, it must respond to its environment.  Some of the conditions that the university has had to respond to include...
  • Historic Reduction in Public Support, leading to increases costs for students, enhanced debt in many cases, and a real need to generate additional income to service debt. But beyond this simple economic logic, when the discussion is almost entirely about higher education's purpose is to lead to financial rewards, there is a natural inclination to exclude other considerations while maximising the one criteria that seems to be valued.
  • Demand for Increasing Access, which increased the impulse for university administrators to view education as a commodity and students as customers.
  • Outcomes Expectations of the Public, Funders and Graduates, are shifting to focus almost exclusively on financial returns, which creates a consumer logic in which there is a quantitative expectation of return, and where education is seen as something one either has or does-not-have based on a certification, rather than education being something that one does throughout their lives.
  • Increasing Emphasis on the "Knowledge Economy," which contributes to the demand for increased access, but also points to the failings of current university structures and curriculum, leading to reliance on a market logic to validate knowledge produced at the university.
  • Information, Communication, Technology (changing cost structures, access, and methods for creating knowledge and distributing information), has created an information and content culture, shifting the role of the university and placing it in the information and knowledge network, indirect competition with other types of knowledge producers and transmitters, most of which are more efficient than universities.


The contemporary framing of the university taken together with the environmental conditions in which universities operate has resulted in a "Corporatisation" of the university.

Corporatisation is the process of transforming public assets into private assets and transforming government agencies and organisations into corporations, or at least organisations with structures that are like those typically found in corporations. 

When the government retains financial and regulatory interest, there is a melding of public and private organisation that we see occurring in the university. In many ways, this is at least in part the march started during the Reagan/Thatcher administrations, and to a lesser extent a decade later the Howard administration in Australia toward privatisation. 

Although the corporatized entity may not perform as a for-profit company, it will also be forced to change its norms to survive, which is happening in many public and private universities.  For example, 
  • A university education is increasingly being seen principally as a private good rather than a public good, and in doing so devaluing those disciplines that do not maximise the private good.
  • There is reduced public funding and a shifting of cost burden from the public to private interest. (State to Student)
  • We see a move from a liberal education (humanist) to a professional education (commercial).
  • There is a move from producing public knowledge to focusing on and valuing proprietary knowledge.
  • There has been a move in some countries from full-time tenure/tenure track (permanent) to fixed-term and adjunct (contingent) academic staff, shifting locus of control from decentralised faculty governance to administrative decision-making.
  • There has been a shift from traditional forms of capitalisation such as tuition, fees, development, and public allocation, to those more typical of private enterprise such as commercialisation of inventions, commercial out-sourcing arrangements to other institutions, raising capital through large bond issues, and venture capital arrangements for "spin-off" companies.  

Intended Consequences
We have embraced a number of the consequences of corporatisation and some universities have prospered by doing so quickly and creatively. 
  • For some universities online and continuing education was developed in units isolated from the university proper to better perform as a revenue positive activity much as a corporation. 
  • The market logic tends to increase access potential and promote development of services that are "customer" oriented. We have seen this as universities...
    • Deliver academic products based in customer demand, at levels that optimise financial reward for the university and potentially for the student graduate.
    • Direct marketing to populations, developing a culture of consumerism and perhaps a commodification of education and knowledge.
    • Turning toward international students, that represent higher than normal net positive revenue flows.
    • Focus on activities that lead to commercialisation beyond tuition generated for teaching and research training, which frequently requires the production of proprietary knowledge, The logic is increasing applied to both research and course materials.

Unintended Consequences
Although there are consequences that have been embraced and applauded in a variety public circles, there are a number of consequences that have gone unnoticed or at least do not get very much attention. 

One might suggest that corporatisation tends to place limits on the conversation to those ideas that a) are consistent with a market logic and b) consistent with the directions and attitudes of university administrators, in effect impacting on the practice of the rights accorded through academic freedom. 

