We Pretend To Teach, and They Pretend to Learn

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Jerry Pournelle describes the original Master Plan for the University of California system:

Back about 1970 I was involved with the Council that was to draw up the Master Plan for the University of California system. The program was very structured: the University System would have a limited number of campuses, and would do all the graduate school education. There would be a limited number of undergraduates at each of those campuses, and they would be the elite applicants. Tuition would be low for state residents, and very high for out of state and foreign students. This would be the University system, and it would be for the best and the brightest. Salaries would be high for an elite faculty.

In addition, there would be the California State Colleges, which would not be permitted to award graduate degrees. They would do undergraduate education, and send their best and brightest to compete for places in the University system graduate schools. Their primary purpose was teaching, and it was on their ability to teach that faculty members would be chosen and retained: no publish or perish, because their purpose was to teach, not to do “research”. They were not to discover knowledge, but to convey it to most of the undergraduates in the state. A small number would go to the University undergraduate system, but about 90% of all undergraduates enrolled in state higher education would be in the California State Colleges. This would include colleges of education and teacher. Again the focus would not be on ‘research’ or anything else other than producing great teachers for the California schools.

Of course as soon as the Master Plan was adopted and funded, the California State Colleges began a political campaign to be turned into universities, with salaries comparable to the Universities, and graduate schools with research, and publish or perish, and all the rest of it; and instead of being teaching institutions they would become second rate copies of the Universities, with a faculty neglecting teaching in order to gather prestige in research and publication, or, perhaps, at least to look as if they were. In any event the California State Colleges became California State Universities, their commitment to actual undergraduate education was tempered to make room for the graduate schools, budgets were higher, costs were higher, and tuition, which had been designed to be very low, began to climb.


The Universities pretend to teach and the students pretend to learn, the costs rise and the number qualified to do something a company might actually pay them to do goes down. And the salaries of the teachers and professors and deans and assistants to the Associate Deans, and all the rest continues. The ‘Post Doc” fellowship, which pays a pittance to someone who has actually earned a PhD but can’t find anything useful to do with it continues.

Credentials are essential and expensive, and they are not worthless because you generally can’t get a job without them; but they don’t really certify that you can do anything, only that you have acquired the credential, something that you must have even to be considered for a job

And so it goes.

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