Confronting the empire: accreditation and validation of research in higher education (#change11)

[Image retrieved from, 31 January 2012]

While this week is a “break” week in the change mooc, I decided to reflect on the article to which I referred last week – Rhoades, R.A. 2011. The U.S. research university as a global model: some fundamentals to consider ( InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 7(2): 1-27).

My reason for being intrigued by Rhoads’ (2011) analysis and critique is twofold:

  • Throughout this mooc there were questions asked about the future of higher education and more specifically on how advances in technology are shaping teaching and learning. Rhoads’ analysis indicates that there are other forces at work that we should not lose sight of…
  • I completed my application for “rating” by our National Research Foundation (NRF) as part of the institutional imperative to increase the number of NRF rated researchers resulting in a higher standing for my home institution among the research universities of the world. While filling in the forms and gathering evidence of my “worth” as researcher, I became increasingly aware of (and uncomfortable) with some of the embedded assumptions and beliefs about what constitutes “valid” research…

Rhoads (2011) moots the basic premise that the U.S. model of research universities is not only highly regarded in the rest of the world, but also upheld as the gold-standard to which other universities aspire. He bemoans the lack of a “well-rounded critique of the U.S. academic research enterprise” (2011:2).  What I found enlightening is his exploration of the “four stages in the development of the U.S. research university”. The following table is trying to offer a short overview of the four stages:

Stage 1: The Germanic influence Universities embodied the “free pursuit of non-utilitarian knowledge or pure learning, and Wissenschaft, stressing investigation and writing as key facets in the pursuit of knowledge” (2011:3). The general emphasis on research was an antidote to “rote memorisation and stale thinking” and the research enterprise became increasingly linked to agriculture and industry (2011:4)
Stage 2: The rise of federal sponsorship of research during WW I and II The U.S. became the “foremost centre of science in the world”, and the basic ideals of logical positivism “pushed U.S. science and intellectualism in the direction of a reductionist, hypothesis-testing model grounded in observable and measurable experience” (2011:5)This also sees the increasing connection between the U.S. research universities and the U.S. military… “What resulted largely determined the long-term direction of federal policy relative to university science, manifested in the development of major funding resources for university professors willing to tie their research to the nation’s military interests” (2011:5)
Stage 3: The emergence of the multiversity There were increasingly multiple missions for the university – not only teaching – and research was seen and heralded for its potential contribution to a variety of industries, “especially those connected to the growing knowledge industry” (2011:7).The private sector, “in the form of corporate and industrial interests” increasingly “laid claim to the U.S. university and its research and development capacities” 92011:7) 
Stage 4: The rise of the entrepreneurial university under neoliberalism Characterised by the growth and dominance “of a particular economic ideology placing great emphasis on entrepreneurialism and privatisation” in which “the market [became and was lauded] as the ultimate source of social justice” (2011:8).This saw the rise of “academic capitalism” with professors capitalising their expertise, universities increasingly run as businesses, and higher education being seen in terms of consumer terminology with products, customers and an emphasis on increasing revenue (2011:9).In short: this period sees the rise of higher education selling out to the highest bidder…

Rhoads do (2011) points out that there were some positive elements throughout the evolution of the U.S. research university but he also points to some worrying concerns:

  • The close ties with business and industry impacts on how research is validated, accredited and rewarded. [This relationship also impacts on curricula and pedagogy]
  • There is a concern that “corporate money will inevitably spur academic scientists to skew their findings to suit their sponsors’ commercial interests” (2011:13). [Rhoads do not mention that often research findings done with corporate money are not shared (or peer-reviewed) in open forums].
  • The myopic focus on entrepreneurial knowledge creation and producing employable graduates keeps universities from also pursuing “lager more complex social, cultural, and philosophical questions” (2011:14).
  • Modern universities lack the tools and commitment to critique and oppose neoliberal ideologies and construct alternative ways of knowing and being. Often professors who have had their knowledge validated by commerce and industry have much greater stature and say in universities than those faculty more critical of the meta-narrative of “academic capitalism” (2011:15).
  • The close relationship between the U.S. research university and the U.S.’ “colossal ware machine” is a huge concern to academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge. Often the top rated universities are also those universities with the closest links to the military (2011:15). Rhoads (2011:17) quotes the work of the MIT anthropologist Jean Jackson who said, among other things, that the university “becomes an instrument rather than a critic of war-making, and spaces for critical discussion of militarism within the university shrink”.

As an oppositional voice, Rhoads (2011:16) propose that “Universities ought to place great value on world peace and in promoting peaceful solutions to conflict; in effect, they need to recast themselves as the universities of the people, focusing less on the technological and scientific destruction of the world and looking more to social and cultural advances offering hope for global peace”.

Rhoads (2011:20-21) closes his critique by providing pointers for consideration:

  • “First, a broad and integrated view of science and intellectualism should be adopted” disrupting the divide between science and philosophy and supporting deeper forms of inquiry.
  • “Second, critical reflective capacities must be incorporated into notions of academic science. University inquiry should not be limited to simply that which can be reduced to an operationalised  hypothesis in the name of a narrow-minded and short-sighted version of science”.
  • “Third, there must be a clear recognition and pronouncement, embodied by institutional policies and practices, that the modern university embraces peaceful means to resolving national and international conflict”…
  • “Finally, the university must be defined as a resource of and for the people, as opposed to its slow but steady sale to private interests, including those of the military industrial complex…”

My apologies for this fairly long summary of Rhoads’ argument and pointers, but I found his article provocative and stimulating.

In closing:

There is therefore much more at stake than just embracing the affordances of technology…


About opendistanceteachingandlearning

Research professor in Open Distance and E-Learning (ODeL) at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Interested in teaching and learning in networked and open distance and e-learning environments. I blog in my personal capacity and the views expressed in the blog does not reflect or represent the views of my employer, the University of South Africa (Unisa).
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One Response to Confronting the empire: accreditation and validation of research in higher education (#change11)

  1. idajones says:

    Reblogged this on Ida's Blog and commented:
    Higher ed’s move from pursuit of knowledge to pursuit of enterprise dollars and its impact.

    This is a summary of another article that I haven’t yet had time to read yet-so this information is secondhand. It is interesting because it talks about the University’s move from pursuit of knowledge to pursuit of business dollars.

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