Shield and Shackle: The Paradox of Human Development Within Universities

In “Do Universities Retard the Development of Their Faculty?” (October 21, 2012), David Goldberg highlights a seldom-observed consequence of the modern academic organism.  Drawing on his review of literature in the field of adult psychological development, also known as constructive-developmental psychology, Goldberg concludes (in my own words) that universities’ focus on securing and strengthening knowledge comes at the expense of their own faculty members’ acquisition of greater wisdom.  Goldberg laments this limitation on an individual faculty member’s “yearnings to develop and move beyond the bounds of [Expert stage of development, as described by Jane Loevinger et al.].”

Inspired by such authors as Bill Plotkin and Margaret Wheatley, and roused to action by the current era’s well-documented, unprecedented complexity, I join Goldberg’s lamentation while suggesting a subtly different view of universities, a perspective informed by abundant appreciation for their gifts to humankind as well as their limitations:

Humankind is experiencing need for capacities greater than those cultivated by universities up until now.  Like a skeleton or a particular genetic sequence, today’s universities support certain forms of development and prevent others.  Their strengths are, paradoxically, also their weakness.  We ought to consider generating wholly new organizational structures, as well variations within universities, to support individual development beyond Expert stage.

Hooray for Universities and Education!

Let’s truly celebrate the contribution of universities to our species’ development of the capacity for self-authorship.  Once upon a time – and even today in some places on Earth – education has sought to generate sufficient knowledge and wisdom for a child only to conform to social expectations and not to exceed them.  Many girls and women today feel the press of this expectation more tightly than do boys and men.

Yet today, we largely take for granted the pursuit of intellectual independence, whether by man or by woman, if undertaken for the sake of discovering scientific truths that happen to contradict the prevailing mindset.  To an extent greater than before the advent of universities, parents today encourage their children to leave home, learn about the world, and strike out on their own independent paths.

Our educational systems and their flagships, universities, serve as defenders of both expertise and Expert-ism.  They form bulwarks against a society’s Diplomat-ist tendency to hold students and faculty alike within the constraints of deference, politeness, or social station.  We ought to appreciate the great evolutionary gift universities have given to our species: Universities have secured an individual’s right to develop an independent sense of self amid a world of tangled human commitments, statuses, and proprieties.

A Design Feature, not a Flaw

Seen in this light, we can return to the question of “retarded development” for university faculty with a fresh perspective.  Universities do not fail at the task of developing their faculty members (or students, or communities) to later stages of development so much as they excel at promoting development up to Expert stage.

Indeed, setting aside some approaches to continuing education, universities have accepted no developmental task beyond consolidating their learners at Expert stage.  The learning contract involves students absorbing data, acquiring a technique, or otherwise expanding their knowledge without having to change the fundamental ways in which they make sense out of the world.

Further, universities largely presume that their faculty members already possess Expert meaning-making capacities, and universities generally accept no claim to existence for the purpose of transforming the mindsets of their faculty-as-faculty (versus faculty-as-learners).  The faculty contract involves professors researching external and immutable truths, publishing communications about those truths, and imparting those insights to learners enrolled in their courses – all of which, I hasten to add, is noble, honorable, necessary, and transformative work in its own way.  Yet today’s complexity also demands inter-systemic capacities that conventional psychological frameworks cannot hold.

Ignore, Grow, or Evolve: Three Structural Options for Humanity’s Developmental Future

If we can agree that universities meet a crucial developmental need for our species, and if we can agree that they have not, up until now, met other vital needs, what options exist? I see three options for a way forward:

  • Universities can continue to ignore, actively discourage, or forcibly remove individuals who seek to develop maturity or wisdom beyond the Expert stage.  Such people, after all, just don’t fit fully within the organizations’ mission.  This is the current reality Goldberg describes, a future in which universities neither acknowledge nor adopt a mission of post-conventional psychological development.

Perhaps universities will assert that their way of approaching development is the only right way forward, that Expert mindsets crown the pinnacle of human sense-making.  Eventually, experience and universities’ own scientific Expert-driven data will require the abandonment of these beliefs, and the other stages of grief will follow.

  • Universities can choose to grow programs or approaches that address later-stage developmental needs for their adult members.  To some extent, Goldberg recommends this option, which I see resembling a genetic variation, the sprouting of a new appendage to meet an emerging need.

Some universities may choose to distinguish themselves by opening centers devoted to adult development within their communities.  This would be welcome news.  Most, however, are unlikely to experiment in that direction anytime soon; it just wouldn’t fit within today’s existing missions, funding conditions, or social support.

  • Communities of learning can evolve by creating new organizations outside the university structure. Communities could leave to universities the developmental task of supporting Expert-stage consolidation and raise up new structures, new “skeletons,” to address a new environmental demand of challenging and supporting individuals who seek to cultivate greater capacities.

The immediate barriers to this option are its novelty and consequent confusion about its meaning; resistance from people invested in the established way who might perceive a new species of organism as a threat; and paucity of available models to aid in initiating, crafting, explaining, or understanding a viable structure.

Whether through growth of experimental variants or through generation of wholly new structures, I expect our species to meet evolutionary demands by transcending the limited capacities of today’s universities.  The forms of that transformation will emerge only through our shared efforts.

Graham Segroves is an organizational change consultant and leadership development coach whose DevelopmentLens blog seeks to cultivate post-conventional perspectives on the human experience.  Cross-posted on

Do Engineering Professors Want to Be Brains-on-a-Stick?

I went to a small reception for a staff member in my former department and met quite a few of my now-retired colleagues.  It was really a pleasure tripping down nostalgia lane with them, and the surprise of all of us showing up for the same fifteen minute period (in a 3 hour reception) did not go unnoticed by one of my colleagues.  He said, “Dave, you know that the chance of all of us showing up in this way is highly unlikely and is difficult to explain rationally.”

I said, “Yes, I know.  It’s a mystery,” and a I meant it in a authentic way as I’ve been contemplating the things we don’t know, different ways of knowing than we teach in engineering school, and even the things that we can’t know.

He said, “There must be some deterministic explanation. To think otherwise is surrender.”

His use of the word “surrender” rocked me back on my heals, but it seems to me the bias revealed by the word, a bias that all can be known, and that all is subject to rational explanation, although expressed somewhat extremely, is held by many who teach engineering today.

This attitude is increasingly a problem. Many who would make successful engineers shun or leave an engineering education because (1) it treats students as (left) brains on a stick, (2) anything non-cognitive, actually anything not subject to logical scrutiny, is treated as nonsensical, and (3) emotion, body sense, and any form of intuition are not permissible topics of discussion, let alone subjects of study and learning.

Increasingly employers and students alike want more wholeness as part of the engineering educated and educational system. The medical profession has struggled and is struggling with similar issues, and one might think that the pretense of objectivity might be easier to drop in a “naturally” caring profession, but this has not been the case.  Rachel Naomi Remen has written two books that tell stories from her journey as pediatrician to cancer counselor, and the lessons she shares are possibly applicable to engineering education.

Take a look at Kitchen Table Wisdom (here) and My Grandfather’s Blessings (here) for moving accounts that might help us achieve a more whole, human approach to engineering education.

In the Year 2023

In the year 2023. The year is 2023, and engineering has become the education of choice for an increasing number of college-bound high school seniors. Where once top students aspired to business, law, or medicine, engineering is now seen as both a prestigious and balanced liberal education in a human-centered age dependent upon scientific and technological advance. With an increasing emphasis on engineering as a people profession, larger numbers of women now join their male counterparts to take a growing number of opportunities at engineering schools around the country to the point where gender parity is all but achieved.  Furthermore the broader appeal and nature of engineering education has encouraged what used to be called underrepresented minorities to increasingly find their way into engineering colleges.

From the basics to the missing basics. The change is a startling one, and engineering remains an education where science, math and engineering science remain important elements, but widespread reforms adopted in 2018 now teach an engineering canon that respects reflective thinking as applied to technology, human organizations and society, and lifelong learning alike.  These missing basics (here and here) helped engineering educators early in the century to stop thinking of the great gifts of Greece and the Western tradition as soft skills, and to start thinking of them as a way to bring conceptual rigor to the mathematical and scientific kind (here and here).  Education historians trace the rise and diffusion of these innovations to the Big Beacon movement of collaborative disruption, the diffusion of courses such as Olin College’s (here) User-Oriented Collaborative Design (UOCD), Design Nature, and Foundations of Business and Entrepreneurship (FBE), and the adoption of practices such noticing, listening, and questioning (NLQ) by an increasing number of faculty and students alike.

No more dancing with lone wolves. The lone wolf student of the late 20th and early 21st century is also a thing of the past.  Teamwork pervades engineering education from the first day a freshman steps foot on campus.  Research showed the socialization advantages of such arrangements (here), but it wasn’t until some practical experiments earlier in the century showed how to (a) include such teamwork scalably and low cost and (b) in a way that respected student aspirations for helping others, entrepreneurship, and the design of cool technology (here) that schools around the country were able to integrate such pervasive teamwork into the education of young engineers at low cost with modest administration.  In 2023, engineering schools and engineering education, more generally, are themselves, more innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial.  Engineering education earlier in the century was a stodgy affair, where strictly disciplinary professors talked confidently about “the basics” of engineering as though they were handed down from Mount Sinai by the almighty himself, but now curriculum/programmatic incubators are de rigueur in all the best schools, and continuous and discontinuous innovation is carried on perpetually within a spirit of perpetual novelty, interdisciplinarity, and innovation

