Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Different Look at (Sports) Education

If you haven't had the opportunity, read Mark Taylor's op-ed piece in the New York Times about the future of higher education, and specifically graduate education. Taylor argues that higher education has become like Detroit--producing a product for which there is no market and developing skills for which there is no demand.

Taylor (a religion professor at Columbia) does not specifically mention sports, but his observations and recommendations should make us reflect about our sports programs. His argument that the mass-production education model has led to "separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization" is something we are all facing in mass communications. New technologies and approaches have caused the walls between print and broadcast divisions to crumble, and the sports media have been at the forefront of incorporating these changes in delivering content to consumers. (Some would say change is coming too fast and without a regard for consequences).

I also agree with the recommendation to redesign curriculum (which is already going on here at Ole Miss and I'm guessing many other places) and to encourage collaboration between universities (which I also think we do a very good job of in teaching sports media; my experience has been that other schools and instructors are more than willing to collaborate).

Taylor also argues that "as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations." This has been a problem even in mass communication and many journals are dedicated to information that is irrelevant to anyone except those who publish it. We are trying to put more of an emphasis on practicality in sports media scholarship at JSM and several other journals are as well, but it's a difficult battle. As scholars, we have been trained in the scientific method-theoretical application-hypothesis testing model of research; maybe it's time to look at that model and see if it's actually producing any practical results. As someone who worked in the television industry I can say with certainty that no news director or general manager I ever knew looked at a scholarly journal for advice on how to do his/her job better, improve productivity or increase profits.

Taylor does get a little far afield in some of his suggestions (I'm sure eliminating tenure would not go over well), but many of his points are valid and worth consideration.


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