Keynote Address From Derek Bok

UC San Diego, May 30, 2011

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Dr. Bok Biography
Marshall College Interview with Dr. Bok


Thank you very much for inviting me on such an important occasion for this university. As someone who grew up in southern California, I appreciate the chance to come back here and to join in your celebration for what has been a spectacular fifty year run since the university was founded. It’s really quite remarkable what you’ve accomplished in that period. You have a university that’s vaulted into the ranks of the twenty most distinguished universities by general academic opinion in the United States. You have 25,000 undergraduates. You have a world class faculty. You have buildings that have sprouted like mushrooms. Truly, you have played a very important part in the building of what is clearly, and I hope will always be, the greatest system of public higher education in the United States and I dare say the world.

As I thought about all you’ve accomplished in the first fifty years, I couldn’t help contrasting your accomplishments with the progress of my own university at a similar point in its history. In our 51st year, we were proud to enroll exactly 22 new freshmen. And that was a record that would stand for another 30 years. We had a faculty consisting of two tutors. We had one building, which subsequently burned down, unfortunately.

I think our difficulties were caused by a rather rocky start, which I’m sure was nobody’s fault – it is one of those things that happens in the life of universities. Our first president, who was called a Master in those days, was criminally charged with beating a tutor almost to death. I think that’s unusual, even by American higher education standards. His wife was also accused of watering the students’ beer and putting goat’s dung in their pudding. In any event, they both absconded shortly thereafter, taking part of the endowment with them. At that point I think people got somewhat discouraged and closed the institution down for two years. So it really started belatedly and from a rather bad beginning.

We had only one distinction. We were universally acclaimed to be the finest university in America. But even that was somewhat tarnished by the fact that of course we were the only university in America. So you could equally well have called us the worst university in America, and certainly we had a number of good arguments in favor of that position as well. But I won’t belabor this any longer. It’s really kind of painful to contrast what we were able to do in 50 years and what you have accomplished, but there it is.

I thought I’d go on to my topic, which is not quite to proclaim the virtues of a liberal education, but rather something I think is very important to all of us who care about undergraduate education. And that is to talk about what I think is the most significant controversy now going on about the future of higher education. It’s rather strange that there should be a controversy about undergraduate education, that there should be so many complaints, and that there should be reforms being suggested that are really quite far reaching.

After all, we know that higher education, of which undergraduate education is the most substantial part with respect to the numbers of students, is one of the jewels in America’s crown. Seventeen of the top twenty universities in the world – not according to American scholars, but according to a group of Chinese scholars, seconded by another independent group of English scholars – are located in the United States. We know, too, that America is the country of choice for foreign students. It attracts more foreign students by a substantial margin than any other country. We know that our system is being increasingly emulated all around the world. In Asia, as well as in Europe, they are introducing a structure of degrees not unlike our own, a system of graduate schools not unlike our own. They are teaching courses in English and coming over in droves to study how we manage higher education, so that they can do something similar in their own countries. We also know that parents and students who are polled periodically on the subject give very high marks to undergraduate education here.

Yet I think undergraduate education at this point in time is the most heavily criticized – with the most far reaching reforms being suggested – of any aspect of American higher education. The reason for that, I think, is that there are, despite all its strengths, rather disturbing signs of trouble in paradise. For one thing, graduation rates from college in this country have stagnated now for over 30 years. For 150 years, America was the best educated country on earth, and we owe a lot of our success and our prosperity to that fact. But now for the first time a number of countries have surpassed us in the percentage of young people who manage to earn college degrees. And for the first time in our history, young Americans today who are enrolled in college will be no better educated than their parents. That’s not ever happened in our history.

There’s also, as you know, widespread concern about the cost of college. Tuitions have been going up substantially faster than inflation for a great number of years. That’s caused quite a bit of distress and complaints among parents, and it has prompted many officials to ask, “Now what are families, and what indeed are tax payers, getting in exchange for all the money that they pour into higher education?” We have to confess, if we are honest, that for decades no one has known very much about what students are getting out of their undergraduate education.

