Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Academic economics

How did I miss this Times opinion piece on tenure?

Author Christopher Shea describes the tempest in academia / higher ed's teapot over the economics of universities and colleges. In particular, whether or not tenure ought to be abolished, and the mission of academia / higher ed be rethought. This is in response to recent publications such as Mark C Taylor's new book, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, and his opinion pieces in the Times. Shea concludes his piece:

Here we have the frightening subtext of all the recent hand-wringing about higher education: the widening inequality among institutions of various types and the prospects of the students who attend them. While the financial crisis has demoted Ivy League institutions from super-rich to merely rich, public universities are being gutted. It is not news that America is a land of haves and have-nots. It is news that colleges are themselves dividing into haves and have-nots; they are becoming engines of inequality. And that — not whether some professors can afford to wear Marc Jacobs — is the real scandal.

From where I perch in higher education - a PhD who in fact is immersed in undergraduate education, teaching 4 / 3 (with no TAs) at a public college that is not a research center (and whose research career depends upon the amount of time I manage to steal, essentially, from myself...) and who cannot afford to wear Marc Jacobs - I do not think that private versus public is the only important division, and I do not see the division of haves and have-nots as news. Frankly, is it not for this reason that so many Americans today do pursue post-secondary education? B/c having a college degree might mean the difference having or not having a job. Not to mention why the competition for admission to institutions like Williams and Columbia (or faculty positions there, for that matter) is as stiff as it is?

What is broken needs to be fixed. I just worry that the fixes proposed for academia / higher education will make institutions like the one where I teach as broken as everything else seems to be? Is the new normal "broken"?

I am not tied to the tenure system - I can imagine reasons to abolish it - but in the current stream of rants, I seem to see a lot of suggestions to decrease the autonomy and security with work in academia / higher education.

When it comes to work, is the new normal "sucks"?

Having everyone participate equally in unfair conditions is not the same as banishing inequalities. It seems to me that we all need to feel that we put our energies and efforts to meaningful use in our work, and that we are as necessary to the work being accomplished as the work is for our ability to meet our own needs and wants.

That this is not true for too many people is what sucks and what is broken.

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