Financial Drivers of the Crisis on Campus

Perhaps the greatest risk inherent in the crisis on campus is to behave as if there is no crisis at all.  And this is more common than we would like to think.

Plunging public investment, the overproduction of PhD degrees, and unsustainable endowment investment portfolios are not minor problems. Yet there is little in the way of actual educational reform within the university system to respond to these trends.  So it is essential to have books like Prof. Mark Taylor’s Crisis on Campus explicating just how serious the situation is.

Although the book ranges over a wide variety of topics, I would like to raise some questions regarding the potential risks of academic collaboration with the private sector. Taylor candidly admits that such collaboration is one of his more controversial reform proposals.

Would an increased alliance with for-profit businesses–and therefore an increased reliance upon them–really resolve the forces driving critical trends?  Or might it exacerbate them?

How can the crisis on campus be secured by alliance with something as insecure as the marketplace? I ask this in all seriousness because of three interlocking trends enclosing Taylor’s recommendation when paired with the current practices of big business:

  1. Unregulated pursuit of profit has led to the plunge in public investment in higher education.
  2. The desire for excess gain has driven the possibility of unsustainable investment returns.
  3. A ‘more is better’ mentality implicitly justifies an uncritical acceptance of the overproduction of PhD’s as an index of academic success.

In the pursuit of profitable technology transfer opportunities, what might be lost if the academic enterprise is governed under the model of an R&D lab?

This entry was posted in Accountability, Future of the University, Public Philosophizing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Financial Drivers of the Crisis on Campus

  1. Steven Hrotic says:

    Brief comment on #3. One could argue more IS better — IF you don’t conceive of the value of an education as being related to the job market, but a personal / social good in its own right.

    That’s the tension I’m pretty fascinated by. We have one system that is supposed to (a) make us globally competitive through tech and industry, and (b) make us better citizens, more fulfilled individuals, more self- and historically-aware, &c. Unfortunately, it might not be able to do both. If it’s (a), only a few should be allowed to go. If (b), everyone should be able to.

    When Kant conceived of the disciplines, he seemed to be focused on (a) — in turning out professionals. Even in the 19th century, education wasn’t about enlightenment, it was about training to be a gentleman in a narrow range of upper class roles.

    But we now place a high value on (b). I interviewed a woman once for a minimum-wage retail position, who had an MA in literature. I asked her if she intended to use her degree (read: do you really want this job, or are you killing time until the applications go out?). Affronted, she responded “I DO use my degree, every day.” Personally, I found that heartening, but from the perspective of Taylor’s book, she was deluded.

    Why don’t we just farm out (a) to the industries — if you want to work for Apple, go to Apple University. Free tuition, but then you have to work for them for a set number of years. Indentured servitude, but at least you’ll have a job. Maybe Columbia can get a contract with the State Dept. “We need someone who can x, y, and z. You teach ‘em, we’ll hire ‘em.”

    Then the universities can go back to focusing on (b), affecting a bohemian, tweed-encrusted genteel intellectualism, and avoiding all research that requires a Clean Lab. We can be as Einstein described himself: “a lonely old chap who is mainly known because he does not wear socks and who is exhibited as a curiosum on special occasions.”

    I may be biased, by the way . . . I look GOOD in tweed.

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