But at last, some evidence is beginning to come in. And it’s not all favorable. There are 500 colleges in the United States that agree to administer to their students something called the Collegiate Learning Assessment Test – the CLA – which is by far the most sophisticated test of writing and of critical thinking, and of progress in writing and critical thinking, among undergraduates. With 500 colleges, you have quite a cross section of American undergraduate education, and critical thinking and writing happen to be the two most important objectives of undergraduate education. Over 90% of all American professors believe that critical thinking is not only important, but is the most important advantage that you are supposed to get out of higher education. And writing is not far behind.

The CLA is not a short answer test; it’s not a standardized test that is graded by machine. It’s a test of essay questions that tries to give a pretty good idea of students’ writing and certainly of students’ ability to think about the kind of problems that they would face in real life. So it is somewhat disturbing to find that this test shows an average gain of half a standard deviation in both writing and critical thinking. For those of you who are as ignorant about statistics as I am, I should say what a half a standard deviation means. If you have an average student who enters college and takes a test on critical thinking and writing with his fellow freshmen and finishes as an average student at the 50th percentile after studying for four years, then if that same student were to go back and take the test again with a comparable group of freshmen, that student would score at the 67th percentile. That’s progress, but it’s not a great deal of progress to move from the 50th to the 67th percentile of entering freshmen after having had four years of undergraduate study to improve those vital skills. More worrisome still, 36% of people taking the test made no appreciable progress at all in their writing or critical thinking as a result of four years of study. This is not something that happens in some other remote part of undergraduate education that we never encounter here at UCSD. These roughly similar gains are about the same throughout the height and depths of the academic hierarchy in this country, in selective colleges as well as in community colleges.

One reason for these rather modest results may have to do with the amount of time students study. For the first time, we have some pretty good data on that. Looking back to when researchers first started inquiring into how much time students spend studying, which was around 1920, they have found that there was substantially no change of any significance between 1920 and 1960. Since 1960, however, there has been a 40% drop in the number of hours each week that students on average spend on their homework. If you keep up with the way things are done in the college generation, you know that much more than in the past, studying is likely to consist of something that psychologists call multitasking: you are reading a book or looking at a problem set, but you’re also listening to music, you’re Twittering, you’re texting, you’re surfing the internet, you’re doing a variety of other things, perhaps, that certainly do not contribute to the quality of time that you’re putting in. These figures are not just figures for some other segment of higher education that we don’t see much of here on this campus. The figures that I’ve given you are very similar to those that have been set forth in detail for Berkeley, which I’m sure has a student body somewhat comparable to your own. Once again, these are figures are obtained up and down the hierarchy of higher education.

These results are more than troubling because college graduates today, whether they know it or not, no longer have the luxury of competing for jobs and careers only with their fellow graduates here in the United States. American companies are increasingly hiring scientists, financial analysts, computer programmers, web designers and much else from overseas, where they can find people who are quite competent and who work for a good deal less money. The tax returns of half a million Americans are made out, not by accountants here in the United States, but by people in Bangalore, in India. Whether that’s resulted in more prosecutions from the Internal Revenue Service, I don’t know. But the fact is that jobs that used to go to American accountants are now being farmed out to people with college educations in India. One corporate CEO recently said, and I quote, “Any job you can think of now can be done by someone on the other side of the world, for much less money.” Our college graduates are no longer going to be able to compete in this international arena on grounds of salary. They’re certainly going to be out of the running from that standpoint. If they’re going to prevail as they have in the past and get the jobs that they often come to college for, they are going to have to have a superior quality of education. And that’s not what you get by studying 14 hours a week and doing that poorly on tests of critical thinking and writing.

So government officials have been worrying about this, and they’ve been trying to decide how to make universities more accountable. They’ve tried a variety of things without much success. In the 1990′s, they tried something called “performance budgeting,” in which they set out a number of outcomes that they felt were important, such as GRE test scores or what employers thought of the alumni they hired. The colleges that did the best job of meeting those outcomes and getting good scores according to this system would receive more funding, and the ones that did worse would receive less. That would be a good way of, as they say, incentivizing people in higher education to try harder. That was met with a lot of enthusiasm at first and many states got on board. But as soon as we got hit with the recession in 2000, everyone gave it up, and it is generally regarded, for a number of reasons I won’t go into, to have been a failure.

