The Benefits of Inefficiency

The murky imbroglio that engulfed the University of Virginia contributed to significant reflection on the relevance of academic institutions and various approaches for the future, including cuts, a corporate model of governance, and the financial benefits of online content delivery. Despite the current resolution with the reinstatement of President Sullivan, these particular issues are part of the conversation about the relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Despite emphasizing examples of scientific discoveries and innovations that developed at research universities, Siva Vaidhyanathan highlights the value of the inefficiency of the university model. An undergraduate education allows time and space to explore new areas of study and new questions, and important innovations require the opportunities to explore creative solutions that fail as well as ideas that work. This point should be pushed further, though. Skills that develop within less marketable disciplines, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity (which many humanities professors excel in teaching), can be transferred into developing innovation in other fields, whether as entrepreneurs, doctors, scientific researchers, or film makers, and through voluntary contributions to civic discourse and social problem solving. These skills take time to develop and do not always demonstrate an immediate or marketable gain, but they can make a difference in society. A focus on the short-term bottom line and quick or guaranteed research success overlooks much of what innovation and an improving society requires.

3 thoughts on “The Benefits of Inefficiency

  1. An interesting point. I sense that the concept of critical thinking is fairly malleable. In my conception of critical thinking, it is a practice that most people use on at least a basic level. For example, many politically-oriented people and groups critique the assumptions and biases that they identify in their opponents. Some who opposed the wars in Iraq have suggested that both Bushes invaded because of oil. Some who oppose Obama’s policies ascribe all sorts of agendas behind the healthcare law and other decisions within his administration. Developing these critical thinking skills in the classroom can make them more incisive, and they can be employed then to critique any sort of idea.

    The specific statement in the platform is “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” I sense that the Texas Republican platform assumes some educators use these skills to encourage students to critique ideas that they do not want critiqued. Those who oppose teaching critical thinking skills would do better to recognize that the power of those skills also can be used to promote their own agenda. Critical thinking is not a strictly liberal activity.

  2. Critical thinking a plus, eh? Perhaps you’ve recently heard about the Texas Republican Party’s Platform…? Under “Educating Our Children” (p. 12) see:

    “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs…”

    Just wonder how you respond to that, since there are those out there who do not sanction the whole “innovation through transferable skills” argument…

    You can obtain a Word or PDF version of their Party Platform at: