Making Sense of a Critical Partnership: Higher Education and Professional Preparation

 In Education

David Schleich, PhD

“… the alternative to high-tech, mega-science medicine embedded in higher education is getting back to the roots of human primitivism – naturopathy.”

Jonathan Miller, Fifth Distinguished Graduate Research Lecture, San Diego State University, 1992

Higher education as an organized field of inquiry is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary in nature. Understanding the major themes and issues of this complex body of scholarship is valuable. The theoretical mesh provided by the literature can help us understand our schools, not only as educational institutions moving more and more confidently through the guarded door to higher education, but also as critical pieces in the professional preparation pathway. The history of our various schools and programs exhibits leitmotifs in a familiar symphony.

ND Colleges’ Tie to Higher Education

The leaders of the naturopathic colleges have long been attracted to the world of higher education. The record of early leaders demonstrates extant networks of colleagues, including higher education contacts and associates. The founders of CCNM, for example, brought with them university friends who injected current higher education topics into the speculation and planning of the proposed college. Dr. Pizzorno and his colleagues at John Bastyr College knew early on that a university framework would open many doors in the quest to build the profession in North America.

Some would argue, though, that despite the rich mother lodes of higher education scholarship available, the right veins of ore are sometimes hard to isolate. As well, like the ore consistency in any productive mine, the literature may provide more context than content at certain points. It is, nevertheless, a critical body of literature for our college and program leaders to know about. There are those who would concur with Altbach (1991) that even though the literature of higher education does not in the end constitute a “discipline” in the way, say, that the sociological foundations of the literature of the professions assembles its scholarship, its resources are nonetheless abundant. Indeed, on first blush the field is dramatically eclectic and daunting in its variety and depth (Altbach, 1991, 1996; Lincoln, 1991; Dressel & Mayhew, 1974; Jones, 1997; Skolnik, 1991; Skolnik & Jones, 1992; Ruch, 2001). It is a complex “field” with many related and relevant specialties (such as the sociology of science, bibliometrics, higher education management, institutional research and the internationalization of higher education).

While Altbach (1996) does point out that higher education has been seen at certain points by some as “peripheral to the traditional concerns of schools of education – primary and secondary education – and the issues concerned with schools” (p.2), the dimensions of the field most valuable here revolve around the role of the university in civil society; the financing of professional education; and the dual role of schools of professional preparation (research and career preparation). Related to this point, early planners at NCNM, Bastyr and SCNM wanted the core and the periphery. In their view, the proper focus for their institutions would encompass preparation as well as specialization.

Vocational or Research-Oriented?

At times there was debate about whether their proposed schools should be vocational in nature, dedicated to building foundational clinical skills; or more akin to the higher education professional faculties they aspired to emulate, and perhaps increasingly zeroed in on clinical research. Altbach’s point, however, should be seen in the context in recent years of a growing number of commissions, research activity and new legislation in a variety of countries (e.g., Robbins Commission in the U.K., the U-68 Report in Sweden, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Report on Higher Education Institutional Classification); of a plethora of reports in Ontario; and of new legislation creating opportunity for private institutions in the post-secondary sectors of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

Meanwhile, in the midst of this rich field of subjects, issues and topics, scholars report that they are enjoying improved access to an expanding repertoire of internationally circulated research journals in their field. This growth has helped to create a research base for that field and has contributed to the growth of interest in it, inclusive of inquiry into primary and secondary education as they impact higher education. Among such journals are The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, Higher Education, Studies in Higher Education, Higher Education Review, Journal of Higher Education and the European Journal of Education. As well, presses such as Jossey-Bass, Pergamon, Open University Press, Lemma Publishers and a growing number of university presses are also adding to the burgeoning literature available.

In any case, this important universe of higher education was the preferred home for the naturopathic colleges founded since the 1950s. The social legitimacy that a higher education location for naturopathic medical education would generate was well understood by the colleges’ founders (Light, 1983). However, among the NDs actively involved in the formation of the school, there was an accompanying concern about keeping alive the “naturopathic principles” embodied in natural medicine and therapies not dependent on bio-medical technologies … and a pharmaceutical industry that seemed to them to be entrenched in the university sector. Thus, even as they were attracted to the university, they were wary of potential concessions on such issues as the primacy of scientific medicine in its medical faculties.

In the coming months, we will explore in more depth the seductive nature of the higher education world for our colleges and the accompanying challenges their leaders faced as they worked to sustain those principles and embed them in important traditions and practices in their corner of the higher education landscape of the U.S. and Canada.

David_Schleich_Headshot-248x300David Schleich, PhD is president and CEO of NCNM, former president of Truestar Health, and former CEO and president of CCNM, where he served from 1996 to 2003. Other previous posts have included appointments as vice president academic of Niagara College, and administrative and teaching positions at St. Lawrence College, Swinburne University (Australia) and the University of Alberta. His academic credentials have been earned from the University of Western Ontario (BA), the University of Alberta (MA), Queen’s University (BEd) and the University of Toronto (PhD).


Altbach PG: Patterns in higher education development: toward the year 2000, The Review of Higher Education 14(3):293-316, 1991.

Altbach P: Research on higher education. Global perspectives, Education and Society No. 1: 1-12, 1996.

Altbach Philip: Private Prometheus, Westport, 1999, Greenwood Press.

Dressel PL and Mayhew LB: Higher Education as A Field of Study, San Francisco, 1974, Jossey-Bass.

Jones GA: Research on higher education in a decentralized academic system: the case of Canada. In J Sadlak and PG Altbach (Eds), Higher Education at the Turn of the New Century, New York, 1997, Garland.

Light DW: The development of professional schools in America. In KH Jarausch (Ed), The Transformation of Higher Learning 1860 – 1930, Chicago, 1983, University of Chicago Press.

Lincoln Yvonna S: Advancing a critical agenda. In William G Tierney (Ed), Culture and Ideology in Higher Education, New York, 1991, Praeger, 17-32.

Ruch Richard S: Higher Ed Inc.: The Rise of the For-Profit University. Baltimore, 2001, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Skolnik ML: On the study of higher education in Canadian universities, The Canadian Journal of Higher Education XXLI -3:96-114, 1991.

Skolnik Michael L and Jones Glen A: A comparative analysis of arrangements for state coordination of higher education in Canada and the United States, Canadian Journal of Higher Education 63(2):121-142, 1992.


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