After 2000, there was the George W. Bush administration, and there was a Secretary of Education called Margaret Spelling. She put together a commission to try to get higher education to shape up. They had the idea that they would mandate a test, like the CLA test that I mentioned, and make every college administer it. Then colleges would have to publish the findings, and the idea was that as soon as students found that they could learn more about critical thinking at university A than at university B, they would flock to university A and that would put market pressure on university B. And pretty soon competitive pressures would begin to move the whole system up into higher levels of performance. That idea was met with great hostility from higher education and was abandoned before it ever saw the light of day.

You now have a third effort to deal with this through accreditation. Congress has passed legislation telling the accreditors who come around and visit you once every decade that they should make assessment their first priority. So probably if you’ve been accredited here in the last few years, you’ve heard a lot of talk about specifying your learning objectives and developing measures for assessing how well those objectives are being achieved. And the jury is still out on how effective that will be at lifting universities’ performance.

Most universities and their faculties are resisting these efforts. Not openly. They’re not picketing in the streets, but they are responding the way professors often do so effectively: by a sort of passive resistance. They just don’t go along with it. And they have some good reasons. They fear that they’re going to be subjected to very crude standardized tests that don’t begin to measure the things they think they’re doing for students. They think the government will emphasize skills that have to do with training the workforce and increasing productivity at the expense of other things that matter a great deal to a well-rounded liberal education. They’re also afraid that once you start mandating tests, teachers are going to have to teach with the tests in mind and that that’s going to erode the freedom of professors to teach the courses in the way they think best. Besides, professors are working longer hours every week than they have in several decades. Professors at a place like UCSD are working an average of over 50 hours a week. The thought that government is going to come in and do a lot of things – mandate a lot of tests and cause a lot of agonizing reappraisals and redoing of their courses – is not an appetizing project for them to contemplate. And so, they resist.

Underlying this conflict between the desire of the government to find some way of holding universities accountable and the faculty’s resistance to all the ways proposed thus far reflects what is, I think, deep down, a very basic clash of cultures. On the one hand, you have the reformers, whose culture is one that involves what could be called evidence-based approaches to education. They want to measure everything – to find out how much progress is being made, what your goals are, and whether you are meeting them. Ultimately, if you’re not meeting these goals, they want to engage in tested experiments that will be rigorously evaluated to try to figure out how you can do better. That clashes head on with the traditional ethos of faculties who have what might be called a traditional intuitive approach to teaching. In this approach, teaching is something that depends on your native talent. It’s something you pick up by remembering how your best professors taught you. You change it over time based on practical experience and judgment. But it’s not something you deal with by assessing and setting objectives of that kind. It’s a private matter for each professor, and some of us are more gifted than others. But we all kind of learn as we go along by hunch, experience, anecdote and what have you. That is a very different approach from the evidence-based approach of the reformers.

The faculty have very good reason to be suspicious of evidence-based reform. If you just look at the experience in the public schools under programs like No Child Left Behind, you find a lot that makes you genuinely worried. You find that the tests that are used are often very crude and don’t do a good job of measuring the more subtle aspects of education. You find that sure enough, the government is fixated on skills that have to do with improving the economy and doesn’t have much truck with the softer and more subtle values of, let’s say, the humanities. You find that testing diverts the energy of administrators and faculty from the things that can’t be tested, and that are often very important to the things that can, because tests are now what really count. And that begins to distort the whole undergraduate program away from the classic ideal, which I think all of us cherish, of a well-rounded liberal education. So one can understand that if this is what is going to be applied to undergraduate education, it should be resisted.

