Finally, a reckoning: Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard, fesses up:
At this moment in our history, universities might well ask if they have in fact done enough to raise the deep and unsettling questions necessary to any society.
As the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism, should universities — in their research, teaching and writing — have made greater efforts to expose the patterns of risk and denial? Should universities have presented a firmer counterweight to economic irresponsibility? Have universities become too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes they serve? Has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?
Since the 1970s there has been a steep decline in the percentage of students majoring in the liberal arts and sciences, and an accompanying increase in preprofessional undergraduate degrees. Business is now by far the most popular undergraduate major, with twice as many bachelor’s degrees awarded in this area than in any other field of study. In the era of economic constraint before us, the pressure toward vocational pursuits is likely only to intensify.
As a nation, we need to ask more than this from our universities. Higher learning can offer individuals and societies a depth and breadth of vision absent from the inevitably myopic present. Human beings need meaning, understanding and perspective as well as jobs. The question should not be whether we can afford to believe in such purposes in these times, but whether we can afford not to.
Nicely said, but then there’s something of a retort by the President of the University of Wisconsin (where I almost accepted a position over Georgetown), calling for an intensification of “more of the same”:
“Educating and Credentialing…”?? Calling George Orwell!!
“More Better” has been the mantra of higher education for some years now, a worldview that been an accessory to crimes that continue to be committed in the name of “growth”: what matters most is getting more, easier, quicker. For once, I’d like to see Harvard actually lead a “Less, Harder” movement, but I think the horse is out of the barn. Of course, “international competition” will continue to direct Harvard’s actions more than pieties from its President.