The two principal freedoms with rights and responsibilities are those of inquiry and expression. Both of which are impacted by corporatization.

The freedom of inquiry may be compromised directly by corporate and venture capital interest that direct attention to particular fields of study, whole employment markets more generally indirectly determine which disciplines are worth teaching. Freedom of expression is compromised through the proprietarization of academic knowledge, and self-censorship due to financial entanglement with commercial interests, impeding the growth of knowledge that is an obligation of the university professoriate.

Freedom of Inquiry
  • Corporations (including venture capital) direct fields of discovery
  • Employment Markets determine disciplines worth teaching
Freedom of Expression
  • Proprietary Information
  • Financial Entanglement
So, is this something to be concerned about?

One can argue that corporatisation is a natural transition for contemporary universities.
That being said, we really must ask ourselves if we are giving-up things that need to be preserved. 

Are there things that the university does, are there societal roles, and are there contributions that promote values we hold closely in a democracy, perhaps that are necessary to a democracy? 

Do we contribute in important ways to national conversations with civility? Do we provide a
necessary counter balance to government political agendas or corporate commercial agendas? Do we provide the patience that others seem to lack?

Is there a need for an institution to be dedicated, not only to scholarship leading to commercialize-able invention, but to the growth of knowledge and pursuit of truth, no matter how inconvenient, embarrassing, challenging, or unpopular?  

Does the ascendance of the corporate university threaten the integrity of the university by undermining some of its core principles, structures, and behavioural norms?

Perhaps in anticipation of these types of questions, we see safeguards, or perhaps warnings, in the revised statement on academic freedom of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Which includes, responsibilities for…

University leadership
  • It is a major responsibility of university governing bodies and senior officers to protect and promote academic freedom. This includes ensuring that funding and other partnerships do not interfere with autonomy in deciding what is studied and how.
  • Faculty members and university leaders have an obligation to ensure that students’ human rights are respected and that they are encouraged to pursue their education according to the principles of academic freedom.
  • Faculty also share with university leadership the responsibility of ensuring that pressures from funding and other types of partnerships do not unduly influence the intellectual work of the university.

Is corporatisation of the university a threat to academic freedom, and if so, is that a concern? 

So, yes, I think that we should be concerned. 

I think that we should be concerned that the core values of academic freedom with the rights and responsibilities that it entails. They are essential for a university to balance education for employment, citizenship, and change. 

And yes, I do think that the corporate university is a hostile environment for the exercise of academic freedom - both the rights and the responsibilities. 

And, by extension, I believe that the corporate university is a hostile place for liberal education and the academic pursuit of truth as a guiding principle for knowledge development, discovery, and teaching. 

And yes, I do think that we need to get creative and do so quickly if we want to preserve our ability to integrate liberal and professional education in ways that are not superficial or that trivialise our educational objectives.


Now finally, to my central point. We cannot address problems created in the context of corporatisation in contemporary universities with solutions from the past. 

Simply adopting a "great books" curriculum will not work. 

Neither will quoting inspirational thinkers from the past; or wishing for a return to progressivism. 

We cannot ask scholars to exercise academic freedom, when the university expects them to sign confidentiality, nondisclosure, and non-compete agreements. 

We need to think in terms of our current environment to identify trends that had developed in the same environment and under the same conditions at the corporate university. 


Given our needs, perhaps the most relevant intellectual, social, political, and economic development in the past 30 years has been the evolution of the openness agenda. 

I would argue that its application in practice, may balance corporatization to allow for academic freedom in the contemporary university. 

At the very least the discussion will offer options for university communities to decide on what type of university they want to have, and provide a language for development and pathways for practice. 

Although notions of open practice have existed almost forever, the term "Open Source Software" was
first coined in 1998 to describe the production of intellectual assets in the form of software applying an "open licence." Many believe that it is through open licensing and the commitment to "free cultural works," that communities function best to create valuable knowledge and information.