As one thinks further, one recognizes that resistance by itself is simply not enough. The limited progress that students are making in skills as vital as critical thinking and writing is just not acceptable. It’s not satisfactory. It demands something other than resistance to the government’s efforts to do something about it. The decline of studying is genuinely troubling, and I think the faculty response to a 40% decline in the number of hours that students spend on their homework – when all the research tells you that what you get out of higher education is a direct product of how much effort you put into it – is no easy or simple matter. I don’t think many faculty grasp that behind all this is a competition that they don’t really understand they’re in. They are vying with some very determined organizations, with very sophisticated people. They’re vying and competing for the time and attention of young people with the TV, of the iPods, the computer games, the internet, the texting, the Twittering, the Facebook. All of these are competing for the time and attention of college age students, along with a very attractive set of extra-curricular temptations that colleges themselves create. There is a competition, and if you don’t know you’re in it, you’re going to get licked, and that apparently is what has been happening these last 40 years.

But what has been the response of universities? They’ve responded I think in two ways. One is grade inflation. In other words, students are working less but getting better grades. That’s not very encouraging. If I were in the government, I’d be pretty dissatisfied about that, too. The other thing they’re doing is going along with the students. They’re demanding less; homework assignments are down. We now have quite good statistics on how much and what kinds of homework students have. We discovered in one very comprehensive national survey that 50% of seniors have never written a paper that’s more than 20 pages long. And one-third of students have had no class that demanded more than 40 pages of reading per week.

Resistance is understandable, but it’s not sufficient. We have to ask how we can reconcile these two conflicting cultures so that something productive can come out of it. I think the government has to realize that reform cannot be imposed from above. You’re only going to get educational reform if the professors believe in it — because they are the ones doing the teaching. Which means that you can’t impose a test upon them. It wouldn’t fit the diversity of American higher education, anyway. If you impose a single official test of critical thinking, for example, you’re going to freeze innovation and experimentation. Faculty members are simply not going to change their methods of teaching in response to some test that they had no part in either devising or accepting. So that won’t do.

The other principle the government has to observe is that the tests and testing and assessment have to be a process that is used for the internal development of an individual college. It shouldn’t be made into some kind of competitive horse race in which rewards and penalties and college rankings all depend on highly publicized scores of one institution compared with others. If you do that, the faculties are sure to resist, and the result will be somewhat unfair, because the amount of progress one college makes over another is not necessarily determined by things that are under the colleges’ control. To hold the colleges responsible is really to do something that is not warranted, because, although the student’s college certainly affects his or her performance, it by no means controls all the things that determine it. Once you start attaching real rewards and penalties to publicized test scores, you’re going to divert a lot of energy into gaming the system and finding ways of getting your students to do better than they really are on the tests. All kinds of unfortunate things are going to come out. You’re going to emphasize the subjects going to be tested and slight the important subjects that can’t be. So that’s a bad idea.

But faculties on their part cannot reject assessment as impossible, as I have heard faculty members do. To say that there is no way of assessing the kinds of subtle things that I’m trying to get my students to understand is unreasonable. I mean, professors assess learning all the time. They call it grading, and they are constantly assessing how much their students have learned. It is true that some goals, some legitimate goals of undergraduate education, are hard to measure. But there’s a lot that can be measured fairly readily. You certainly can measure improvement in writing. You can measure proficiency in a foreign language. You can measure the amount of learning that goes on in subjects that have definite answers, like math and statistics and much of science. I think you can do a pretty good job of measuring critical thinking. So there are a lot of important things that you can measure, and we shouldn’t try to deny that that is so. You can also do some very interesting things at the level of individual courses.

I thought I’d just give you two quick examples. I have a friend at Harvard named Eric Mazur who teaches basic physics. He was a very successful teacher. He got high student ratings. He had large classes. But something bothered him. He read about some other professors who had found that their students didn’t know as much as they thought, and he was somewhat troubled by some of the questions that his students asked him after class. Unlike most of us – who, when we hear disturbing things like that, we get over it, and go on as we did before – he decided, “I’m going to put this to a test.”

