21.12.07

WHY ADMINISTRATORS DISLIKE ECONOMISTS.

It's not because they can hire three senior professors of English or ten adjuncts for freshman composition for the salary of a beginning assistant professor.

It's not because our A.B.D.s can land better paying (if not necessarily as interesting) private sector jobs at salaries that exceed those entry level salaries.

It's not because our discipline is, or is not, really cognate to business administration.

It's because we have principled reasons for objecting to their pet projects.
A liberal education offers subjects including art, history and chemistry to promote the individual’s understanding of human nature and therefore his ability to cooperate with others in society. In the early days of my subject, economics, Adam Smith explained that no conflict exists between self-interest and a love of society. Indeed, an educated individual’s respect for society arises from the realization of the benefits to himself that social cooperation (including trade) makes possible. In a society of free individuals, each makes himself better off by making others better off, with the strengthening of social bonds and mutual respect among people an unintended but inevitable consequence.
So much, then, for diversity training.
The education that promotes civility has nothing to do with “good works,” the kind of charity [Towson State president Robert L.] Caret applauds. If students are thought to “lack civility or a traditional work ethic” and to be “too self-absorbed,” a decent liberal-arts education would remedy that. All that’s needed is an emphasis on the advantages to one’s self of understanding and respecting others’ nature as human beings and of engaging them in trade. The modern student, tragically, too often is not being taught these lessons, as well-publicized examples of disrespectful behavior and a distrust of human freedom — especially free markets — demonstrate. The remedy is not a makeshift substitute — “service learning” — that diverts attention and resources from the liberal education and reinforces anti-liberal attitudes, but a recommitment to a true liberal education.
Then take service learning. It is neither service nor learning.

Service learning weakens respect for society by implying that other people, less fortunate in some way, are owed one’s time and effort. Teaching that others are morally entitled to a part of one’s life — people one does not know, may not like and whose misfortune one had no role in creating — is the surest way to engender a sense of resentment and disdain, not benevolence, toward one’s fellow human beings.

Civility, a liberal education would teach, requires one to treat strangers respectfully (because one understands their nature as fellow human beings), but it does not require giving each of them five bucks. True individualism and self-interest, this liberal education would teach, requires that one’s actions respect other individuals’ rights. Far from losing “sight of the greater good,” it teaches that one’s civil and self-interested action best furthers it. Students who really seek the “greater good” should hightail it back to the library, lab or classroom, and hone valuable skills that suit their interests and abilities.

A university’s purpose is to train the mind, not to reinforce emotions. A knowledgeable professor can convey, in a few minutes at most, the intellectual (“learning”) content of most service-learning assignments; the “service” part of, say, a student’s hours in a soup kitchen is simply charitable contribution and emotional experience. But her feelings provide no clue to the amelioration of poverty. Would a higher minimum wage help ... or hurt? How about tax laws that permit the expensing of capital investments? Or reform of business licensing regulations? In the hours the real student is not tied up in the soup kitchen, she can analyze these policy changes. That’s what education is for.

Via Phi Beta Cons.

I fear, however, that administrators will continue to act in a way that comports with their prejudices to the exclusion of education until the failures of their fads become even more painfully clear.

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