Humboldtian Faculty and Mavens

Written on November 17, 2008 by DeansTalk in Arts & Cultures & Societies


Dean of
IE Business School 

When I ask my colleagues about the main challenges our schools face today many point at the attraction, development and retention of good faculty as one of the most serious. Indeed, today schools compete to attract those scholars who combine the best credentials in research with solid teaching skills and who also interface with the top management of respected companies. I have sometimes refer to these well-rounded academics as “kangaroos”, as opposed to “gurus”, because the former are able to jump from research to class to consultancy in large corporations, performing excellently in the three facets.  Let me now further elaborate on this multifaceted type of academics by opposing two models of faculty, which I will name “Humboldtian Faculty” and “Mavens”.

“Humboldtian Faculty” was moulded at the eponymous institution in Berlin in the early Nineteenth Century and has inspired the model of academic prevalent at all Western universities in the past two hundred years. Wilhelm Von Humboldt believed that, in order to make a significant leap in the sciences and in the humanities, the career of academics should become specialised –until then, university professors may teach different discipline- and universities should be organised in schools and departments. A number of consequences for the academic profession followed over the decades and I summarise some of these features in the chart included below.

The Humboldtian Faculty model has rendered many positive results. Knowledge has experienced an unprecedented advance across the board. At the same time, a significant number of education analysts and scholars have warned about some undesirable effects of the model such as the “silos syndrome” derived from an extreme specialisation and lack of integration of both academics, teachings and research at large.

In addition, the demands from stakeholders, the formidable impact of technologies in the learning process and the origination and distribution of knowledge are transforming the role and the ideal profile of scholars. I believe that the concept of “Maven”, widely popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point”, can adequately illustrate what is expected from business schools’ professors today. Mavens are active gatherers of new trends, ideas and data and have the key skills of identifying which of them may transform the world.

Furthermore, they exercise the necessary influence to have these ideas diffused through other major opinion makers in society –whom Gladwell calls “connectors” and “vendors”.  I include a number of characteristics of faculty as Mavens in the chart below. I hope this idea contributes to a constructive debate on how to better shape the academic profession and adapt it to current changes and demands. I do not believe that I am proposing a revolutionary change, but rather an evolutionary but significant adjustment of the role that faculty play in the modern learning process.

Humboldtian Faculty


  • Specialised,  academic pedigree
  • Mixed academic backgrounds
  • Masters of the learning process
  • Learning Orchestrators
  • Guardians of Knowledge
  • Catalysts of Knowledge


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