He devised a very simple exam. If you really understood the underlying principles of physics in the course, you would have no difficulty applying these to the somewhat different situations that he described in his test. But if you didn’t understand the principles of physics, you would be totally flummoxed. He gave the test to the students before they had gone to a single class, and of course the students did terribly, because they knew nothing about physics. How would they pass this exam? Just what was expected. But then when the class was over, he gave them a test which was almost exactly the same. They did no better the second time than they did before they took the course. He had to come to terms with the fact that his students had relied on their memory to pass the tests and even sometimes to get very good grades. They memorized all their problem sets and they could kind of figure out whether the questions corresponded to this or that problem they remember solving, but they didn’t really understand anything that was fundamentally important. Well, that was a very interesting thing to know. I think that if more professors tried to use assessment in their own courses, you would find some other interesting things.

Another wonderful example is probably one of the most influential tests ever made in America. It was made by a young person – I think he was a graduate student at Berkeley. Uri Treisman wondered why his black students did so much worse than his Asian students in introductory calculus. So, unlike most people who teach calculus, he decided to play anthropologist. He padded around and observed how these students went about studying for the course and he found a very interesting thing. The Asian students studied in groups, and if one of them didn’t understand, the others would work with that student until they figured out why he or she was having such a hard time. They would overcome whatever mental block the student was having, and the student would get back in the swing of things. The black students studied alone. And when they reached an assignment that for some reason they couldn’t deal with, they got discouraged. They began to get further and further behind, and then they ultimately dropped out or did very badly in the course.

But Treisman didn’t stop there. I wish we had more people like him. He said, “Well, I’m going to do an experiment. I’m going to have the black students study in groups, just like everybody else. And I teach more than one section, so I had one section made up of study groups, and I had another section in which people were free just as they had been in the past to study any way they wanted.” And there were dramatic improvements. The black students got much better grades, they dropped out of science much less frequently, and they graduated at higher rates. It was quite a remarkable performance.

I simply cite these cases to illustrate the interesting things that you can do if you set about really trying to discover how much learning is going on in your class. And there are lots of other useful applications. One of the interesting things about undergraduate education is that almost every college brochure talks about how “We’re educating and preparing informed, enlightened citizens.” But almost no curriculum has a single course that has anything really to do with preparing citizens at all. It would be interesting to test that. One person did – a political scientist with the wonderful name of Sunshine Hillygus. I don’t know whether Sunshine is male or female, so I’ll use the word she and hope for the best. Sunshine did a study of what happened to people for five or six years after they graduated, and she found the very interesting fact that whether people majored in education or engineering or business, they actually became less involved as citizens — so much so that with every additional course they took in their major, they tended in later life to be less engaged in their communities and in voting and so forth. That again is a very interesting thing to know – instead of just asserting that we are turning out enlightened citizens.

Here we find a rather serious qualification to that proposition. There are all sorts of things about how your students use electives and meet distribution requirements, and whether these really create a breadth of interests or not. This could all be tested, and yet it very seldom is, at least in the institutions that I know about. To me the ultimate goal is to create a climate of investigation. Not that you’re assessing everything all the time. But in some systematic way, at whatever pace you want, you should go through the things you do and try to find out, wherever possible, What are the assumptions we’re making, what are the purposes we’re trying to achieve and can we find out whether we’re actually achieving them? And when you do that, you discover weak points, and, hopefully, you then experiment with ways of overcoming the weaknesses. Gradually, through enlightened trial and error, you get better.

But how utopian is that? That’s my vision of what I would like colleges to be doing in the years to come. I may sound like a Pollyanna, but I believe that despite the faculty resistance to be encountered in many places, this is the way we’re heading, and that kind of experimental, inquiring environment is the one that is going to take the place of what we have now. In fact, I think change in that direction is already underway, although it’s not terribly visible. If you look carefully at what’s going on in the way students are being taught, you see much more of this than you did, say, 20 years ago.