Innovation & entrepreneurship as more than a chrome cognitive hubcap. A primary change is that innovation is no longer an add-on or an option.  Where once schools innovated because of the public relations value of jazzy freshmen programs or industrially sponsored senior design courses, or because NSF infused large amounts to create curriculum coalitions, today engineering schools are connected to one another in rich collaborative networks that encourage pervasive and immediate sharing of best practices.  Many respectful structure spaces for innovation (RSSIs) connect the departments and colleges of yesteryear, helping them to continue innovating within and between schools.  Change artifacts (CAs) are regularly posted on a diverse network of public and privately maintain social and digital media.  Moreover, a rich network of bloggers and digerati covers the fast-moving world of engineering education innovation in a way that contrasts with the dearth of coverage that existed as recently as 2012.

Motivated students through autonomy, mastery & purpose. Particularly important to the attraction of innovative students and faculty alike as of late has been the replacement of a carrot and stick approach of traditional extrinsic motivation with a inner-directed sense of intrinsic motivation.  Books earlier in the century such as Dan Pink’s Drive helped to focus attention on two decades of research by such pioneers as Deci & Ryan (here) and Dweck (here).  These led to an understanding of the explosive potential for emotional engagement by students and faculty.  Earlier in the century, schools learned the value of respecting student aspirations, thereby helping them develop initiative, confidence, and engineering identity in activities and projects of meaning to them; this opened up the possibility of converting other courses to intrinsically motivated pedagogical style in which students take a significantly large role in mastering traditional course material, relatively autonomously, and for their own purposes.  This transformation in student motivation and treatment led to a second transformation in creating a more intrinsically motivated faculty and faculty evaluation.

To hasten this not-too-distant day in engineering education, contact and learn about ThreeJoy Associates, Inc. and coaching, training, and smooth change consulting services. 

Getting to the Heart of the Educational Matter

In my work with iFoundry (, Olin (, and now ThreeJoy ( and the Big Beacon (, I’ve progressively moved from thinking about education as starting from the head to increasingly feeling and believing that it starts from the heart.

Educational theorists and devotees start to get at this when they talk about the various X learnings (where X is an element of {active, experiential, project-based, challenge-based, problem-based, etc}), and experiences and projects and problems and challenges elicit emotions and discussion of human motivation more so than the usual pedagogical approaches, but the various X learnings are particular practices or techniques and invoking one or more of them doesn’t really get to the core of what it is that we are trying to achieve or the fundamental processes that might achieve it.

A recent Huffington Post article (here) takes a different tack by identifying trust, courage, connection, and joy as the pillars to successful educational transformation.  If I were to focus on one of these as primary, I would suggest that educational transformation is about moving from educating a student who shuts up, listens, and obeys to one who has the courage to take initiative, even in the face of resistance (see this article here).

These four largely cultural and emotional variables are rarely discussed, but once these distinctions are made and introduced, it is hard to stop reflecting on them and how we can enhance their presence in educational settings undergoing change.

Karen Notsalmon’s Quick Read –> Instant Happy

I met Karen Salmansohn ( through her work on the Big Beacon’s posters & book cover (see, and since then I’ve become a big fan of her posters.  She talks about internet posters as pattern interrupts (see here), and I do find that when my day is headed in a bad or unproductive direction emotionally, that seeing one of her posters can disrupt my negativity and redirect me in more productive and energizing ways.

Her book Instant Happy is a collection of such posters sequenced in a way to get you reflecting differently about your emotions and your life.

For a quick and lasting attitude readjustment, you can do worse than to pick up Instant Happy today.

Unicorns, the Cult of the Average, and the Happiness Advantage

90% of your happiness is due to internal, not external matters.  Watch this video to put a smile on your face for a week.


Shawn Achor’s message of positive psych, gratitude, and positive action turns normal ideas of success on their head.  Normally, we think that if we are successful then we will be happy, but for a variety of reasons this doesn’t work.  If we are happy, through gratitude, acts of kindness, and generous thoughts, we can first be happy, then successful.

Thanks to Lesley Millar for sharing this link.

Do Universities Retard the Development of Their Faculty?

As I’ve read more on predictable patterns of adult development by such authors as Jane LoevingerWilliam TorbertRobert Kegan, Susanne Cook-Greuter, and others, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which universities encourage and inhibit the development of their faculty. For example, in a framework presented by Cook-Greuter (here), there are three conventional stages of adult human development in which  77% of adults typically find themselves:  diplomat, expert, and achiever.

