July 20, 2012
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Blue Civil War Hits Universities.
What’s going on here, however, is less about quality than it is about money and the outmoded foundations of American institutions and practices built in the post World War Two era. The baroque inefficiency of the academic enterprise—and especially the research model university, which transposes a vision of the intellectual life from the hard sciences and engineering into the social sciences and the humanities—has built a system that demands enormous outside resources to continue to function.
In a handful of cases, notably the best endowed private universities, there is enough money on hand to make this system work. But less affluent private universities and virtually all public universities face a harsher climate. And as state governments in particular face claims on their tight revenues from more powerful constituencies than university faculty and staff, the public universities are being systematically starved of cash.What’s going on here, however, is less about quality than it is about money and the outmoded foundations of American institutions and practices built in the post World War Two era.
What’s funny is that those faculty and staff have traditionally provided support to those “more powerful constituencies,” like public employee unions and pensioners when — if they’d been thinking more clearly about their own interests — they’d have regarded them as dangerous rivals. “As the blue system implodes, politicians are going to come after universities the way Henry VIII went after the monks. The blue meltdown pits the universities against the public service unions, against the public schools, against families and students struggling under student loan burdens, against everyone else who wants or needs a share of the state budget. Academics are among the weakest and most vulnerable of those who depend on the state; the universities are fated to lose badly in the money wars.”
As Mead says, state university folk need to be thinking hard about how to respond, rather than engaging in denial.