The principal reason I think change will occur in a positive direction is that the traditional intuitive way of teaching actually is in conflict with at least two much more deeply held values that professors have. The first is their feeling about why they’re teaching. Most people become professors because they really believe in helping young people to develop their talents and capabilities as much as they can. You read a lot in the paper about professors, particularly at places like this, who don’t really care about teaching, who only care about research. That is a false canard. There are such professors, but they are not in the majority. The faculty spend on average twice as much time teaching in the United States as they do on their research. Most faculty members will say that they are more interested in their teaching than their research. Even in research universities, 40% of the faculty members say they’re more interested in their teaching than in their research. American professors, interestingly enough, say they’re more interested in teaching than professors in any other advanced country in the world. You have a basic value there of why you’re going into this profession – because you believe in helping students progress – yet the way in which you’re going about your teaching, and your unwillingness to subject it to real inquiry, is causing you to teach in ways that do not have the results that you think. There are other professors out there like Eric Mazur who will find that they’re not helping their students progress nearly as much as they think, and that represents a real conflict with one of their basic values.

The intuitive approach, the traditional intuitive approach, is also at war with another basic value. That is the way in which professors normally approach a lot of the problems that they face in their professional life, namely in their research. In their research, the professor is always very careful to identify a problem, to gather all the relevant evidence, to think of possible solutions that seem plausible in light of the evidence, and then to test those solutions rigorously to try to find the one that fits the evidence most precisely. That’s not at all the way professors go about their teaching. They begin by copying professors that they had when they were students and they change, as life goes on, through random episodes that give them some kind of insight into their students, or maybe they get something out of the exams they grade, if they grade exams. Their chance conversations may cause them to try something new. But it’s nothing like the kind of careful, systematic way in which they approach problems in the other half of their professional life – a rigorous mode of inquiry in which they believe very deeply. So there again, you have a conflict between the way that professors are behaving toward their teaching and their deeper values about how you ought to approach serious problems that you want to get to the bottom of.

In my view, it is by exposing the conflict between the actual current practice and the deeper beliefs and values of professors that you’re going to bring about change. I think that’s the way change often occurs in society. Think of two very familiar examples of how our attitudes have changed towards race and gender. Discrimination on the basis of race and gender was always opposed to deeply held values in America about equal opportunity and the equal dignity of human beings. But the clash or the difference between the practice of discrimination and these deeper values was obscured for a long time by a whole series of casual rationalizations which people trotted out: “Well, blacks are shiftless and lazy, and women have delicate temperaments that make them unsuited for various occupations, and they have family responsibilities that make them unreliable employees.” And so it went until there was enough determined publicity that made people face up to the fact that there was a real conflict between the way women and minorities were being treated and the deeper values that America holds dear. It was when that conflict became exposed that change began to come about, more rapidly, I think, than many people would have believed possible, at least people of my generation.

I think the same thing can happen in college teaching. Just to use two quick examples. Back in the 70′s, I gave a test to find out how much progress Harvard students were making in writing. We devised a very careful test, and we it carried out and looked at the results. Some of them were gratifying and not altogether surprising. We found that people who had majored in the humanities had made a great deal of progress in the quality of the writing – the clarity, the grace with which they expressed themselves, and so forth. We found that people who majored in social sciences had made a good deal of progress, though not as much as the majors in humanities. That was all pretty much expected. But then we found the most curious and interesting thing. The people who had majored in science wrote worse as seniors than they had when they entered as freshmen. Now when I brought those results to the departments, I didn’t have to lecture them about their obligations to teach writing. The moment they saw that result, they knew something had to be done, and it was very gratifying when I got called back into service again in 2006, to be president for 18 months, I decided what the heck — I’ll run the whole test again, and I found that scientists really wrote much better as seniors than they did as freshman. So the lesson had been taken to heart.

I think it simply indicates the fact that nothing special had to be done. The moment the conflict was exposed, people knew immediately, “We’ve got to fix that.” And they did, and I think that faculties everywhere will fix it if they see that what they hoped was the case is not really the case in terms of how much their students are learning. What is going on in the United States today is bound to expose these conflicts and make the conflicts more and more apparent. We have 500 schools taking the test of critical thinking and writing that I mentioned at the beginning, and the results have just been published in a book. That book has received quite a bit of publicity. Bob Herbert in The New York Times devoted an entire column to it, so people, including professors, are beginning to see that, “Hmm, something is wrong here. 95% of us say this is the most important thing, this critical thinking, and look, 36% of students are doing it. Maybe I ought to check here to see whether my students at Harvard or UCSD are making progress.” And they’re likely to find, yes, but not as much progress as they had thought. That’s going to worry them.