  • In diplomat, an individual makes meaning by conforming with group norms, and a leader in diplomat will often use words, like “family” and “loyalty” to describe what is important to them at work.
  • In expert, an individual makes meaning through exercising and advocating the expertise of his or her discipline.  Other disciplines are typically less enlightened than the expert’s, and sarcasm and phases such as “yes, but…” rule the expert’s speech.
  • In achiever, an individual makes meaning through making goals and getting results with others, and disciplinary expertise gives way to working with others to get the job done.  Deadline and metric talk rule the speech of the achiever.

The stages following the three conventional stages (individualist, strategist, alchemist & above) involve higher degrees of system complexity, tolerance of ambiguity and diversity, and an ability to integrate across different systemic levels.

With these distinctions as background, we notice something almost immediately.  Because universities are organized strictly by discipline, and because universities value expertise within a discipline above almost everything else, it would be reasonable to assume that many faculty members are in expert from a developmental perspective.  The kinds of battles that break out within departments for the hiring of this or that subdiscipline, for example, support this inference, and the quotation (attributed to Kissinger and others), “Academic politics are so bitter because there is so little at stake,” may be interpreted as exactly the pitched battle among those locked in expert one would expect from a developmental stage that does not respect the knowledge and knowhow of those in a different discipline (or subdiscipline) than yours.

To those inside the university, none of this is particularly noteworthy, except to say that expert is a very early stage of adult development.  And here’s the rub. To the extent that universities are organized to keep their faculty in expert, they retard their development as adults, and keep them in a relatively immature stage.  In business, the move to achiever occurs relatively early for someone rising through the leadership ranks.  In universities, it is fairly common to enter as an Assistant Professor and exit as a Professor Emeritus and be in expert the whole time.

This is not good or bad news in and of itself, and developmental theorists are careful to say that later stages are not better or worse than earlier stages.  And clearly from the standpoint of research expertise, having a large cadre of experts is in the university’s interest; however, from the perspective of the individual faculty member, many faculty members may have yearnings to develop and move beyond the bounds of expert.  While only 3% of the population has a PhD, 48% of the population is in a developmental stage above expert. The faculty member who desires to grow and develop finds few organizational mechanisms for doing so.

Academic leaders concerned with the development of their people would do well to first understand the problem through an adult development lens.  Programmatically, a number of interventions are possible once the difficulty is seen this way, but as long as the university is viewed as a collection of experts, little can be done to address the further development of its faculty.

Monkey Business, Unequal Pay & Fairness

I’m attending a course on negotiation at Harvard and we were shown a  one-minute clip from Frans de Waal’s TED talk on Moral Behavior in Animals (full video here):


Capuchin monkeys are fed different foods and the monkey fed a less desirable food has a surprising reaction to it.

Student-Centered versus Student-Led Education

It is increasingly commonplace to hear calls for student-centered education, but increasingly I’ve been thinking that the term doesn’t go far enough and have been using the term student-led learning instead.

First, a lot of language concerning education has teacher-centered bias built in.  One example is the  recommended shift from the sage on the stage, lecturing with 20-old course notes, to the guide on the side who practices active-learning, problem-based learning, experiential learning, or some other X learning in the classroom to the hoped benefit of the students.  Indeed this shift is desirable, but the sage-guide shift still considers the instructor as the prime mover in the educational setting; the subject of both phrases, sage and guide, is the teacher.  In this sense, education continues to be somthing that is done to or done for the student by the teacher.

Second, many of the most compelling educational experiences extant are those in which students genuinely lead the effort.  Elsewhere (here and here), I have written about Junior Enterprise in Brazil and Europe as an exemplary model of students leading their own deep learning efforts, and other examples include student design competitions and significant capstone design experiences.

Embedded in this distinction are also important issues of control, trust, and courage (here).  The kind of education that really unleashes students as confident lifelong learners who have the courage to take initiative depends, in part, on the ability of faculty members who can relinquish control and really trust students with a central role, a leadership role, in their own educations.  Of course, this relinquishing of control should be measured and done thoughtfully in ways that students are capable of handling; however, too often the messages we send when we lecture and steer a course through a rigid syllabus with little or no flexibility or student choice are that the student is not capable to guide his or her own learning and that he or she cannot be trusted with even small decisions in their own education.

Framing the question as student-led learning rather than student-centered education is an important linguistic step in letting the kids drive the car of their own educations.

Olin Announces Distinguished Academic Partner

Franklin W. Olin College announced ThreeJoy Associates president, Dave Goldberg as a distinguished academic partner (here).

“We are extremely fortunate to have someone with the creativity and passion of Dr. Goldberg working with us in our efforts to change engineering education,” said Vincent P. Manno, provost and dean of faculty at Olin College. “He believes, as we do, that student passion, courage, and initiative are the forces that will bring about the needed change, and we welcome him as an ally and colleague.”

Goldberg joins MIT’s Woodie Flowers in this role (here).