Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 5, 1996

Faculty Conference: Golden Age is over, conference-goers reminded

by Linda Charles
Universities have left the GoldenAge of education and entered atime of nease and accompanying calls for change, Cornelius Pings told nearly 80 participants in the annual faculty conference held at Grinnell College March 22-23. However, what change needs to occur is unclear, he said.

This year's conference examined "Graduate Education in a 21st Century Land-Grant University." While Pings discussed "The Future of Graduate Education," one panel of faculty members examined "Research-Based Graduate Education" and a second looked at "New Approaches to Graduate Education."

Golden Age over
"Something seems to have gone wrong, rather abruptly, over the last three or four years. After 50 years of a Golden Age, what is special or different now?" asked Pings, who is president of the American Association of Universities.

Part of the answer lies in state budgets restricted because of recessions, new constraints on the federal budget and changes in the business and industrial sector.

"Now, if you add to that the extreme image sometimes portrayed in our editorial pages of academic policy being set by the mavens of political correctness, administrations that are unable to bring productivity gains to our campuses, boards of regents more interested in their own political careers and the careers of their governors than in their campuses, we have some problems in public relations," Pings said.

Other factors include frustrated expectations of what a degree should bring ("A degree no longer is a ticket to stable employment") and a growing cynicism and antagonism toward all established institutions ("Beware indeed if you are an institution that asserts some claim to excellence or quality or leadership -- watch your language or you will be accused of arrogance").

It is time for universities to pay attention to the unease in the country, he said.

Six myths
The first challenge, Pings said, is to cut through the misinformation or myths about graduate programs. These include the ideas that graduate programs are akin to human bondage, that too many Ph.D.s are not enough, that doctoral degrees do not necessarily need to be research-oriented, that strong graduate programs ruin undergraduate programs, that most faculty are absent from campus (testifying in Washington, D.C., at international meetings or on the speaking circuit), and that research universities can provide knowledge "just in time" for industries.

The reality, Pings said, is that his six myths need to be reckoned with, the Golden Age is over and there are too many Ph.D. programs. The final reality, he said, is "there is a tomorrow for graduate education and it is a bright one."

Most of the discussion among faculty members at the conference centered on Pings' six myths, said conference moderator Dan Robinson, professor of professional studies in education.

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