Michigan State News



Christopher Sower

"Caught in the obsolescence trap"


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following "point of view" was written by Christopher Sower, professor of sociology.

The Garskof cas provides further evidence that there is a very deep illness in the teaching system of a large university; one which cannot be corrected by more faculty committee meetings, professors' papers, or student strikers. Also, the radicals now have another case of evidence that they are a distinct minority, and that they are a distinct minority, and that they have not yet gained the professional competence to conduct the kind of revolutionary movement to "blow the damn university sky high." Also, the fact that revolutions are not successful until individual members of the police and army shift to the cause of the revolters indicates how far the radicals are from bringing the old institutions down by either force or cohesive social movement.

Therefore, we have some time yet before Bastille Day to attempt to design and test some programs to see if it is possible to bring some updating to the basically obsolete university and other institutions of modern societies. It just happens that the universities are caught in the same obsolescence trap as are all of education, welfare, religion, mental health, and the other traditional institutions. To illustrate this further, there is an apparently increasing number of faculty and students at MSU that are of the opinion that something is not quite right about the behavior of the Administration and the tenure faculty of the Department of Psychology as they arrived at the Garskof decision - that some basic university norms have been violated.

Let me be honest with myself in this case. My conversative middle age mentality is grated even by the appearance of Garskof and the other self-labeled radicals. Yet, I must agree with the radicals that the old bleating campus liberals as well as the welfare state are intelluctually bankrupt. They give advice to everybody else, but turn out to be arch conservatives when university updating requires some alteration in their highly privileged positions and behavior.

But, as I attend the meeting of the protesters in the Union, stood as an observer in the cold to listen to the rally speeches, and then walked back and forth through the Administration building during the sit down, I observed deep sincerity and concern among these protesters. Through dress and hair styles, they demonstrate their protest against obsolescence of the institutional heritage which my generation has failed in our long efforts to update. But being a conservative, I prefer orderly change rather than to take the "Apres Moi, La Deluge" position of Louis XV. So where do we go from here?

The Garskof case certainly is related to the identity problem of the social sciences. This going to have to be brought out from under the rug. My whole professional career has been involved with observing the power struggles between two extreme factions of the social scientists. On the one hand are what can be called the navelists, who look at their navels and make grandiose speculations about real life society. On the other are the trivalists, who insist that all of the social sciences must be reduced to the rigor of what can be computerized and made statistical - that is, the trivial. While both of these approaches are important are important to any discipline, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the social sciences and their teaching programs are going to develop and if they are going to continue to justify their inputs of public funds.