On the general subject of university change

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On the general subject of university change

From Mark Junge

Published before 2005


Brian (and Fred),

I'll have to admit, I was caught a little off guard by the suggestion of doing some sort of scholarly study that would impress university art departments enough to make changes. I have a masters degree in microbiology and used to work in biomedical research labs. We have to start with a question, i.e., what is the effect of doing x to y and how does it compare to the control group z? Then we make observations, preferably with sample sizes greater than 20, note the differences between the y and z groups, develop criteria for translating those differences into numbers, then run statistical tests to determine the probability that those differences could be caused by reasons other than the use of x. Often the process works well.

But sometimes it doesn't. We all hear of supposedly respectable studies that, with further investigation by other labs, used faulty assumptions and methodology to generate results that the research may have been hoping for, perhaps to obtain additional funding and keep one's job, or to advance a political agenda. I can't imagine setting up a study of university art departments that would devise testable questions and data that would be so powerful that modernist faculty wouldn't simply toss the study aside and berate it as the rantings of an agenda-driven whacko.

Mark