Mark C. Taylor, chairman of Columbia University's Religion department, started some shit. So much we need two posts to flush-it down properly. First up: Kate Perkins and Dan Kois. God can't save you now, Mark!
So Professor Taylor's main thesis:
If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured. The long process to make higher learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative can begin with six major steps
And he outlines his manifesto for reform in six points. All of it raises central questions about the purpose of education in our new information age. I got some peeps to discuss:
When an article starts off like this, who wouldn't want to keep reading?
Here was my favorite response from a "peep":
The ivory tower, traditionally, has stood as a haven for the kind of scholarship that is at least indifferent to the pressures of the socioeconomic order – if not actively subversive to it – whereas today it's essentially a gold-plated monument of industry. Private universities charge tuitions affordable only to those in the same tax brackets as professional athletes, guaranteeing the next generation of American aristocracy. This is why schools like NYU (which do of course have innumerable fluffy ‘interdepartmental' study programs like the ones Taylor recommends) look absurd when their students – among the most powerful and privileged citizens in the country – are staging a protest on their nearly privatized Washington Square Park campus: their tuitions have a direct and transparent role in the erosion of the public good.
Even state and city universities disproportionately fund ‘profitable' departments in the axis of techno-pharma-sci-finance researches that yield the greatest gains in funding and reputation. CUNY's "Look Who's at CUNY!" campaign, e.g., advertises the achievements of graduate students and research fellows in ‘important' fields like ADD research and biotechnology. In this sense, graduate programs already do act as the "problem-focused programs" Taylor endorses. When universities operate in service of profits, though, it becomes difficult to tell what their responsibility is with regard to social problems and who, exactly, their problem-solving serves. It's easy to imagine a "Water program" serving not the public but the corporations monopolizing the means of its distribution, at, say, Black Water University.
If Taylor's right to describe the crisis of education as an industry crisis, it's not because, like automobiles or high finance, universities are inherent pillars of American capitalism. It's because social contribution does not equal surplus value. The genuine social utility and social prestige of universities should be based on their institutional independence from The Powers That Be. Taylor's 6 Steps make for relatively useless suggestions, since none of them relieve scholarship from its burden of profit. He's concerned with changing the internal structure of universities, rather than with restructuring the academy's place in the social order. Until that happens, no matter what bureaucratic rearrangements and curricular changes go on, they'll continue to produce the class divisions that make them institutions for the elite, by the elite.
The other response really just looked at the same issues from a slightly different perspective.