Open Educational Practice is perhaps the most important development in higher education during the past decade. OEP includes Open Education Resources (OER), Open Access publishing (OA), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), open policy, open textbooks, open data, open technology standards, open metadata, open file formats, open research, and more broadly open education. 
The movement has resulted in dozens of education collaboratives, millions of resources, new business models, Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), micro Open Online Courses (mOOCs), and an explosion of alternative higher education organisations. 

Ok, so we have established that innovation can be generated through open resources and open culture, which is pretty good, but the next bit is probably more interesting.

In addition, dozens of state and national governments have pledged commitments to open public resources, as have dozens of international agencies including UNESCO in its 2012 Paris OER Declaration, while a number of public funding agencies and philanthropic foundations have mandated that whenever their funding is used, all resulting intellectual property will be made available under an open distribution licence. 

To ignore these trends, along with the reported savings to students that come along with the adoption of OER, is to ignore the three principal sources of educational funding globally for teaching and research: public support, philanthropic support, and student financial contribution through payment of tuition and fees.

Like academic freedom, for openness to flourish in practice, the university must hold and practice a variety of values and principles.  Borrowing from the Openness Index project, among them are
  • Courage: Participating even when doing so results in fear and uncertainty.
  • Participation:  The action of taking part in something (being there). The nature of one’s participation is dictated by its quality.
  • Honesty: The quality of behaving in a manner that is free of deceit, is truthful, and is sincere.
  • Reflection (assessment): Engaging in serious thought or consideration about oneself and one’s motivations, behaviors and impacts.
  • Humility: Practicing honest reflection with the discipline necessary to achieve a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one's place in context.
  • Communication: Sharing information through a variety of means. Transparency is a pre-condition for open communication.
  • Transparency: Providing access to information in a manner making it easy to perceive, detect, and understand.
  • Self-organization: When coordination arises out of the local interactions between individuals and groups of individuals of an initially disordered grouping.
  • Collaboration: Voluntarily working with each other to accomplish a task and to achieve shared goals.
  • Evidence-based decision-making: The explicit (and transparent), conscientious, and judicious consideration of the best available evidence and decision-making methodology.
  • Meritocracy: An organisational system or philosophy in which ideas are judged based on their merit, as opposed to a proxy, such as the title of the individual offering the idea.
Although there are a range of benefits that open education practice brings to the university, including promotion of social justice, the potential to reduce costs of study for students, reduced risk of copyright violation, and for this lecture the most important point is that open educational practice supports a culture of respect for the traditions of the academy.

We might ask how the values just listed align with those embedded in academic freedom.
  • Openness is a fundamental tenant of academic freedom and is a responsibility for the academy and the professoriate, striking at the very purpose of the university and its singular role in free societies. 
  • As such it gives voice to a logic that challenges neoliberal approaches to university education that has led to corporatisation. 
  • Giving reasoned voice to alternatives creates the opportunity for discussion and the possibility of weighing values and commitments within a framework that refers to fundamental purposes of the university. 
  • It opens us to seek solutions allowing the university to thrive within the realities a contemporary setting, while also supporting a logic that preserves the unique role of the university.
Seriously discussing and adopting a posture conducive to openness will take some fortitude. The culture of the corporatized university is strong and well embedded in most universities.  

Neoliberal economic logic is consistent with everything we are being told is valued by our governments, learners, university corporate leaders, and others participating in our environment.  

That being said, openness has been an agenda well received in many powerful circles including the public sector, the philanthropic sector, the agile and creative business sectors.

Contemporary universities need to engage and consider the impact that corporatisation and openness have on our cultures and our ability to do what no other organisations are uniquely meant to do.


A Primer on Neoliberalism

The Loyalty Oath Controversy, University of California

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada revised statement on academic freedom

Understanding Free Cultural Works

What is the Paris OER Declaration?

The 2-3-98 Project, Openness Index

Creative Commons Licence
Liberalizing the Corporate University by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.