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In today’s On the Square feature, R.R. Reno laments the academic trend of scholars who disdain teaching :

One major cause of this baleful trend is the growing importance of higher education as a source of upper-middle-class status. But the all-powerful U.S. News & World Report rankings have made higher education the very worst kind of hyper-competitive industry: one without clear metrics. Want the cheapest ton of low sulfur coal? Want the lightest lap top computer? Want the fastest car? These questions admit of answers. Want the best education? Not so easy to answer, not the least because it depends a great deal on what the student brings to the equation, and even more difficulty is best really means most likely to enhance the status of your children.

In view of the impossibility of determining which educations are “best,” reputation comes to serve as a proxy for quality, and along with the achievements of alumni, it’s the notoriety of faculty that make the reputation of a university. The University of Chicago has how many Nobel Prize winning professors in economics? Harvard how many in physics? Where does Alasdair MacIntyre teach? Harold Bloom? Simon Schama? Because a university needs stars—or thinks it needs stars—in order to win the reputation game demand goes up, and the stars get to write their own job descriptions, which as Barzun pointed out involves the desire to be a professor without students.

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