Just as the middle class is always rising, the masses are always revolting, and the evil claws of the patriarchy will get you too, my pretties, so we have another column by a tenured professor at an elite institution who argues that we must “End the University as We Know It” (h/t to Hotshot Harry who sent the link on to me. Congrats on the new job, Harry!) Stanley Fish has the week off, so they found another member of the guild to beat up on professors. Riddle me this, friends: which members of other professions write columns in the New York Times about how their jobs are misconceived and/or useless? Do physicians write columns about how pointless their work is? Do the clergy opine about their irrelevance in our times? This time, it’s Professor Mark C. Taylor’s turn to argue that the “mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization.”
((Yawn.)) I’m all for reforming “the university” (as if such a standardized, uniform creature exists.) Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less.” Taylor makes some good points about the exploitation of graduate and adjunct labor, but instead of demanding that universities invest in their faculty and create more full-time positions, he says that universities should “impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure.” That’s right–the problem isn’t that the people who have all of the money and decision-making power at universities have decided to cheap out when it comes to faculty development and their instructional budgets–the problem is all of those old farts who won’t get out of the way!
Taylor sure sounds like a department chair bucking for dean: most of his suggestions will cost universities almost nothing because they depend mostly on–wait for it!–volunteer faculty labor. Who else is going to “restructure the curriculum,” “increase collaboration among institutions,” “transform the traditional dissertation,” and “expand the range of professional options for graduate students?” Good luck getting faculty to do that after you abolish tenure–most of us are going to be sure to look out for Number One when that happens, so you can kiss all of our committee work good-bye! (Won’t you miss all of those senior faculty then? “Old farts” with tenure sure are useful for lots and lots of committee work.) But, whoever does the work, Taylor’s suggestions are just collections of fashionable buzzwords about “the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches,” and preparing students “to adapt to a constantly changing world.” Here’s my favorite road to nowhere:
Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.
Uhhh…those “zones of inquiry” sound awfully familiar. Oh, yeah! I think that’s because they’re called the Philosophy, Anatomy/Zoology, Law (School), Communication, Computer Science, English and Foreign Languages, Geography, History, Journalism, Economics, and Biology departments at most universities. (And here at Baa Ram U., we already have a water program–betcha your school can’t say that!) Great idea, Professor! You won’t sound at all foolish identifying yourself as a member of the Mind Zone of Inquiry, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d much prefer to remain in a History Department rather than affiliate with a Time Zone of Inquiry. Who here thinks that talking like we’re stuck in a 35 year-old Dr. Who episode will make our work seem more “problem-focused?”
If we have to pick a 1970s TV show to structure our work lives, can it be Land of the Lost, please? If anyone is up for a “routine expedition” this afternoon, let me know!
UPDATE, later this morning: Dr. Crazy has a roundup of other blog posts singing the same tune as this one (different verses, though.)