First, go read the great symposium at The New Atlantis, starring Pomocon’s own Peter & Ivan plus the good Professor Deneen. Then, go read this grim report at the Washington Monthly.
Evidently, we are all doomed. Doomed!
But seriously, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the university as such is finished. The vast, all-thing-to-all-people, quasi-residential university, on the other hand, is probably in its twilight. That’s bad for me, personally. But I’m not sure it’s so terrible either for the country, or for the cause of liberal education.
Now both you and Conor have written praise for that article, James, and it really baffles me. I tell you true: the worst– the worst– recent evolution in essay journalism is the article about what is “inevitable,” buttressed by no more than the author’s “hey, I don’t want it to happen, but…”s. I am so, so tired of the inevitability pose. It’s empty.
There’s plenty fodder for concern in the piece but the university could use a shake up and some alternatives, maybe especially super cheap and no frills competitors, might force it to adopt some needed reforms. I certainly don’t see any imminent disaster waiting around the corner-the prestige of the major university plus their considerable endowments will give them some staying power.
Both interesting, but I think there’s a lot to be said for the respective takes of Koons and Reno as well:
Well, possibly I could have said a line or two preemptively agreeing with the astute comments here. In fairness, Freddie, my praise was unwritten and thus merely implied. The article in question is worth reading, as I also implied, back to back with the New Atlantis symposium – which, as Sam hints, confronts the possibility that the multiversity has done serious, perhaps irreparable, damage to *particular* universities that often stand in, at least in the popular imagination (and, I’ll venture to say, in the elite imagination too) for the ‘university as such’. I can’t say I agree with the whole of the most dire predictions, or especially with some of the suggested alternatives, but the problems, taken together, are now becoming too serious to consider outside at least the context of the university as such. I mean, the root issue when viewed from a perspective like this is what on earth we mean in the first place by the university as such.
What I mean by the “university as such”: an independently-endowed, self-governing community of scholars, with the twin purposes of educating students and pursuing research.
I don’t think we need to worry about that institution surviving, as it has done since the middle ages. But probably the universities of the future will be smaller, poorer, and more socially marginal than they were in 20th century.
In the long run, that probably won’t be so terrible. But there’s going to be an unpleasant period of retrenchment before equilibrium is reached.
I don’t see the really tip-top universities going anywhere anytime soon, unless, like Harvard, they blow up their portfolios with interest rate swaps. In any case, they are centralized places that lower the transaction costs for elites, scholars and various wannabes to come together and, in a lot of cases, a credential from them is really worth something. We’ll have to see how soon prices appreciate, but they aren’t there yet.
If anything, the $200/course outfits will purge some of the dreck from the system, pull the pre-professional programs out of the university and let the liberal arts flourish again. One can always hope.
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