Brian Farley writes ..
I’ve said this before on Quora, and I’m probably going to say it many more times, but, all of the problems in academia can be traced back to scarce funding and the ridiculous competition it engenders. The reluctance to fund academia and research, in turn, comes from a completely skewed perception by the public of what academia is supposed to accomplish – which in no small part comes from the capitalist marketplace thinking that permeates almost everything our society does.
Marketplace thinking fails to capture the value of academia because most of the benefits of academia do not carry a direct, quantifiable, financial gain.
A college education is now viewed as a means to a purely financial end, rather than something with inherent value both to the individual receiving it and the society of which that individual is a member. Quite simply, people are being trained to look at a degree as a way to get a job; the chief way of determining whether or not a college education is worth it is to perform a shudder financial return on investment calculation and pretty much ignore all of the other benefits that a college education confers.
If that’s the way an education is to be perceived, its costs will go up while its quality goes down. Administrators will seek to remove every part of the experience that doesn’t contribute to making someone more employable (goodbye liberal arts education!) while simultaneously delivering the “essential” parts as cheaply as possible (hello adjuncts!). All the while, prices will go up to reflect the (ick) “increased earning potential” of graduates.
Research suffers for similar reasons – the public is being trained to demand a financial return on a financial investment, but that’s simply not the way research works. Most research will produce very little practical knowledge that leaks out into the real world in the form of products or technologies; the handful of projects that do literally transform how we live and think. The problem is that we can’t identify which projects will be which before we actually commit, so we’ve got to do a lot of them with the knowledge that most won’t yield much. This kind of thinking is total anathema to the market because everyone expects returns on each individual project!
This will never get fixed unless the public’s perceptions of what education and research are for are dramatically changed. We all need to stop thinking so damned much about money (specifically, accumulating obscene amounts of it) and start focusing on a more abstract definition of quality of life. There needs to be a new framework for evaluating the value of things and activities that doesn’t simply fall back on a bottom line calculation. This is going to be a glacial shift in thinking, but it’s the only long-game I can come up with that’s going to allow academia to reach its potential.