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Access and Exposure

May 8, 2007

College degrees (or should I just say college classes?) are a handy indicator that the person has been exposed and should be granted access. That is, a college education provides exposure and access. Skills are secondary; thinking is optional.

I am taking my inspiration for this post from the Marilee Jones firing from MIT. Apparently the dean of Admissions lied about her education way back, and it was ferreted out. She was fired—as she should be.

The discussion about her, though, quickly moves to the value and role of education. Ms. Jones was an excellent dean by all accounts, so why fire her now? Does the degree mean that much?

First, it wasn’t the lack of degree that was cited as the reason for her getting fired, but that she lied. So, take the lack of degree off of the table. Could she do the job without a degree? Well, she had been doing so for quite a while, so yes.

Then what is a degree for? Access and exposure. Let me explain. First, a few caveats: not all degrees are created equal. A liberal arts degree is all about exposure (although access is to be debated), while a science, engineering, business, etc. degree is, arguably, more about access. It is a sliding scale, with factors of specific degree plans, job positions, etc. But, for discussion purposes, it falls like this:

Access Exposure

Sciences/business Liberal arts

Of course, as with any spectrum, there are some middling ground (archeology would be an exposed/access; fine arts an access/exposure).

Pretty much any job is a club of some sort. Entry is only permitted if a person has X, Y and sometimes Z. For a range of jobs, X is a degree in the field (AA, BA, MA, etc.). One needs a law degree and bar exam to practice, doctors need med school and internships, etc. So, access is limited for these fields. I suppose is should be.

Exposure, though, is what people trot out when they speak of higher ed. “The best that is thought or spoken” sort of thing. A college grad will be exposed to various paradigms, cultures, practices, etc. that will expand her mind. At least, that is the argument. In fact, the exposure side exists almost exclusively when higher ed discussions arise. People will get apoplectic about the importance of exposing, or not, young minds to the world of ideas.

That is a load of crap.

Sure, I think that the exposure side should be included. It should be expanded. To assume that a college grad will be exposed (who is the judge for this anyway—is there a standard or measure here) to “enough” by a survey of British literature puts a lot on Donne and the like. And really, I could care less if my surgeon felt the pathos of ball turret gunner. I do care that she was paying attention to her gross anatomy labs. For the skilled professions, exposure helps more at dinner parties than in obtaining a job (see super-important caveat to this below).

What about business? Entry-level is entry-level. The college brand will do more to give a guy access than will the specific courses. Got an MBA from Harvard, then come this way to higher-exec-ville. All others, get at the end of that long line and await your cube assignment.

So, here are the terms of the discussion: access and exposure. My personal interaction with this tomorrow (or so).

Super-important caveat: I don’t think there is enough exposure of the skilled professions to other paradigms. I wish the doctors would open up to non-medical interventionist approaches—that holistic or homeopathic approaches were more explored. But, why I wish to be and what is are world’s apart. So, in a sense the pathos of the ball-turret gunner might show the way to realizing an open-minded approach to medicine. Yet, even typing this I feel as if it is too much to expect, given the noise of job obtainment and advancement (“witch” doctors don’t work at Mayo).

  1. Garble permalink
    May 9, 2007 2:04 am

    I have no idea what you teach, but I think you’re underrating the ability of college to teach people useful things. Most of the classes I took to get a BS in engineering were necessary to actually do engineering well. The extent to which i mastered those skills goes a long way to determining how good I am at my job.

  2. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    May 9, 2007 2:34 pm

    garble, I think you missed my point. Engineering would be well in the access field, as the “skills” (which I still say are incidental) are acquired.

    Higher certainly teaches–that wasn’t my point. I wanted to introduce two terms to the discussion and my take on them.

    BTW, I rest squarely in the exposure camp, with a little access (business writing) thrown in.

  3. Garble permalink
    May 10, 2007 4:14 am

    I may be misreading you. It seems as if you’re arguing that the skills acquired are incidental to the degree. In other words; a degree in electrical engineering from MIT grants you access to a job creating a traction control system for a car. That this access is independent of your mastery of the electrical engineering skills involved.

  4. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    May 10, 2007 12:54 pm

    I cede your point. With only two terms, I am being a tab over-general. There is no doubt that a course in electrical engineering will situation one to actually create stuff, fix stuff, do stuff. That is why I am labeling it access. The electrical engineer has, through the education, access to specialized jobs.

    Contrast that with taking a course in post-structuralist criticism. Knowing the stated implications of a “deferred” semiotics won’t let you fix stuff, make stuff or, really, do stuff. It does, though, expose one to other paradigms of thought.

    Some degrees provide more access than exposure and vice versa. My liberal arts degrees provided me with lots of exposure–to which I am grateful–but little access (jobs are lower-paying and scarce).

    Does this help?

  5. Garble permalink
    May 10, 2007 5:31 pm

    I see what your point is now. I think that defining education with only two axis is going to give a flawed description. The terms are also confusing.

    Exposure is short for exposure to many different ideas. That’s pretty straight forwards

    Access is a little more confusing because it can mean access to a particular field though skill or access to a particular field through social and scholastic connections. It could be argued that Harvard’s MBA program is great because everyone assumes it is and not because it teaches better skills than Boston College. Or you could argue it the other way.

  6. Greg permalink
    May 10, 2007 7:03 pm

    this discussion started in the 11th century, only then it was called the trivium vs the quadrivium. hasn’t been answered either 🙂 do a google on the terms!

  7. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    May 14, 2007 3:33 pm

    Thanks Greg. Good to know you assume the worst. Not trying to reinvent as much as explore.

    But, thanks for playing.

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