Friday, March 28, 2008

Class structure and higher education

This a great read at Harvard Business on organizational class structures and the hidden (and not so hidden) damage they do to organizational cohesiveness and effectiveness: How to Crack Companies' Class Structure.

An invisible class structure is preventing companies from making the most of their employees’ talents.

By class structure I mean there’s a function or profession that considers itself and is perceived by all others to be the one that the organization values most. Everybody else is a de facto second- class citizen or worse.

By invisible I mean that everybody just accepts the class structure as a fact of life. Leaders do not consider either the price it exacts or how they might get rid of it.

What a shame! In an age when solving increasingly complex problems requires not just the input but also the robust interactions of multiple disciplines, a class structure is a formidable competitive disadvantage.

When I read these sorts of things they just make me sad. It'd be hard to find a more class-based organizational structure anywhere than what we have in higher education. The hidden costs are huge, and it would be wonderful to see someone step-up and take this on. Fixing this would yield tremendous organizational and societal benefits far beyond the academy.

1 comment:

Peg Boyles said...

In his brilliant 1970 treatise Deschooling Society (entire work online), Ivan Illich advanced a nuanced argument for disestablishing the institution of school altogether to promote freedom of learning, teaching, and working, as well as social justice and gender equity.

Illich advocated doing away with mandatory, aged-graded schools and passing laws that would forbid prospective employers from requiring job applicants (or applicants for promotion)to have degrees or other credentials. (He encouraged tests of competence.)

Neither learning nor justice is promoted by schooling because educators insist on packaging instruction with certification. Learning and the assignment of social roles are melted into schooling. Yet to learn means to acquire a new skill or insight, while promotion depends on an opinion which others have formed. Learning frequently is the result of instruction, but selection for a role or category in the job market increasingly depends on mere length of attendance.

Illich's work feels stunningly contemporary, particularly on the topic of the "hidden curriculum" of school.

Perhaps the entity that "considers itself and is perceived by all others to be" most valuable is the institution of higher education itself.

Perhaps the only fix is disestablishment.