Speaker: Universities suffer from vanity and self-righteousness


Criticism can be viewed as damaging and unnecessary when trying to promote a certain cause. However, criticism is crucial to better oneself or an institution.

Robert Stake, director of the Center for Instructional Research and Curriculum Evaluation at the University of Illinois, presented his lecture “Criticism as a Duty of the University” on Wednesday.

In his address, Stake focused on both the history of evaluation and criticism in universities around the world and how it is relevant in today’s standards. He gave examples of how education has advanced throughout the centuries and used criticism to reform learning institutions for the better. The Inquisition is an example of how, in the past, evaluation and criticism proved to be beneficial and allowed thoughts and ideas to develop. This led to criticisms of science that paved the way for many generations to follow.

Stake explained how philosophers and educators of the past have used skepticism and doubt to enhance one’s learning experience and help overcome problems in quality of teaching.

“Doubt can energize scholarly reflection,” Stake said. “Criticism …  is taught in many classes on this campus.”

One of Stake’s main concerns is how criticism is treated in the policies and practices of contemporary universities. He said he believes criticism is essential in evaluating the quality of universities. He said it is an obligation of universities to support this concept of encouraging criticism to benefit both teachers and students.

Stake explained how evaluating helped to challenged how people understand things. He said he believes challenging information encourages new thought processes and fosters new ideas. All humans have different perspectives and by challenging and criticizing ideas will enrich understanding. He enforced this example by saying that there may be many right ways to see a sunset, it all is determined by one’s perspective.

Although Stake understands how vital universities are to a society, he believes they suffer greatly from vanity and self-righteous. He said universities have become too preoccupied with presenting their best face, and they fail to look at what they need to work on as well. Many are slow or even silent to criticize universities so as not to offend higher officials. Stake also understands the amount of stress universities are under to be the best.

“Administrators are under great stress … everyone has a little administrated responsibility,” Stake said. “They are under stress to make the place your place, my place an investment and pride for all stakeholders, citizens, students and parents.”

Stake said he feels as though the university as a whole will benefit by receiving frequent assessments. He believes good education depends on different types of teaching and students learning from different techniques. Universities need to support criticism to help reform and improve the institution. Although are no universal guidelines for these issues, criticism relies on intuition to evaluate issues as they come. Stake believes this needs to become an important standard all universities should abide by.

He acknowledged many are hurt by a university being criticized, but it something that should be done to help improve the university and the people affected by it.

“The university is part of a society impoverished in serious self-evaluation,” Stake said. “It needs to be more than a site where criticism is heard, it should be … an advocate of nourishing criticism. The university should be a power plant generating critical power.”

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