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A few years back, Paul E. Lingenfelter began his report on the defunding of public education by saying, “In 1920 H.G. Wells wrote, ‘History is becoming more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ I think he got it right. Nothing is more important to the future of the United States and the world than the breadth and effectiveness of education, especially of higher education. I say especially higher education, but not because pre- school, elementary, and secondary education are less important. Success at every level of education obviously depends on what has gone before. But for better or worse, the quality of postsecondary education and research affects the quality and effectiveness of education at every level.”

In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing. There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in our graduates, the out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debt. Attention is finally being paid to the enormous salaries for presidents and sports coaches, and the migrant worker status of the low-wage majority faculty. There are now movements to control tuition, to forgive student debt, to create more powerful “assessment” tools, to offer “free” university materials online, to combat adjunct faculty exploitation. But each of these movements focuses on a narrow aspect of a much wider problem, and no amount of “fix” for these aspects individually will address the real reason that universities in America are dying.

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps | The Homeless Adjunct


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 25th, 2013 07:46 am (UTC)
In the last few years, conversations have been growing like gathering storm clouds about the ways in which our universities are failing.

Part of the problem in Australia, and I suspect the situation in the US is similar, is that we're trying to give too many people a university education. The idea somehow caught hold that everybody is entitled to a university education. We need to ask just what the purpose of a university is. Apart from people who want to pursue careers in law, medicine, science or engineering who else should be receiving a university education? Do we really need such large numbers of arts graduates? Is it really necessary for so many jobs to require a degree? Many of these jobs used to be done, and often done better, by people without degrees.

In 1960 Sydney, a city with two million people, had one university. Today Sydney is a city of four million people with five universities. That's probably at least two too many.

Edited at 2013-06-25 07:50 am (UTC)
Jun. 27th, 2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
It seems that one of the difficulties (among many) seems to be the ways in which universities are being perceived and used by governments and businesses as if they were professional colleges or at least ought to be. The truth, though, is that was never, and never had that function in society or human life. Donald Kagan gave what I thought was a really splendid farewell address at Yale University on the subject: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMQGDdTQImo)

The basic problem is that universities are places for the focused preservation, transmission, and advancement of a culture of education (which includes all of the sciences and the arts). The fact that other good things (i.e. improved employment prospects or new technologies) happened to spill-out of that pursuit was always just a nice bonus, secondary to the primary good of education for its own sake. The rapid swelling of universities has proceeded from the belief that they can be "retooled" to become engines of those secondary goods. The results have been mixed, at best: middling professional training, and increasingly limited actual education.
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