The current economic crisis has brought to light the problems that have plagued higher education for years. Immediately, everybody decided to propose their own plan for the reform of higher education. Today, The New York Times published an article by Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia. The title of the article is "End the University as We Know It," although a more appropriate title would have been simply "End the University."
Here are some of the author's suggestions:
1. Universities must be "rigorously regulated" by trustees and administrations. According to Taylor, "many academics who cry out for the regulation of financial markets vehemently oppose it in their own departments." The funny thing is that he then proceeds to decry the narrow specialization that plagues academia. Evidently, Taylor hasn't been able to avoid this problem himself, since he so blatantly disregards any differences that might exist between the world of finance and academia. According to Taylor, if we can regulate one area of our existence, then why not the other? I wonder why he doesn't insist on bringing the practices of the criminal justice system to the academia. Let's establish jail sentences for any infraction within the college system. That would make our world easy to understand and keep under control.
2. The second brilliant suggestion is to "abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs." These programs should be organized around "practical problems." Of course, if you can't make your field of research "practical" enough, then who needs you? Evidently, as a chairman of the religion department, Taylor doesn't believe that teaching students to reason, analyze, and express their opinions is practical enough.
3. The next suggestion is so weird that I can't even paraphrase it: "Let one college have a strong department in French, for example, and the other a strong department in German; through teleconferencing and the Internet both subjects can be taught at both places with half the staff." The only reason any one would make such an idiotic proposition is because they need to really suck up to the administration of their educational institution. How is this going to happen in practical terms (which should be so near and dear to Taylor)? Who will decide which college deserves to have a French department and which doesn't?
Notice, also, that he immediately goes after modern languages and literatures. Taylor never comes close to suggesting that the departments of religion (such as his own) might only be needed in one college out of 20. But languages are totally dispensable, aren't they? On the other hand, we (the people in modern languages departments) should be honored that pseudo-intellectual charlatans of Taylor's caliber would find us so dangerous.
4. Taylor also wants to help the graduate students: "Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education." Observe how there is no attempt to analyze why "most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained." Maybe it's because of the proliferation of the horribly exploitative postdoc and non-tenure-track positions? Maybe if we stopped the horrible practice of hiring people without the possibility of tenure, with very low pay, and without any benefits, there would be more good tenure-track positions for graduate students to look forward to?
5. This ridiculous piece of intellectual ass-licking ends with the expected suggestion to abolish tenure. Without it, Taylor would have never felt that he had thrust his tongue deep enough into the anuses of his bosses.
Here is the link to this exercise in brown-nosing to the administration: