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Places of Inquiry: Research and Advanced Education in Modern Universities

PUBLISHED | 2016
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Abstract
Places of Inquiry identifies basic conditions and trends in modern systems of higher education that link or dissociate research, teaching, and student learning (“study”). The book is structured in two major parts. Part I, “Distinctive National Configurations of Advanced Education and Research Organization”, in five chapters organized by country, contrasts the national arrangements of the basic elements in the five major nations of Germany, Britain, France, United States, and Japan. These chapters give play to historical determination of national peculiarities and unique arrangements. Chapter 1 particularly highlights the preeminent role played in the construction of the modern research university by nineteenthcentury developments in the German system. Emerging disciplinarians learned by trial and error to use the laboratory and the seminar in a framework of university institutes. In “the institute university”, the academic research group was born, with Humboldtian thought serving as a useful covering ideology.Chapter 2 portrays English universities, in contrast, to be focused historically on elite preparation of undergraduates—a “thin stream of excellence”—in the small worlds of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Here, in this model, against the grain of the structure, research-centered academics learned to use the apprenticeship model for a very limited number of “research students” who were supported for advanced study toward a late-developing Ph.D. “The collegiate university” has been very different from the German configuration.Chapter 3 presents the highly unusual historical arrangements in the French setting where the universities became in effect the party of the third part, caught between the elite nature of the grandes ecoles and the domination in research of a nonuniversity research establishment. An outside set of research institutes has provided the main research base, and university research-oriented activities had to be brought into alignment with it. The genetic imprints of the system, in contrast to both the German and the British, have been one of subordination of the university, with much broad structural separation of research activity from university teaching and the university education of students. A picture of historic subordination is also found in the case of Japan (Chapter 5), where much displacement to industry has taken place. Students graduating from first-degree study have been snapped up by industry and offered better opportunity, including in research, than what the university could offer. Advanced education at universities became severely constrained. In Japanese terms, Japanese graduate schools, although formally modeled after the American structure, became “empty show windows.”The chapter on the United States traces the development of a highly competitive system of higher education in which a graduate level, separately organized within universities from undergraduate programs, provided a broad foundation for small-group laboratories and seminars in which research activity could be a means of teaching and a mode of study. Peculiar American conditions of weak secondary schooling and generous admission to higher education left much general or liberal education to be accomplished in the undergraduate years, preempting specialization. Emerging disciplinarians tried repeatedly in the mid- and late-nineteenth century to build their new research interests into the undergraduate realm. It did not work. The emergent solution was a vertical one, to add a formal graduate school on top, with its arms in the graduate programs of the departments making it “the home of science.”This major internal differentiation, in comparison to the other four major international models, made the American university a “graduate department university,” with extensive provision developing in the last half of the twentieth century for research-based teaching and learning. What the German system had been able to do on a small scale in the nineteenth century, in the context of elite higher education, the American system developed systematically the capacity to do on a much larger scale, in the context of mass higher education on the road to universal higher education.Part II of the volume, entitled “The Research-Teaching-Study Nexus,” offers a conceptual framework for understanding how modern systems of higher education do or do not effectively bring research into alignment with advanced university teaching and advanced student training. The concept of a research-teaching-study nexus serves as leitmotiv. In Chapter 6, devoted to “forces of fragmentation,” adverse conditions for this nexus are largely subsumed under the twin concepts of research drift and teaching drift, with certain interests of government and industry strengthening inherent tendencies, already stimulated by mass enrollments and great growth in knowledge, for research on the one side and teaching and learning on the other to drift apart.But the nexus survives, often with great resilience and strength, and, in Chapter 7, the central part of the conceptual analysis takes the form of an explanation of how a modern integration is most strongly effected. Supporting conditions and processes are identified at three levels: whole national system, where differentiation, decentralization, and competition serve as broad enabling elements; the individual university, where diversified funding and deliberate organization of advanced education play an increasingly large determining role; and the basic unit (departmental) level within universities, where the activities of research, teaching, and study are located. At the base, operational conditions are captured in the twin concepts of research group and teaching group, each dependent on the other and closely intertwined in a veritable double helix of linkage and interaction. These twin settings for professors and students permit the linked transmission of tacit and tangible knowledge.As both the tacit and the tangible components of specialized knowledge bulk ever larger, they cannot be suitably conveyed by undergraduate or first-degree teaching programs alone, or by historic mentor-apprentice relationships alone. The research-teaching-study nexus is increasingly enacted by operational units of universities that bring together an advanced teaching program and the learning-by-doing of research activity. In this organizational nexus we find the heart of the graduate school phenomenon.The concluding chapter (Chapter 8) goes beyond analysis of the research-teaching-study nexus by offering three broad conclusions for the understanding of modern higher education: first, that inquiry remains the central activity, the dynamic element, in the university complex; second, that complexity and contradiction in university activities are inevitable and will continue to grow, ruling out simple solutions to long-term problems and placing a premium on how individual universities go about organizing themselves; and third, that research and teaching have an “essential compatibility.” Research activity itself is a compelling and rich basis for teaching and learning, primarily in graduate education in the arts and sciences but also secondarily in both advanced professional education and undergraduate or pre-advanced education. The much-voiced view that research and teaching are incompatible is short-sighted and regressive. The incompatibility thesis should give way to a more fundamental understanding in which research activity is seen both as a compelling form of teaching and as a necessary method of learning.For all modern and modernizing systems of higher education, the book emphasizes the great importance of organizing master's and especially doctoral work so that the activities of specialized research groups interact with structured teaching programs.In sum: Places of Inquiry concentrates on graduate (advanced) education, a level of higher education that has been rarely studied. It depicts distinctive configurations of academic research and advanced training in the five major national systems of higher education of the late twentieth century. It highlights research activity as a basic for teaching and learning. And it identifies generic conditions that pull research, teaching, and study apart from each other, and conversely and most important, focuses attention on the structures and processes that work to keep these central university activities closely linked.
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