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Scaling Mt. Idiocy

I am a strong proponent in advocating for universities to change. But, universities are systems. You can’t alter one aspect without creating a ripple effect of unintended consequences. As I read another article about another business leader declaring the obsolescence of universities (a Latin phrase meaning “to scale Mt. Idiocy”), I started thinking about how absurd this language would sound if we applied it to other large institutions. Let’s try banks:
“Banks are obsolete because they were founded in an industrial era mindset” (they weren’t, but neither was teaching, so misinformation works here too)
“Banks are too bloated. They can’t survive. They need to completely change in order to meet the needs of today’s world”
“Now that we have the internet, people won’t need banks anymore” (don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense…As Meister Mt Scaler Tapscott has proven, accuracy can be subverted by sensationalism).
“People no longer need money, they’ll just share everything online”
…and the list could go on. Try it – pick your own favorite industry. You too can play the game!


  1. It’s true that universities won’t soon be obsolete. But it’s useful to look at the bank analogy further.

    Banks are institutions, true. But it’s more accurate to say they ARE the system rather than a part of it. Our system is built on banks, it’s kind of the definition of capitalism.

    Universities just aren’t in the same league. There aren’t any developed countries without banks. But Switzerland, for example, does pretty well with a relatively small number of people going to university.

    It’s ridiculous to expect Higher Education to become obsolete. But I’d question whether we need universities in their current form. Like banks, they weren’t formed in an industrial era mindset either, but got industrialsed – some of them kicking and screaming – into their current incoherent form. They ARE too bloated – who needs ‘graduates’ in golf, arts management or [insert name of weak course in sensationalis manner]?

    Universities doing what most of us imagine them to do (repositories of learning, basic research, supportive nurseries of ideas) will never be obsolete. But universities doing what many/most of them actually do – we could lose that in a heartbeat. There would be ripples but they would provide as many opportunities as negatively unintended consequences.

    They provide four basic services: academic community, teaching, research and accreditation. Only two of those need to be done in a university setting. The teaching could be done anywhere – and better, in the UK at least. UK lecturers (and I suspect in much of the world) may be Subject Matter Experts but their teaching is abysmal. And accreditation? I question the very principle of an institution providing teaching AND accreditation.

    Not obsolete, no. But ripe for some Schumpeterian disruptive innovation, yes.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  2. I agree with Simon on Universities. They have also so diversified their focus they have created ever-expanding fringes of little societal benefit. A return to more core curriculum could benefit the whole, but then, where would the sociology professors go who teach “Important Lesbians of the 20th Century?”

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink