What makes an excellent University department? LO23011

Steve Eskow (dreskow@corp.webb.net)
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 09:57:29 -0600

Replying to LO22997 --

At and all,

In a message to Eugene Taurman I suggested that if we need an analogy that
would suggest an approach to helping a troubled university department, we
might compare university departments and automobiles.

Clearly all automobiles are subject to the "laws" of physics, including
entropy. It would be helpful if the auto mechanic knew these laws, and at
a lower level of abstraction if he knew how automobiles were assembled,
and how gasoline engines operated.

None of this knowledge, however, prepares him to fix a particular and
specific automobile in trouble--my automobile, for example--unless he has
specific information about that automobile. That information may be in the
form of verbal clues I give him on the phone: more likely he will need to
diagnose my ailing car by careful and methodical examination.

As the old saying goes, a university department is like all other
departments in some ways, like some others in some ways, and like no other
in some ways.

That is: before he can prescribe for this ailing department, Nick Heap
will have to do the careful work of diagnosis, studying the forces
impinging on this auto, this department, that shape the troubles that it

Large generalizations about learning organizations, about civilizations,
and about autos provide a useful background for the slower and less
exciting work of studying the peculiar and particular needs of the system
before us: this troubled university department.

Steve Eskow


Steve Eskow <dreskow@corp.webb.net>

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