The study documenting the decline in the amount of homework going on has also been extensively covered in The New York Times and elsewhere, and professors are going to read that. The accreditors are pressing all universities, including this one and mine, to define their learning objectives carefully and then to assess progress toward them. And as they bully us into doing that, results are going to kind of trickle out, and professors are going to want to know, “Well, what happened when we assessed these things?” And they’re going to find a conflict between what they hoped to be true and what is actually true about their students’ learning. And they’re going to learn, I think quite quickly, that if you really believe overwhelmingly that critical thinking is the most important thing you can teach undergraduates, you had better stop making lecturing your main form of teaching, because there’s a mountain of evidence that says that the way to accomplish that is not to give them lectures, any more than the way to teach people how to drive is to lecture them in an auditorium about exactly how the car works and what you do with the steering wheel.

I think this process is already visible. If you look carefully, there are statistics. Lecturing is still the most prevalent form of teaching in undergraduate education, but it’s losing ground all the time. There’s more problem-solving and problem-based instruction. There’s more collaborative learning, there’s more student research, there’s more service learning. Lots of new ways, ways that are probably more successful, are beginning to replace the standard lecture format. I regret to say that leading universities, the greatest universities in this country, are not leading in this effort, especially the great private universities. They have reasons for not participating actively. They have masses of students, so they don’t have to worry about improving to get students. They have very fine reputations. They don’t like the idea of beginning to have assessments that will surely leak out into the papers. I’ve gone through this myself, with the idea of staying awake at night thinking of those newspaper stories: “Students at Harvard are learning nothing.”

It’s a very sobering thought when you charge the tuitions that we do. And so obviously the idea of assessment is not a very popular one. I think that’s a pity. Progress toward the kind of approach to learning that will serve us best in the long run will come about more slowly if the leading universities are not active participants, because the leading universities have a lot of visibility and they command a lot of followers among other colleges. But I’m convinced that whether or not they are in the vanguard, progress is going to come anyway. There’s going to be continued pressure by the accrediting people to do more and more assessment. There’s going to be more publicity like the book that’s just been written about the composite results – without naming names of universities – of how much students are progressing in critical thinking and in writing. Professors are going to hear about assessments being carried on. They’re going to want to know what the results were. And so the conflicts between reality and the underlying values of the faculty are going to become more and more visible over time, and it’s going to become more uncomfortable not to change.

I may be losing my grip on reality here, but in the end, my fondest hope is that faculty everywhere will come to regard teaching as they do research: as a succession of very challenging and interesting problems that they can explore systematically and eventually overcome as institutions and in their own individual classes. If that should occur, I think the coming generation may well be looked back upon someday as one of great creative change that rivals the other great periods of creative change in American higher education: the decades immediately after the Civil War and the decades immediately after World War II, in which this university participated so gloriously.

I have perhaps not mentioned the great virtues of liberal arts education, although I believe in them thoroughly. I hope I’ve not disappointed my hosts in not dwelling upon that topic, about which so many people have talked more eloquently than I. But I am, I think, talking about preserving those virtues and making them as effective as possible. To me, the shortcomings are really opportunities in disguise. They’re opportunities even for UCSD to make as much progress in a different way in your second 50 years as you have in your first, and they have the great advantage, particularly in the state of California, that these are reforms, among the whole gamut of American higher education reforms, really cost the least money. You can do a great deal along the lines that I’ve mentioned for very small expense. And if we do that, at Harvard, at UCSD, at colleges across the land, I really think it will be a triumph for us, a triumph for our students and for everyone who has a stake in the quality of higher education in this country. So thank you again for inviting me and I deeply appreciate the honor.