Friday, December 23, 2005

Sometimes I begin to wonder about the state of Universities as a whole and what I tend to see is not very encouraging. I guess it is because I work in the humanities that I get this feeling but I think it strikes to the heart of the idea behind Universities.

What I tend to focus on when I think about it is the fact that more and more money is flowing into the Hard Sciences. As business has discovered that Science brings about profits, the focus of the University has begun to shift in accordance to the dictates of profit. What this means is that instead of discovering knowledge for its own sake in all fields of endeavors, Universities have begun (and I would say are nearly complete in this project) to move money and resources away from that which the business community finds distasteful (ie philosophy, literature, history, etc.).

Practically, the consequence is that whatever science needs science gets in terms of the University. This leaves the Humanities with second rate equipment or no equipment at all and ballooning class sizes (with more papers to grade and hands to hold). On top of this, they are still expected to produce publications at the same rate or higher than many Hard Science professors, who generally use post-graduate students to do the work for them (this is a comical example but like most satires is far too true).

These trends are far advanced at this point in time (think about all the newspaper articles which bemoan the fact that the US does not graduate enough science PhDs but never the other way around). I believe that there is no turning back. What does this mean for the Humanities? I think in the long term Universities will still be called that for historic reasons. What they will have turned into will look far more like a Technical and Science Research College like CalTech or MIT. A few will hang on because they are Liberal Arts Colleges already. Mostly to feed the interest of those whom I talk about below.

Otherwise, what you are going to see is the rise of patron based writing in the Humanities. What this means is that the VERY RICH will hire people to write glowing books about their ancestors or whatever other topic that they will want to read. For most of the history of the Humanities, this has, in fact, been the case. One only needs to look over the history of many of the pivotal works in Ancient Rome to see this. In other cultures, like Ireland, poet/genealogists took this very same role.

As much as I am saddened by this vision of the future, the forces behind it are very powerful at this point in time and I see nothing to change its course. Science is still barnstorming the world with its new discoveries (read "profit making vehicles") every day. This coupled with a messianic vision of the betterment of all mankind, which is built into the basic assumptions of Science itself, even if these have taken a bit of a beating for the last fifty years. Intertwined in it is the profit motive of corporations (of any size). The near universal power position in our modern world of the corporation is of grave concern, but to be honest, no one is paying enough attention and I doubt that it will ever get fixed before it is too late. Thus Science and Corporations are walking in lock step to stamp out the Humanities although this is probably not their intention but it is the practical reality.

What does this mean for me? The Humanities will probably be safe for the next twenty to fifty years but, in accordance with saving money, which will then be spent on new Science equipment or teachers, most will be non-tenure track part-time positions. This means that I will probably be teaching first year writing courses for those going into the new Technical and Research Colleges at various Colleges in the area in which I live with no medical or other benefits and the constant fear that they will not hire me for the next quarter or semester. This means that I will probably never be able to buy a home or actually enjoy many of my hobbies, which cost money because I will be poorly paid and struggling to make ends meet.

As a post script, have you ever noticed how much culture (especially in the US) is corporation created and maintained rather than created and maintained by you and your neighbors? Did you know that what we think of as "traditional" Christmas is a Victorian fantasy-land, which is in part sustained by the interests of corporations rather than by people themselves? Not, that I would ever say that we should stop celebrating Christmas or even change the "traditional" Christmas but we should stop and think about it once in a while (as in, who owns this culture anyway?).

posted by Chris  #11:03 PM | 0 comments |