Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What are our universities doing?

Shouldn’t a university’s business be education?  Shouldn’t education be about teaching our young people not just knowledge but wisdom?  Shouldn’t a wise person be reasonable, independent, moral, and responsible? 

Then why are some of our universities be so bent on pleasing the rich and powerful?   Exalting politicians above academics?  Honouring the rich above their professors, students, and alumni?  Selling suspect research to curry favour from those expected to ascend in power? 

How can we expect our students to be honest, independent, just and compassionate, when their professors themselves are not honest, not independent, not just and not compassionate?  

On the one hand, we tell our students, “The purpose of studying is not to gain high marks.”  On the other hand, we show them with our actions that we treasure precisely high marks - in the form of funding, ranking, prestige and connections. 

What are we?  Hypocrites?

[Disclaimer:  I do not imply that all universities and all professors are like that.  Some are actually behaving quite honourably, standing up for truth and accepting responsibility for their actions, in the face of severe political pressure.  For example, Prof. Chung, and Prof. Tsui.]


Cyiu Chau said...

Hypocrites. Mmm... Perhaps we all are hypocrites to a certain level. It's just that some of us went too deep and some of us did not.

It also reminds me of mums and dads (not particularly mine, I mean, in general). A common "technique" they use to make their kids behave, is making use of scare and lies. A very common line that I've heard for several times is 'if you keep on crying, policemen will come and arrest you'. It might be effective at that moment, but later when the kids grow up and find out the truth that policemen won't possibly arrest crying kids, the psychological impact might be more than what the parents could imagine. Kids might then think it's perfectly normal to lie in order to achieve something, as long as lying makes it easier. In schools kids are told to be honest and lying is bad but in reality they won't feel that guilty about lying because many people around them, including the parents and teachers lie occasionally. We had already started our first lie when we say lying is bad but we actually think it's not too bad to do so. What's more ironic, is when parents say 'if you lie, you will lose your teeth'. Apparently if that's the case, the parents should have lost some already. Mmm... perhaps that somehow explains why old people sometimes need dentures. Yea, how can we expect our next generations to be P, while we are ~P ? Sadly, many kids learnt how to lie from their parents, who tried very hard to make the kids honest but failed with only one small lie. Stories like this existed since thousands of years ago. I have seen too many "Zengzi's wife" in my life. Probably we need some more "Zengzi".

I think it's also a special case of 'herd behaviour', as lying usually brings short-term advantages and many people do it, it would be disadvantageous not to do it. So in order not to "fall behind", more people will choose to do it. The same goes to tutorials focusing public exams. Personally I don't like those and I've never joind one, because I think they severly twisted the meaning of study and going to schools. I've also seen some students disrespect teachers in schools because the tutors help with exams and offer "grade guarantees" while the real teachers don't. I have an impression that this exam-tutor industry is starting to damage the morale of teachers in schools. It's harmful to our education system too because teachers might consider resigning from schools and join the tutorial agents because they get better paid there. I won't consider the tutors as 'teachers' because they seldomly share their life experiences and wisdom with you to make you a better man (or woman). They only make you a better examination participant. I am with HanYu on the definition of teachers: "師者,所以傳道、受業、解惑也。" And I think tutorials for public exams are like opium because both of them look addictive to me. I've seen some students (from newspapers, online forums) asking for tutorials even in universities. (Shamefully, some of them are students of our university in our department.) They want shortcuts to high marks. Looks like they have their ability to learn independently inhibited by going to tutorials for years. I also find them immature and childish because I think after all those years in schools they should be able to admit the truth that there are no shortcuts to success.

Last but not least, I think your disclaimer helps to avoid confusion and more importantly, to avoid arguments because it clearly points out the difference between 'some' and 'all' (not everybody had the chance to learn propositional logic). And using 'some' is often more beneficial because for people who don't like the truth that they are part of the 'some' can always deny the truth and consider themselves part of the 'some are not'.

StephenC said...

Dear Cyiu,

Agreed pretty much. Often we say one thing but do something else - sometimes even the opposite. Children and students, however, can be very observant. But not always. We are all humans, and hence fallible - including students, teachers, and parents. Tolerance is also important. Cheers!

Hector said...

From the root of the problems, human being cannot easily avoid being materialism simply because we need to make a living. The whole society is pursuing "success", how can individuals avoid them. The common practice is to isolated a university as a tower of ivory, let thoughts and ideas flow freely among professors and students. That sometimes succeed in somewhere, but not everywhere. Well I think it is not only the individuals are to be blamed, but the society, the ideology to be.
I do think something about education ought to be changed. But the change could never success if the whole society agree with the thoughts of the universities. And we are part of those people who need to take our immediate actions.