Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

What Universities Can Be

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

What Universities Can Be

Article excerpt

What Universities Can Be

For the most part, Robert J. Sternberg says, universities select students for their knowledge and skills and then develop that knowledge and skills.

But is that good enough?

In his thoughtful, readable book, What Universities Can Be: A New Model for Preparing Students for Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical Leadership, Sternberg says schools ought to do more.

He argues that the institutions need to focus on producing citizens who are creative, resilient, wise, stand up for what's right, and capable of making meaningful contributions to society.

Building that goal into schools' admissions process, instruction and management can help institutions clarify their role at a time when the worth of higher education is being questioned more than ever, he says.

Universities would be responding to an urgent need. "The world is full of high1Q citizens and leaders who are failing to behave in ways that will help achieve a common good for all," Sternberg writes. "How many contemporary major leaders in any domain serve as role models for the younger generation of today? Try naming them. Are you done yet?"

Sternberg, who has spent decades holding teaching and top administrative posts at a variety of universities, including Oklahoma State University, Tufts and Yale, calls his model ACCEL (Active Concerned Citizenship and Ethical leadership).

Schools claim that they teach leadership, but the vehicles they traditionally list for doing that, athletics, student government, and fraternities and sororities, really don't do the job, Sternberg says.

He says cultivating good leaders, a term that he stretches to include good followers, is what employers look for and society needs. It involves teaching critical thinking, the importance of moral courage, and how to handle forces that conspire against doing the right thing. This isn't obvious stuff: He cites incidents where students sec nothing wrong with plagiarism. Some fail to even recognize that a situation poses an ethical problem.

To start out with, Sternberg says, universities need to cast a wide net, recruiting a variety of students who learn and think in many different ways. Without a diverse, multicultural environment, students will assume everyone thinks the way they do, and if not, there's something wrong with them, Sternberg says.

But schools tend to rely heavily on standardized tests that have changed little over the years and other shallow, unhelpful assessments that arc convenient, easy to process, and entrenched in the culture, but skew toward the same types of students, year after year.

Sternberg describes other screening methods that can supplement the traditional ones, including giving applicants whimsical topics to write about and asking how they would handle common problems. …

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