The dissolution of the universities

Another futuring method involves reaching back in time, using historical examples as analogies for the present.

A visitation.

For example, Walter Russell Mead thinks of an early modern antecedent for state-university relations in a stressed economy:

Our universities today look a lot like the monasteries in the time of Henry VIII: vulnerable targets for a hungry state.

Nice sentence.  It would make a fine discussion prompt, all by itself.

Mead explains it thusly:

State legislators are going to be wrestling with questions like whether to cut the pensions of retired state workers, cut services for voters, or raise taxes.  In this atmosphere, the research university model (in the humanities and, economics and management accepted, the social sciences) may not long survive, at least in the public sector.  (Highly endowed private universities may keep the old model alive.)

Note how that discussion takes pains to unfold higher education in some diversity: private vs public institutions, humanities vs STEM.

Interestingly, Mead’s starting point is that Bauerline article we noted.

There are other historically-grounded futures practices, which we’ll get to. I’m starting to read a recent book on the subject, History and future : using historical thinking to imagine the future (David J. Staley, Lexington Books, 2007).

(image from Wikipedia)

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1 Comment

  1. skjandrews

     /  December 19, 2011

    the analogy is apt: the enclosure of the commons that this entailed was one of the key elements fueling the insurrectionary furor of the following century. The austerity = unrest of your previous post is a likely outcome. In any case, you were right that the Bauerline would be taken up by a conservative angle advocating the dissolution of the university.

    If, as I speculated, in my comment on your post on the bubble, the real issue is a universal demands of T&P, which supposedly give equal balance to scholarship, teaching, and service, then I don’t actually see what this has to do with producing fewer PhDs – unless the assumption is that engaging in a protracted and deep understanding of one’s research area is unlikely to produce better teachers.

    Either way, in this case, the issue is almost moot in the case of English as a field, no? How many English PhDs are able to get FT jobs at this point? Most of them are condemned to perpetual piecemeal adjunct work as it is – teaching classes like intro to Comp – many at places like Community Colleges – which is basically what Mead would have them doing, whatever degree they held. A post critiquing this line of reasoning (though from the perspective of history departments) by Marc Bousquet is available here:

    The fact that many of these instructors already enjoy the precarious employment Mead would recommend for them also doesn’t remove their work from the pool of pointless scholarship. In fact it may amplify it, as overworked aspirants to the handful of TT jobs may be even more motivated to pad the CV with as many publications as possible as the few who land them.


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