Maverick professor has some interesting lessons

Nick Smith highlighted this article in a recent tweet: Professor makes his mark but it costs him his job.

Prof Denis Rancourt implemented Ben Zander’s idea of giving all his students an A grade at the start of term. The consquences were kinda interesting.

by abandoning traditional marks Prof. Rancourt apparently sealed his own failing grade: In December the senior physicist was suspended from teaching, locked out of his laboratory and told that the university administration was recommending his dismissal and banning him from campus.

Firing a tenured professor is rare in itself, but two weeks ago the university took an even more extreme step: When Prof. Rancourt went on campus to host a regular meeting of his documentary film society, he was led away in handcuffs by police and charged with trespassing.

It’s a fascinating article and I’m sure there are lots of other perspectives on what actually happened. But it does resonate with a long standing feeling I’ve had that our universities may be heading for the kind of shakeup the music industry has been going through. Rancourt seems to have a telling critique of a system that hitherto seems to have gone unquestioned. But in tough economic times, network-savvy young people are surely going to start wondering more and more what value they really get from these expensive institutions.

Whatever you think about exams and certification, is it healthy for those giving the award to be the exact same people charging large amounts of money for training you to pass it?

Given the ease with which the actual factual content of courses is now available, and the how easy it is to create our own social networks… what exactly do universities do that’s worth all that money they charge students?

Time for that dalek, I suspect.

2 thoughts on “Maverick professor has some interesting lessons

  1. Richard Millwood

    “Given the ease with which the actual factual content of courses is now available, and the how easy it is to create our own social networks… what exactly do universities do that’s worth all that money they charge students?”

    Implement systems that assure the quality and attainment of capable graduates?

    Maintain a fierce interest in high-value knowledge, sometimes for its own sake?

    Facilitate and guide the inquiry, action and evaluation processes of any aspiring graduate?

    Reply
  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Richard, thanks for your comment. I realise my off the cuff post was pretty rhetorical! Yes, there are surely loads of things Universities do or can do to justify their value to students. I do get the impression from friends in the system, and from the story above, that the education business needs to do some more radical thinking about how it can offer more to students.

    I’m also a bit of a Ken Robinson fan and the notion of people driving their own education rather than subscribing to preset courses. I think that’s some of what motivates the maverick professor.

    Reply

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