Monday, April 27, 2009

Graduate education: Worth more than many people know

Why, Mark C. Taylor, Chairman of Religion at Columbia, why? Didn't we offer you a free subscription to Mr. Verb?* You clearly haven't been reading our stuff.

Yet you go and publish this piece in the NYT as a guest editorial, called boldly:

"End the University as We Know It"

…and starting with this unfortunate bit:
GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost … .
Unlike Detroit, grad education is not being subsidized to hell and back. Grad education is being starved as university budgets have been slashed time and again.

Yet we're producing the best product out there: Most Americans, let alone people outside the US, won't buy a Pontiac (oh, what? Oops, make that Ford), but the whole world will kill for the chance to get a higher degree from a major American institution.

And from reading your piece, I don't doubt that you're preparing your students to do nothing more than write obscure stuff that nobody will read. But that's hardly the state of the art, at least not here in Wisconsin. And the putative lack of demand might exist in religion, but don't confuse a few areas with the whole university.

But I do kinda like the idea of getting rid of traditional departments, and replacing them with units called Earth, Wind and Fire, or whatever it was. Oh, wait, here it is:
zones of inquiry … [like] Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.
Linguistics would go under everything but Water, I think, so it doesn't help us. Mind is a natural home, but better than Information? Presumably we have a big role in Language too. Seriously, this has some promise.

* OK, so maybe we didn't. But it's a blog, and it's completely free.

Image from here.


Adam Ussishkin said...

Thank you, Mr. V. I couldn't have said it better!

Anonymous said...

The worst thing is that the piece steadily deteriorates after the stuff you talk about!

Anonymous said...

As much as he is wrong about a lot of things, he's devastatingly correct on this point:

"young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings." OUCH!!!