Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 January 2021
Given the complexities of the interlocking pieces, universities function surprisingly well. Professors teach and accomplish their research, and some of them engage in devoted service to the institution, to their own field, or even to the academy more generally. Students learn and grow up, and begin to engage with the world as independent operators. Some of them choose to go on to graduate schools, including more detailed studies in a discipline or professional schools of various kinds. They complete their programs of study successfully and they advance to their futures with baccalaureates, master's degrees, and doctorates. Staff members and administrators successfully organize degrees, reports, materials, and faculties; other staff members and administrators face up to problems of parking, buildings, grounds, housing, food, transport, and that great bugbear of universities: deferred maintenance. Senior administrators face outwards to governments and donors, and inwards to coordinate and set policy and direction for the university entrusted to their care. Alumni engage in various kinds of intervention and work. Mostly, they find themselves appreciated for their donations and naming opportunities, and mostly underappreciated for their willingness to intervene in current events with remembrances and reminiscences. They also return to their alma mater for major events and celebrations. Research happens. Teaching happens.
While universities are seldom welloiled machines, they get the job done. In fact, many would argue, and have argued, that the crankiness inherent in the university system is perhaps its greatest strength. Courses can, in the hands of different faculty members, offer quite extraordinarily different experiences for those taking them and those offering them: one might be a highly interactive and tense experience in the classroom, with questions zinging and responses queried; another might offer podcasts of the lectures with a flipped classroom investigating details or solving problems; and another might split the class up into groups investigating a given problem not just in the classroom but for its application in the community, or indeed in a different community or country. each of these learning experiences is equally valid, will appeal more to some students than others, and will challenge some students to a greater degree than others.