There is profound satisfaction in knowledge, in learning just for the joy of understanding humanity and science to develop an intelligent worldview. "Dare to know, the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote--strive to be a lifelong seeker of better information, deeper wisdom.
Higher education once focused strongly on this goal. But a gloomy new book, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, claims that wisdom is being pushed aside by modern schools rushing to train young people while operating on skimpy budgets.
Only one-third of college faculties now are tenured professors or tenure-track teachers, the book says. Most classes are taught by part-time adjunct instructors paid much less than real scholars.
Cash-strapped universities don't "hire the most experienced teachers, but rather the cheapest teachers," author Frank Donoghue, in the English department at Ohio State University, writes. Today, new hires include three adjuncts for every full timer.
Humanities topics such as history, literature, philosophy and the like are crowded out by career-track courses--vocationalism," he calls it.
In a New York Times essay about the book, Stanley Fish says the saddest example is the new for profit university that serves only "to deliver the information and skills necessary to gain employment... The mode of delivery--a disc, a computer screen, a video hookup--doesn't matter so long as delivery occurs. He quotes the fonder of online Phoenix University: "Coming here is not a rite of passage. We are not trying to develop value systems or go in for 'expand their minds.'"
College-going has boomed enormously as America's plunges into the Information Age, which requires high-tech training. Processing millions of students is an industry that must be done with industrial efficiency. Author Donoghue says academia never can return to the era of full-time scholars carefully instilling generalized wisdom in small clusters of young thinkers. This is sad. But perhaps many of today's graduates will discover, later on, that it's deeply reward to study, purely on their own, pursuing the life of the mind.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Blog XLI (41): In the Name of Kant
An editorial entitled "Learning" that appeared in The Charleston Gazette of Charleston, West Virginia on January 25, 2009 notes with sorrow current trends in higher education. It raises important questions about the quality of the education that students receive. It argues that students suffer from the use of adjuncts just as much as the part time instructors. Here is the editorial: