Wed, 24 Mar 2004 18:59:19 GMT

Brandom on Universities and the Pernicious Idea of Students as Customers. Interesting and apt remarks by distinguished philosopher Bob Brandom from a talk to the Board of Trustees at the University of Pittsburgh:

The students are not always initially happy about being required to take these [philosophy] courses, though our exit evaluations of satisfaction are very high. This underlines what is wrong with thinking of our students as customers, whose desires ought to drive our offerings. If we just give the students what they want, half of them would do nothing but channel-surf through undemanding courses on the symbolism of the Matrix movies and what the popularity of reality TV says about contemporary culture ÷ with lots of video-viewing time.

A somewhat better model than that of commercial customer is that of professional client, in relation, for instance, to a doctor or lawyer. No one with any sense goes to their counselor and says: Prescribe this drug for me in this dosage, or file a lawsuit for me under this section of the Uniform Commercial Code. One goes instead for access to a different kind of judgment and advice, which one wants to take account of a whole range of possibilities and constraints initially visible only to the professional.

The case of university-level instruction is even further out on this spectrum. What we have to offer is in no small part instruction about what sort of education the students should be pursuing, what is worth reading, learning, thinking and writing about ÷ and what counts as doing that. The students come to us to become familiar with, and be held to standards of excellence of various sorts, as much as for our specific knowledge.

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